Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gravity [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChiTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B+)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
Chicago Tribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Gravity [2013] (directed and cowritten by Alfonso Cuarón along with Jonás Cuarón) in the present day about a routine near-earth space mission that goes horribly awry is certainly one of the best films of 2013 and ought to garner a slew of Academy Award nominations come Oscar time including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Original Screenplay (!), Best Cinematography (!) and almost certainly a Best Actress in a Leading Role (!!) nomination for Sandra Bullock who probably gives her best (and most serious) performance of her life in this film. 

The film begins with three astronauts -- mission specialist Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock), career astronaut Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney) and another international mission specialist named Shariff (voiced by Paul Sharma) -- on a seemingly routine space walk outside of an American space shuttle performing a maintenance/upgrading mission on the Hubble Telescope.  Then they get word from Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris) first unconcerned then increasingly alarmed about a Russian space-missile test to destroy one of its own satellites that had just taken place in another part of near Earth space that had spiraled out of control: Yes, the Russian missile had blown-up its intended target, but the result debris field had crashed into other near earth orbiting satellites destroying/dismembering them as well producing a wild, cascading and increasingly chaotic/expanding cloud of space shrapnel threatening everything in its path, including the said, staid Space Shuttle with HT in tow and its crew.

The three are thus summarily ordered to stop what they are doing and begin immediately the process of returning back to their craft.  Ryan Stone, though still suffering from motion sickness (its been her first time in space) still wants to get "her boards" into the Hubble Telescope.  After all, she's been training and waiting A LONG TIME to put these circuit boards into the telescope and to just stop NOW (!) doesn't make sense to her.  But, of course, one of those boards is now taking its time to power-up ...

A few moments later it does not matter, the debris field of space shrapnel arrives to shred the Hubble and put holes into the Space shuttle, apparently killing poor-ole Shariff and sending the newbie mission specialist Ryan Stone as well as veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (at least wearing a jet pack) hurling off into ... empty Space.

OMG ... what now?  Well vet Matt Kowalski is able to retrieve the hurling/spinning Ryan Stone with his trusty ole jet pack and then set them off in the direction of the relatively nearby International Space Station.  But they're not exactly carrying a lot of oxygen with them as theirs had supposed to have been a _routine space walk mission_ taking place just outside a happily well-functioning space shuttle (now destroyed).  What to do?  What the heck to do?

What follows is a both visually AND ABOVE ALL PSYCHOLOGICALLY STUNNING SURVIVAL STORY.  And remember the two main characters in this story are "tech people."  They're practical.  And yet they are thrown here into truly terrifying chaos.  And in this horrifying chaos Ryan comes to realize that facing imminent, horrific and seemingly utterly random/meaningless Death that it'd actually be A REALLY GOOD TIME TO _PRAY_ (!).  And yet, practical as she has been all her life (and probably brought up to be that way) NO ONE EVER TAUGHT HER HOW TO PRAY.  WOW!

And though this movie is thankfully tight/short (only 96 minutes long) ... at this point there's still about 20-30 minutes to go!

This is just an incredible film.  It is chock full of horrifying and utterly impersonal action as only "space shrapnel," hurling about in a both terrifying and yet utterly Newtonian (mechanistic) manner crashing through spaceships (and astronauts...), could provide.  But the action is also beside the point.  This film is ultimately a crash course about Meaning.  And wow, what a crash course it is!

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1 comment:

  1. It’s amazing the way preconceptions bind us at times. Yes, I saw your review back in October and your Oscar picks in February, but I could not bring myself to see another Sandra Bullock film after a decade of disappointments since her shining moment in Crash. The HBO premier of Gravity last night gave me an opportunity to take it or leave it, and I stuck with it all the way with no problem or hesitation. It was a grabber. It goes to show what a good script and good director can do. In this particular case there weren’t any creative differences between director and screenwriter since they are one in the same. Bullock’s role was written perfectly, and she was clearly directed with extraordinary intelligence and empathy for her character, “medical engineer” Ryan Stone.

    Father, I don’t have much at all to add to your commentary; however, I will say that it was lovely to see that Orthodox icon on Russian space station. I grew up in a home with icons and incense, and these nuances trigger memories and comfort. Then on the Chinese shuttle we saw the Buddha. Both of these images were hopeful. We never know what they mean to Stone, if anything. Even if she had ever learned to pray, she most certainly did not have time for that because her evolutionary, primordial fright-fight-flight survival mechanism was fully engaged and activated.

    Sorry I buried the lead here, Father, but I agree with you that this film is superb. I was shocked by the power of this story as it was conceived and produced for the big screen. I don’t say this lightly, but this was truly brilliant film making. I can promise you this: The next time I see the imprimatur of director and writer Alfonso Cuarón and co-writer Jonás Cuarón, I will be attentive.