Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ a relentless ride

By Karsten Burgstahler

Every once in awhile, a movie comes around that demands to be seen at the theater. This movie is so big and beautiful that nothing less than the silver screen will do it justice.

“Gravity” (Rated PG-13; 90 Min.) is the first time such a movie has come around in years. Clichéd as it may sound, this movie absolutely took my breath away.

The plot is stunningly simple: Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are astronauts on a space walk to conduct research. Debris from a satellite causes a chain reaction that destroys their ship and leaves them floating through space, looking for a way home.


This is an intimate movie told on a grand scale. Yes, its large-scale action set pieces are flat-out amazing. But this is the story of Stone, whose tragic past drives her fight for survival. Director Alfonso Cuarón places Stone in constant peril, forcing her to fight her inner demons while staying on her toes. The movie never lets up through its 90-minute duration.

Because it is up to Bullock to carry the movie, she is present in nearly every shot. She is up to the challenge, and Cuarón trains the camera on her face while she works her way through hell in space. Just when she gets inside a ship, it catches fire. Just when she reaches an escape pod, she’s running low on oxygen. The movie is absolutely terrifying but never allows its emotional center vanish in the chaos.

I was informed I looked like I had just run a 10-mile race after my screening,.

Because the movie relies on performances to stay the course, it is dialogue heavy. Most of it sticks and feels like real conversation, especially in the opening moments when Bullock and Clooney play off of each other. A few of the writers’ plot decisions are kind of corny, but I would not have expected a standout plot here; it’s serviceable. Not that it detracts from the film in any way — “Gravity” lets its visuals fill in all the gaps.

The visuals are jaw dropping and have no equal in 2013, with only a few other movies rivaling it in the last five years. It’s pretty safe to say the battle for the Visual Effects and Cinematography Oscars are sewn up. Cuarón, known for “Children of Men” (one of my favorite movies of the new millennium), is a master of the continuous shot, refusing to cut away and letting his camera float smoothly through space along with the actors.

The movie doesn’t cut until 14 minutes in; and the filmmaking technique used to place the audience within the scene raises the tension considerably, as the audience gets to look down on Earth along with Bullock and Clooney. If Ang Lee can win Best Director for “Life of Pi,” I have no doubt Cuarón has a legitimate shot for Best Director here.

Even though the movie features a post-production 3D conversion, Cuarón knows how to use the technique and allows it breathing room rather than forcing it. As objects hurtle through space, they seem to float in and out of the screen. It’s a nice touch and worth the upcharge.


One final positive: the score, written by Steven Price, drives many of the emotional scenes and is a standout. I have no doubt we’ll see Price come Oscar night.

Don’t wait for “Gravity” to hit DVD; this is a technical marvel that must be seen on the big screen. This is what a blockbuster should be: grand in scope and ambition, intimate and powerful in its emotional core. “Gravity” is a new breed of movie that directors will scramble to imitate for years to come.