TIFF13: Gravity (2013)

Gravity is spectacular in the truest sense of word. Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D space thriller uses state of the art technology to put us in space and make us terrified at the chances of survival. A few of the negative critics of the film have dismissed it as merely a video game cut scene, as if being associated with a video game is the most damning criticism possible. While moments of Gravity certainly owe their credit to video games — especially the film’s multiple first-person moments — that merely speaks to the film’s immersive nature. If Jurassic Park was the first film as amusement park ride, Gravity is the latest upgrade in this blockbuster filmmaking style.

Gravity follows Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a rookie astronaut and medical engineer, upgrading the Hubble telescope for some experiments under the supervision of Captain Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). When a satellite debris field appears and seriously damages the shuttle, Ryan becomes detached from the ship and in freefall struggling to survive in space against all odds. The film opens with the words “Life in space is impossible”, and Gravity makes you feel that statement.

Sandra Bullock initially seemed like an odd choice to star in this space thriller, but as the film plays on, her ordinary quality becomes a key attribute for the character. Ryan isn’t meant to be a superhero in any sense of the word. She’s partially the audience surrogate — we see directly through her eyes at multiple points in the film — and also the ordinary person struggling to survive against all odds.

There’s a common refrain when discussing Gravity: that it’s unlike anything the audience has seen before. Although it almost seems cliché to say so at this point, it’s completely true. Like Avatar or 2001: A Space Odyssey, much of the appeal is seeing something that has never been done before on film. There have been space movies before, but none that have simulated the zero gravity and perils of vacuum to this degree. I left the film puzzled over how the film was accomplished. Yes, it is certainly CGI heavy, but that is as descriptive as saying that Ben-Hur took a lot of extras to film back in the 50s. CGI is the tool. I’m curious how it was employed.

Gravity is terrifying. It is thrilling. It’s bare-bones storytelling on a spectacular scale. It left me dizzy and in awe of what current filmmaking technology can accomplish.

8 out of 10

Gravity (2013, USA/UK)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón; written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón; starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Gravity plays on Sept. 11 and 15 during the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations program.