FlixChatter Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY

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One of the power of great movies is that it gives us ‘escapism,’ a relief from whatever problems we have in our daily life for an hour or two. But a truly great film gives us something more… more to take in, to marvel at, and to reflect on. Gravity, to me, is one of those films.

When the film starts, we’re introduced to the two main characters of the film, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer in her first space mission, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney being his gregarious self), a veteran astronaut who’s much more comfortable being in space. They’re working on repairing a space shuttle and things seem to be working just fine. The mood’s playful as Kowalski’s talking to the folks down in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) and joking around. It’s an effective exposition that help the audience get acquainted with these two characters before their real journey begin.

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Suddenly Houston warns them to abort their mission as an exploded Russian satellite comes speeding through their orbit. There’s barely any time for the crew to move to safety when flying debris rips their shuttle to shreds and Stone ends up drifting into space, spinning uncontrollably. When I first saw the trailer, I have to admit I wasn’t immediately intrigued by it. It looks like just another space thriller, I thought, but when I saw it in context, I had a totally different reaction. The suspense felt all too real that I remember feeling panic-stricken like Bullock’s character in the film as things go haywire on screen, made even more tense by the haunting score.

Gravity is one of the most immersive cinematic experience I’ve had in a long time. I feel like I was being transported to another realm as I was watching the film. There are some humorous moments to help ease tension, but the action sequences were quite relentless and kept me at the edge of my seat. In fact, there are a few genuinely terrifying scenes that made me gasp for breath a few times. Yet there is a deep spiritual quality about it in its quieter moments as we’re alone with the character. As I learn more about Dr. Stone and being with her in her desperate hour, the humanity of the story becomes even more palpable. This isn’t a film about space as it’s about people, reminding us once again what truly makes us human. The ‘detachment’ and ‘letting go’ themes are metaphors for what we too encounter in our journeys on earth. We take so much for granted the simpler things in life, but after seeing this, even just inhaling air into our lungs feels like an amazing privilege.

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Cuarón may not be the most prolific filmmakers out there, as his last feature film was Children of Men in 2006. It’s one of my favorite science fiction films and is already a sci-fi classic. You’d think would be hard to top but somehow the Mexican director managed to do just that with this one. I can’t put into words just how striking this film is, the long takes throughout the films are stupendous to behold. We might’ve seen images of earth from above from various space documentaries, but somehow cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki makes the view look even more dazzling. I can’t speak about the technical aspects of the special effects but Cuarón has a way of making us feel as if we’re actually there, in space, with the astronauts. The degree of the visual realism is so incredible that it looked as if the film were actually shot in space. It’s hard to explain but during the detachment scene, there’s a subtle technique that enables us to “sense” the surroundings from Dr. Stone’s point of view.

On top of the visual artistry, the use of sound is unlike any other. I feel like the whole theater rattles a bit as the music roars but then the silence feels just as deafening. Kudos to Steven Price for his magnificent score, as it adds so much to the film. It starts off with a clasic orchestral style but then it switches to a heart-pounding, nerve-rattling tone as the terror unfolds on screen. I don’t describe hardly any film as being hypnotic, but I think it’s an apt sentiment to use here as I was absolutely transfixed.

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Despite its striking beauty and spectacular special effects, Gravity doesn’t fall into the trap of ‘style over substance.’ In fact, it’s one of those films that give you as much food for thought as feast for the senses, allowing us to marvel at the beauty of our universe but also the power of the human spirit. As a person of faith, I really appreciate the theme of rebirth and letting go of the past that serves as our own personal ‘chain’ if you will.  There’s a message of hope that resonates deeply with me, that in my darkest hour, I’m not really alone.

Another outstanding aspect of the film is the performances. Though Clooney’s name is on the marquee too, it’s ultimately Sandra Bullock‘s film and she owns the role of the brilliant but vulnerable Dr. Stone. Apparently she’s the third choice after Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman both passed on the film, but now I can’t picture anyone else in that role. I have always liked her as an actress and certainly has the talent and versatility to do well in both comedy and drama. Under certain guidance though, a director could take an actor’s performance to another level and that’s the case here. Suffice to say, her performance here easily surpasses everything else she’s done to date. I don’t think people would be crying foul when once again we’d see her name amongst 2014 Oscar’s Best Actress nominees.

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Speaking of Oscar, this will be the film I’d be rooting for. It’s a family project of sort as as Alfonso collaborated with his son Jonás Cuarón on the script. It’s definitely a career-best for pretty much for the Alfonso Cuarón, and this would easily be one of those films people would be studying in the future.

Final Thoughts: I’m running out of adjectives already to describe this film. One final observation – for a film set entirely in space with its harsh, dangerous environment, this is not a cold film. It’s perhaps one of the most emotionally-gratifying film I’ve seen this year, and it also boasts a finale that makes you want to get up and cheer. A triumphant film through and through. See it and experience it for yourself, on the biggest screen you can possibly find. For once I actually recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D, trust me, it’s worth it.

