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Movie Reviews

Out of This World

Out of This World

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Neil Pond
October 23, 2013
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Starring Sandra Bullock & George Clooney

Directed by Alfonso Cuaròn

PG-13, 90 min.

Released Oct. 4, 2013

Wow---that’s the single best word I can think of to describe this truly awesome piece of moviemaking, which has instantly vaulted to the top of my list of the year’s best films.

Marooned in space after the destruction of their craft, two American astronauts suddenly find themselves on a new mission of survival.

That’s a simple enough premise, but “Gravity” turns its into something at once monumental and sublime, slicing to the core of our basic fears and primal issues about death and dying, isolation, abandonment and spiritual longing, and the general cosmic inhospitality and indifference that greets humans whenever we venture outside the comfort zone of the earthly place we call home.

It’s also one of the most technically dazzling spectacles to ever grace the screen, an eye-popping, digital/live-action marvel that makes the senses reel with new levels of sophistication in its groundbreaking special effects that leaves most other films look like they’re lagging light years behind.

As it begins, we meet veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and his space shuttle’s medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a newcomer on her first mission. In a breathtaking, 15-minute sequence during which the camera never breaks away, we see Dr. Stone working outside the docked shuttle on the Hubble telescope, and Kowalski whisking around leisurely with his jetpack, cracking jokes with Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris, a nice nod to another astronaut flick, “The Right Stuff”), when they receive some alarming news: A shower of shrapnel from a detonated Soviet satellite is speeding directly at them, at 25,000 miles per hour.

But the warning comes too late: The cloud of space junk, catapulted by centrifugal force as it orbits the Earth, plows into the shuttle, rendering it useless---and sending Dr. Stone flying out into the inky, star-flecked blackness, adrift, detached and alone.

And that’s just the beginning!

Other things happen---a lot of things. But revealing more would rob you of the many edge-of-your-seat surprises “Gravity” has in store, both visually and thematically, in the gripping story written by director Alfonso Cuaròn and his son, Jonás. Suffice it to say, as Bullock’s character does at one point, it’s “one hell of a ride.”

Back in 2006, Cuaròn made critics giddy with the tracking shots he used in “Children of Men,” a grungy futuristic fable that became known for a couple of lengthy, carefully executed segments in which the camera stayed with the action and characters, without cutting away, for several long, protracted moments. Those shots were über-cool, but they’re nothing compared with what the director pulls off here, in which his camera goes places, and does things, that are nothing short of jaw-dropping.

You’ll not only feel like you’re floating in space, you’ll feel like you’re inside Sandra Bullock’s space helmet. (In one amazing slow zoom, the camera “takes you along” as it seems to magically penetrate the glass of her visor from the outside, turn around, and begin looking out---all as she’s turning head over heels, weightless.)

This is one of Bullock’s best performances, without a doubt; reserve her a seat down front now at this year’s Oscars. It’s one of the most dazzling-looking films you’ll ever have the opportunity to see, especially if you see it in 3-D, or better yet, in 3-D and IMAX---believe every bit of the hype. It’s a masterful achievement of technique and craftsmanship, creating what has to be the most realistic “in space” experience ever for any motion picture.

And its final scene is a brilliant cinematic brushstroke of pure movie poetry that blends heaven and Earth, rebirth and renewal, past, present and future, and a poignant reminder of the Newtonian universal constant from which the film takes its title.

In almost every way, “Gravity” is out of this world.

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