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Article by Teddy Durgin

Gravity Is Out of This World

Watching director Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," I couldn't help but think of that title character from Peter Schilling's 1983 tune "Major Tom (Coming Home)." Schilling's song hit in 1983, when I was 13. Coming from the "Star Wars" era, to have a song on the radio about an astronaut the victim of a space accident falling back to Earth and that "4-3-2-1!!!" chorus... it obviously got in my brain. And I hadn't really thought about the song until I began watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney stuck in orbit after their space shuttle is destroyed by streaking satellite debris. They have to make it to a nearby Russian space station while not floating out into the great beyond. The movie is so tense and so harrowing for nearly its entire 90-minute running time, with very little in the way of humor to break the tension, that at least two or three times I just wanted to blurt out: "4... 3... 2... 1!!! Earth below us... drifting... falling!" But I didn't. Because in a space movie, no one should hear you scream-sing. And "Gravity" is not a film in which the experience should be ruined by any snarky audience member. I would definitely liken this more to an "experience" than a "movie." Shot and playing in IMAX 3-D, the experience of "Gravity" is not one you will soon forget. At all times, Cuaron makes you believe that what you are watching is actually happening in outer space. It's quite stunning. And as much of a technical marvel as this film is, it's still a showcase for whoever nabbed the lead female role of astronaut Ryan Stone. In this case, Bullock rises to the challenge and carries the film. Stone is not a career astronaut, but a medical engineer who NASA gave six months training to as part of an upgrade mission to the Hubble telescope. So, she starts off the film already a bit queazy on her spacewalk. When the calamity strikes, Cuaron's camera basically becomes locked on her as she goes spinning off into the void. Through Bullock's performance and Cuaron's direction, we become aware of her complete physical and mental condition - her breathing, her field of vision, her limited reach at times. After a rescue by Clooney's veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, Ryan begins to emerge as a specific character - a workaholic doctor who has thrown herself into her career after losing her 4-year-old daughter due to a freak fall at day care. It's an interesting dilemma for the audience... root for a character to live who hasn't really lived in a long time. This is not a character who has a spouse and children waiting on Earth for her. She has no one. When her predicament is at its most dire, her first inclination is to quit and give up. But Matt hangs in there and gives her the necessary pep talks along the way. The film then becomes very much about rebirth. My only gripe with the film is that it does start to take on a certain predictability as disaster strikes pretty much every 10 or so minutes for poor Ryan and Matt. The overall film feels meticulously plotted and planned out to the point where a certain spontaneity is noticeably lacking. Still, there is no denying the very unique entertainment value of "Gravity." Cuaron is now every bit the technical maestro that James Cameron is and, apparently, every bit the perfectionist. I admired "Gravity" greatly. Now, I hope he doesn't take a page from Cameron's book and make us wait SO many years for his next film. We only have so long to be in their bright, brilliant orbit.

 

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