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5 out of 5 reels

Anybody else’s seen this yet? I’m very interested to hear what you think.

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88 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY

  1. Fantastic review, Ruth, seriously impressive writing here. You somehow sold me on this movie even more than I already was. This film kind of snuck up on me, but with all this hype, it’s been the only movie on my mind for weeks, and I can’t wait to see it for myself! 🙂

    1. Why thank you Billy, really appreciate the kind words. It’s one of the toughest reviews to write as I had so much to say but it’s well worth the effort 😀

      Are you seeing it tonight? Do see it in 3D!

    1. I don’t usually like to hype a film too much but this one really does live up to the good words I’ve been hearing all over the place. If you like Bullock, you’ll love her even more here Vinnie.

    1. That’s awesome Michael! It’s a worthy film to be seen in such a fantastic theater. Would you let me know what you think after you see it, my friend?

      1. I’m still thinking of it after coming home from seeing the film. Your wonderful review totally nails all that comes with this experience. For all its high-tech wizardry and spectacular visuals, it is probably the most intimate, spiritual encounter I’ve had this year. Did I say I’m still contemplating it? 😉

        1. Hi Michael, thrilled that you felt the same way. You said it my friend, it does feel intimate and spiritual for a film that’s chock-full of hi-tech wizardry. That’s really quite a feat, but I guess coming from Cuaron, we shouldn’t be surprised. I sure hope he wins big at the Oscar next year!

  2. Ted S.

    I only skimmed through your review, I’m going to see it later today at the fake IMAX (ahh!) but at least it’s better than most regular theaters. Will comment again after I see it.

    1. It’s such a bummer they don’t show this at the real IMAX, it would have looked incredible. But yeah, I saw it in IMAX 3D at ICON, it’s so visually-stunning.

      1. Ted S.

        I totally agree on your review there Ruth, visually it’s flawless but I also like the simple human side of the story and Bullock was astonishing in the lead. Technically this movie reminds me of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the great space movies ever made. I can tell Cauron must’ve watched that film many times before he start making this movie, there were so many shots that reminded me of Kubrick’s masterpiece.

        I didn’t know the Icon has the IMAX there now, I’m going to see the movie again so I’ll see it at the IMAX theater there. I don’t particularly like the one in Southdale, hopefully the Icon one is better. Also they’re showing it in Dolby ATMOS sound, I’ll write about it after I hear it in person.

        1. I think the ICON theater has better quality screen and sound system. YES the Dolby ATMOS sound is incredible, that’s why I praised the score so much as it really envelops you, which adds to the realism of the film. I’d love to get a review of that sound technology once you see it there, Ted.

  3. I tried not to look to carefully at your review because I want to go into it with as little information as possible. I already feel as if I know too much as it is.
    I can’t remember the last time you were so enamored by a film. This definitely adds to my desire to watch it in 3D as soon as possible.
    I’m kind of glad they passed up on Angeline Jolie. I’m not sure it’s a role that would have fit her.

    BTW. Here is my reminder about the mega update in my blog. It took me a while to go through so many mini-reviews. Hope you enjoy it.

    1. Hi Niels, I barely talk about the plot so no spoiler here. In fact I read a couple of reviews that mentioned a lot about the characters and I was like, seriously? I’d rather find out about that stuff on my own too, so I hear ya Niels.

      Yeah, it’s been a while since I had been enamored by a film, first 5/5 in a while (I think the last film I gave that score was All About Eve which I haven’t got a chance to review yet).

      Yep, I can’t see Angelina in this role either, she’d try to act bad ass or something. Will check out your reviews this weekend 😀

  4. Beautiful review! I’m seeing it next weekend and I cannot wait. I could imagine Portman in the role, but not Jolie. She is just too larger than life, sexy and beautiful, while Sandra and Natalie can pull off scared and vulnerable really convincingly and make you feel for their characters.

    1. Hello Sati, I’d love to hear what you think of this one. Yeah I think you’re right, Portman would’ve been good here I think, though age-wise I think Bullock is still a better choice as the character should be a bit older. But yeah, not sure if Jolie could pull off the vulnerability of the role.

  5. Woo hoo! 5/5 from me as well, Ruth! 😀 I’ll review it soon, but the film just gets better the more I think about it. It’s beautiful from top to bottom, and it’s probably my new 2013 favorite ahead of Before Midnight.

    1. Absolutely Josh. I saw this a week and a half ago and I really can’t think of any flaw. It’s as close to a perfect film as it possibly could. Good for the eyes and for the soul.

