Craig's First Take: "Gravity"

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Medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone is on her first Space Shuttle mission accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky, who is commanding his final expedition. During a spacewalk, debris from a satellite crashes into the space shuttle Explorer, leaving it mostly destroyed, and stranding them in space with limited air.
3.5

“Gravity” has been setting hopes dangerously high since it debuted at the Venice Film Festival last August, even getting a “I think it’s the best space film ever done” quote from James Cameron, impressive coming from a man who’s made quite a few of them. And what’s interesting about it is that it’s mostly true, there are scenes here that are like visual crystal meth. Only they’re attached to a story that continually feels like a wet blanket.

Alfonso Cauron ("Chilren of Men") shares screenplay duties with his son Jonas, telling a tale of two astronauts, a rookie named Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and her veteran pilot Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, never a moment when he doesn’t seem like he’s playing his regular affable, wise-cracking self). When debris from a Russian missile strike annihilates the space station they’re working on, both must get to an ISS pod within 90 minutes or they stand to lose more from the next round of debris.

Cauron has always been just outside Academy Award recognition. You can’t say he doesn’t try here. The serene, almost eerie way the film begins, with characters slowly floating around the station with Earth right below, is exquisite while the dizzying annihilation of the station, and the several obstacles that come next, are heartstopping. The camera is used perfectly here, the close-ups of the characters faces as they uncontrollably float through space, as well as their POV’s couldn’t be more intense.

Just as much as the film wows with fireworks, it whimpers when trying to create human characters. Stone soon becomes the main character of the film, a personal loss that happened to her on Earth figuring heavily into the story. Just despite the best efforts of Bullock, the Cauron’s can’t make her “inspiring” journey from traumatized to empowered seem real. It’s a one-dimensional view of depression and loss, contrived in the way it goes from sad to inspiring so quickly.

But if you’re going to see this thing, and you should cause it looks absolutely beautiful, it works great in 3-D, Imax. If guys like Cameron really want the two mediums to survive those horrible headache-causing glasses, then “Gravity” is more or less what he needs more of. As a survival story it works fine, as an emotional journey the script feels slack, but visually this is an experience unlike anything ever filmed before.