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London Film Festival 2013: Gravity - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

JAMES Cameron, director of sci-fi classic Aliens, has already hailed Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity as the best space film ever. It’s high praise indeed and deserving of this special film.

An awe-inspiring spectacle that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible, this is arguably as close to visiting space as most audience members will ever get. It’s that immersive.

But the trip is worth it as Cuaron’s film combines the majestic beauty of looking down upon our planet with the inherent dangers of life among the stars. It’s an utterly gripping filmmaking experience – one that engages almost every sense (the sound is also amazing), while also connecting with the heart and the brain.

The story is simple. Medical engineer Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission. When we meet her, she’s conducting repairs while on a routine space walk. With her is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), making his final flight before retirement.

All seems to be jovial and easy-going until Houston suddenly warns of an impending shower of satellite debris, which subsequently strikes with such ferocity that their shuttle is severely damaged and Stone is cast adrift into space.

What happens next would be giving things away, suffice to say that the central question throughout is whether Stone and Kowalsky can survive (or even be rescued). In that regard, it’s a race-against-time survivalist thriller with constant obstacles to threaten their chances (from the returning debris to falling oxygen levels).

Yet as exciting as things consistently get, Cuaron’s script never loses sight of the human dramas involved. Stone, in particular, has a poignant back-story to relate, which informs a lot of her decision-making, while Kowalsky is the more assured head, issuing advice even when the odds seem to suggest that all hope is lost.

These are two characters we can identify with on a human level and root for throughout. It almost goes without saying that the performances are exemplary, with Bullock especially on career-redefining role. This is the kind of role that she has long needed and which blows the work she did in The Blind Side out of the water.

And all this comes in tandem with being utterly blown away by the visuals, whether in the extended tracking shots and sequences that have firmly become a Cuaron trademark or the background attention to detail as the astronauts orbit the Earth.

One sequence as Stone glides over the boot of a lit up Italy is beautiful, while a shot of the Northern Lights is similarly majestic. Similarly, set pieces involving satellite debris are exhilarating, yet imbued with a full sense of peril. And the sound, as mentioned previously, thrusts you into the heart of the action… whether it’s via Hans Zimmer’s heart-pounding score at certain points, or just the sound of debris upon metal, or – in some cases – eery silence.

This is a film that has everything and more, and which effortlessly looks set to take its place among the great science fiction films of all-time, surpassing the likes of Kubrick’s 2001 (contentious, I know) but equalling the likes of Ridley Scott’s Alien. It is without doubt one of the films of the year.

And while there are minor flaws (a third character on the mission is too easily discarded, while some may argue against the need for so much back-story in Bullock’s case), they are easily overlooked when considered against the vast achievements of the majority of the film.

This is event cinema of the highest calibre and the type of experience that makes you realise why you fell in love with cinema in the first place.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 90mins
UK Release Date: November 7, 2013
London Film Festival Dates: Thursday, October 10 (OLS, 7.15pm), October 11 (IMAX, 9pm)