News Column

"Gravity" sets visual standard

October 31, 2013


Oct. 31--GREENSBURG -- Truly immersive films should be savored.

When a movie is sufficiently powerful to transport you to a different time and place, to an alien environment and make you feel like you're right there, existing inside the screen for 91 minutes with the characters, it's a truly unique piece of entertainment.

On a visual, visceral level, "Gravity" certainly offers that transportive experience. On a storytelling level, however, "Gravity's" merits, I think, have been overblown. How dare I say such a thing, you might ask, about a film over which critics and filmgoers alike have gushed?

In comparing "Gravity" to other films that have been similarly transportive for me, the first that comes to mind is "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). During the first 20 minutes of "Ryan," I was absolutely pinned to my theatre seat with awe and horror and new-found respect for the men who carried out the D-day invasion. The rest of that film wasn't quite as powerful, but "Ryan" nonetheless continued to resonate long after I left the theatre. In fact, in the time since, I've seen parts of "Ryan" a few times during its numerous cable repeats. Although those repeat viewings are never so powerful as the first time, to this day, the film still resonates.

Given the passage of time, I'm not convinced "Gravity" will maintain the same power. Certainly, this film has the transportive effect I mentioned, but that fact largely owes to its visuals. This film's aesthetic merits can't be understated: they are good to the point of stupefying; I've never experienced anything quite like them in a darkened theater.

I attended my screening in one of Wolf Theatre's new digital auditoriums, too, and the effect was dizzying; this is about as close as I'll ever come to actually experiencing space travel and seeing the Earth from several miles above its atmosphere. At its core, however, "Gravity's" story isn't anything we haven't previously seen.

To be sure, the film is well written, directed and acted and, combined with the aesthetics, it IS powerful. Sandra Bullock gives one of her finest performances ever as Ryan Stone, an astronaut/scientist who's part of a space shuttle mission to make repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. George Clooney is Astronaut Matt Kowalski, who, in his character's own words, is along simply to "drive the bus."

Clooney brings his usual charisma and charm to the part, but we sense there's significantly more depth to his character than meets the eye. When tragedy strikes, leaving Stone and Kowalski the mission's only survivors, our suspicions are confirmed, as Kowalski vaults into full-on hero mode.

Bullock's character is slower to adapt to the unforgiving, life-and-death circumstances into which she's thrown, but Stone's character arc is really the film's driving engine. Thus, "Gravity" itself is Bullock's showcase.

Writer/Director Alfonso Cuaron paints a portrait of a brilliant scientist who's out of her element in the hostile, unremitting environs of outer space. Stone must force herself to adapt if she wants to survive. Although the character's backstory is decidedly undercooked, her evolution into a true survivor -- as translated through Bullock's performance -- is highly engaging.

Although there may be awards forthcoming for both Cuaron and Bullock for "Gravity," however, the film's appeal relies is too contingent on visual novelty. Will "Gravity" be just as powerful on a smaller screen, after many years have passed? I don't think so. In fact, it was already mostly forgotten by the time I arrived home from the theatre.

I'm not saying it's not worth seeing. In fact, if you're a sci-fi fan or just a fan of good movies, I suggest not waiting until this film comes to home video. "Gravity" is one of those rare, truly transportive films that come along only once in a while, but I suspect much of its power will be lost when it jumps to the small screen.

Rating: Howl-and-a-half

Score: 85/100

Runtime: 91 minutes

Rated PG-13 for language and some disturbing, violent imagery

Rating System Explained: Rabies = 0; Yip = *; Bark = **; Howl = ***; Lone-wolf howl = ****; Leader of the pack = *****

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011


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