    1. Tom

      oh, and if you don’t so care, I shall be posting this on my Ten taste Tests list i made earlier in the year. the reviews I’ve read have all been great, but this one I love! 🙂

    2. Hi Tom! I’ll be sure to check out your thoughts on Gravity. Glad you love it as much as I do. Oh THANKS so much for the linkage, much appreciate it!

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  7. So glad you liked it! Great review. Can’t wait to see this one (it got pushed back a week, though) 😦 It’ll open on Oct, 18th here.

    Just one little thing: Jonás is actually Alfonso’s son. His brother is Carlos, who he co-wrote “Y Tu Mamá También” with.

    1. Bummer that it got pushed out!

      Oh THANKS for the correction, I don’t know why I thought it was his brother. I’ve fixed it on the post, thanks Fernando! Wow, so his whole family are talented aren’t they?

  8. I agree with everything written here….. you really do feel part of the film (especially if you see it on the big screen). Its been 3 weeks in a row now I’ve seen very good films (Prisoners, Rush, and now Gravity). I hope this trend continues until the end of the year as we’re entering awards season!

    1. Thanks Asrap. Well I wish I could say everything I saw lately were as good, but tonight I’m seeing RUSH so two great films in a row would’ve been awesome.

  9. Brittani Burnham

    Wonderful review! I didn’t realize that was Ed Harris’ voice. Normally I wouldn’t agree with recommending anything in 3D, but I definitely agree here. 3D with the biggest screen possible.

    1. Thanks Brittani! I’ll be over to check your review as well. I like that they had Ed Harris here even if it’s just his voice, he was in Apollo 13 too wasn’t he? Yeah, the 3D is one of the best I’ve seen so far!

  10. Awesome review. I also love films that provide escapism but also give something to ponder about it. At first I was skeptical because I thought it was going to be “Open Water” but in space. I loved Children Of Men. I didn’t know this director also did Prisoner of Azkaban until I checked imdb, very cool.

  11. Oh wow amazing review, Ruth! I just watched it yesterday and you took the words out of my mouth! This film is not just visually stunning and thrilling, but emotionally striking too. Bullock really nailed it. That scene with Annighnaq(?) is really heartbreaking. I also love the theme of ‘rebirth’ that Curon put into the story. And those long-takes…wow.

    1. Thanks Fariz! Glad you love this too. I always like Bullock but LOVE her even more in this one. Yeah, the theme of ‘rebirth’ is quite thought provoking, that stays with me long after the film ended. And yeah, the long takes are a beauty!

  12. Great review, Ruth. I’m so excited to see Cuaron doing so well for himself – he’s deserved it, truly – and I can’t wait to check this film out.

    1. It’s not shown in the regular IMAX, Nika, only the *faux* IMAX attached to regular theater. You’ve got 3D there right, if so that should be sufficient.

  13. Wow, I’m even more excited for this one now! I wasn’t 100% sold on the initial trailer and I couldn’t buy into Bullock, but glad to see it’s hitting the mark for a lot of people. I’ve only given your review a scan as I want to go into it knowing as little as possible but so glad you got such a kick out of this one.

    1. Hi Chris! I wasn’t sold initially either but really, I had a different reaction seeing the same footage in the trailer and as I’m watching the film. Bullock is fantastic here, but then again I always think she’s better than people give her credit for. I didn’t get into too much of the plot here, so no worries about spoiler 🙂

    1. Hi Mark! Yeah, this is the first 5/5 mark I’ve given out this year. I just can’t find any fault big enough to knock points off it.

      I think the last film I gave 5/5 was the classic drama ‘All About Eve’ but I haven’t reviewed that one yet 🙂

  14. Awesome review, you definitely have me itching to see it. Imagine what you could do with expanding on the “rebirth” element at LTBM! Lol, just kidding, thanks a ton for the review!

    1. Hi Gene! Curious to hear what you think. Yeah I could expand more on the ‘rebirth’ element but I’d probably do that much later when most people have seen the film. I try not to go into any spoiler when I review things, and I’d have to mention a crucial part about the character if I delve into that. Hope that makes sense.

  15. Nice review, and it really is amazing just how many adjectives hold true when trying to describe just how powerful a movie this is. Terrific stuff, and one I’ll definitely be rooting for come awards season as well. 🙂

    1. Hi Chris, welcome to FC! Yeah, so many adjectives but I failed to use the one that describes how I felt to a T. Epic fail, ahah. In any case, glad you love this one too!

    1. Unfortunately it’s not available at the REAL IMAX Morgan, but if your theater offers 3D, it’d be worth seeing in that format. The story is still impressive and worth seeing, it’s not just all about the visuals 😀

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  17. Have seen it twice withing a week and it is just an amazing movie that should be seen in theaters in 3D to do it justice (and I’m not a fan of the format, but for this movie I am). Natalie Portman would have been interesting in the role (Jolie doesn’t feel like the right fit), but like you say Bullock plays one of her best roles here.

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