GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. at Amsterdam Ave.
Saturday, January 5, 9:00, and Monday, January 7, 7:00
Series runs January 4-8
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a breathtaking thriller that instantly enters the pantheon of such classic space fare as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and The Right Stuff. While medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is fixing a computer glitch outside the shuttle Explorer, veteran astronaut and wisecracker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), on his final mission before retirement, is playing around with a new jetpack and Shariff (voiced by Paul Sharma) is having fun going on a brief spacewalk. But disaster strikes when debris from a destroyed Russian satellite suddenly comes their way, killing Shariff and the rest of the crew and crippling the shuttle, leaving Stone and Kowalski on their own in deep space, their communication with Mission Control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris, in a nod to his participation in Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff) gone as well. Kowalski is cool and calm, listening to country music as he tries to come up with a plan that will get them to the International Space Station, but the inexperienced Stone is running out of oxygen fast as she tumbles through the emptiness, Earth in the background, so close yet so far. Written by Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men) with his son Jonás, Gravity is spectacularly photographed by Emmanuel Lubezki, the master behind numerous works by Cuarón and Terrence Malick (The New World, The Tree of Life), among others. Lubezki and his team even created a new LED light box to increase the film’s realism, which is nothing less than awe-inspiring and mind-bending as it takes place in real time. Despite the vastness of space, Gravity often feels claustrophobic, particularly as Stone struggles to get a breath or attempts to operate a foreign module.
Close-ups of Stone and Kowalski reveal reflections of the shuttle and Earth, emphasizing the astronauts’ dire situation as they engage in a very different kind of pas de deux. Gravity also succeeds where directors like James Cameron often fail, as a solid, relatively unsentimental and unpredictable script accompanies the remarkable visuals, which evoke both harrowing underwater adventures as well as dangerous mountain-climbing journeys. (Cuarón also manages to bring it all in in a terrifically paced ninety minutes.) Cuarón and Lubezki favor long takes, including an opening shot lasting more than thirteen minutes, immersing the viewer in the film, further enhanced by being projected in IMAX 3D, which is not used as merely a gimmick here. Stephen Price’s score increases the tension as well until getting melodramatic near the end. Clooney is ever dapper and charming and Bullock is appropriately nervous and fearful in their first screen pairing, even though they only make contact with each other through bulky spacesuits, their connection primarily via speaking. Cuarón, who also edited Gravity with Mark Sanger, has made an endlessly exciting film for the ages, a technological marvel that should have a tremendous impact on the future of the industry. Winner of seven Oscars including Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing, Gravity is screening January 5 and 7 in the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Complete Cuarón,” comprising all eight of his movies (Y tu mamá también, Children of Men, Sólo con tu pareja, Great Expectations, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) in conjunction with the success of his latest, Roma.