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by Eric Kohn
September 1, 2013 2:04 PM
7 Comments
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Telluride Film Festival Review: Is Alfonso Cuarón's 'Gravity' A New Kind of Cinema?

Which isn't to say that Cuarón makes things easy on his audience. "Life in space is impossible," announces an opening title card, as Steven Price's overbearing score reaches a deafening roar that ends with abrupt silence. The discombobulated feel never lets up; the extraordinary sound design keeps pace with the restless camera.

Despite the landmark feats on display, "Gravity" fails to deliver an equally involving story. The Cuaróns' screenplay maintains a steady pace and some invigorating one-liners for Clooney's typically suave character, but also clumsily attempts to work around the isolation of the characters by giving them somewhat uninspired, histrionic monologues.

Bullock, a bigger protagonist than Clooney and on her own for long stretches of the running time, engages in a conversations with herself that suffers from a forced sentimentality out of sync with the rest of the movie . But she still makes for a compelling survivalist, her frenzied state nicely complimented by Clooney's usual and welcome smirking routine. There's certainly ample humanism to legitimize the threat of sudden death.

After a lengthy "hike" to the nearby space station, the duo face another set of problems that further complicates the stakes of the scenario, but Cuarón wisely changes up the surroundings. Inside the station, the space suits come off, and the audiovisual quality of the experience shifts dramatically. Contrasting the safe haven of the ship interior with the yawning apathy outside of it, Cuarón sustains a love-hate relationship with the harsh conditions. "I hate space," Ryan sighs in a moment of humorous understatement, yet neither she nor the filmmakers can deny its epic beauty: The Earth, as much a character as the abyss around it, maintains a haunting presence, its sprawling continents on full view for much of the movie and glimmering beneath the atmosphere.

The constant visual bombardment makes it hard to entirely forget the fabricated qualities that give "Gravity" its appeal. Some of the POV shots lack the realism of the exteriors; it doesn't take a trained eye to spot the more unpolished CGI images. But "Gravity" gets away with dropping some of its realism because it's implicitly about the evolution of new media.

Compared by one recent viewer to watching someone play a video game and progress from one level to another, "Gravity" is a uniquely contemporary work that merges the traditions of a conventional survival narrative with modern sights and sounds. Cuarón succeeds to a stunning degree at conveying the physicality of an otherworldly scenario rather than departing from it as so many over-processed blockbusters do. While unquestionably escapism, as minimalist spectacle, it delivers unprecedented delights.

For that reason, the regular story elements are something of a red herring. "Gravity" may suffer from being discussed as filmmaking in any usual sense. Cuarón, always one eager to tinker with film form, here has taken on the role of an Imagineer-like visionary, crafting a cinematic rollercoaster that's both visceral and dreamlike in its capacity pull viewers into a queasy encounter with the realistic perils of space. "Gravity" lets you visit space without sugarcoating its dangers. It's a brilliant portrait of technology gone wrong that uses it just right.

Criticwire grade: A-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? A hit since it opened the Venice Film Festival last week, "Gravity" is sure to continue pleasing audiences in Toronto ahead of its October 4 release date. The combination of star power, interest in the genre and technological wizardry should help it perform strongly and maintain some momentum during awards season, when Bullock, Cuarón and Lubezki all have a shot at recognition.


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7 Comments

  • TheGhostofBelleStarr | October 3, 2013 2:00 AMReply

    oh brother, the trailer looks REALLY stupid. I for one can't stand Bullock's acting nor even the sound of her voice so would be torture...also I'll have to pass on this one since I refuse to support any"work" of George Clooney who being a multimillionaire supports the Socialist/Marxist agenda of Obama. Serfdom for you and me is A OK in Clooney's book while he and the rest of Hollywood rich and elite are far removed from it. I'll wait for it to come to TV.

  • bongokillerclown | September 2, 2013 4:48 PMReply

    not a big fan of mainstream "movie stars' but the premise is worth watching...the cinematography sounds fascinating.

  • roland | September 2, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    Great review. Cant wait to see it. Thanks

  • Neil | September 2, 2013 12:49 PMReply

    Funny how Angelina turned this down but accepted roles in such gems as Wanted, Salt and The Tourists. Such is the nature of the business I guess, sigh....

  • A reader like any other | September 1, 2013 8:37 PMReply

    It would be very nice if you wouldn't tell so much about the plot of the film. I thought this was an analysis about the way of Cuaron's making films, not a list of Gravity screenplay's plot points. Thank you.

  • Eric | September 2, 2013 4:32 PM

    It's almost impossible these days to engage with a movies and not face this sort of complaint. If you're really that sensitive about spoilers, it might be best to avoid reviews entirely until you see the films in question. But in my defense, I've grown more and more sensitive about the idea of spoilers in recent years and tend to avoid revealing any major plot points that aren't already made clear in existing data about a film (trailers, IMDb summary, etc.). There's a lot more that happens in GRAVITY that I did not disclose here, I promise.

  • Mirvish | September 1, 2013 8:01 PMReply

    Can't wait to see it, but from what I understand the real technical wizardry isn't in green screen per se, as much as the motion control robots to which the actors, sets and cameras are strapped. It's a San Francisco company that modifies industrial car assembly robots tha worked with Cuaron. In other words, I think it does Cuaronand his team a slight disservice to attribute the production to "new" technology as much as real artistic and technical genius in the use of and modification of existing technology. Hats off to all involved!