Quality: Four stars (out of four)
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Rating: PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, disturbing images, brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Theaters: Aksarben, Village Pointe, Oakview, Westroads, Majestic, Regal, Midtown, Twin Creek, Bluffs 17
* * *
Take it from this nonfan of most science fiction: “Gravity” is the best thing to come along in this movie genre since “Apollo 13.” It's a shoo-in for best-picture, best-director and best-actress Oscar nominations, among others.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are spot-on as Ryan (her dad wanted a boy) and Matt, a couple of space-shuttle astronauts repairing the Hubble telescope and testing a jetpack when a field of space debris comes winging their way at 20,000 miles an hour — the result of the Russians shooting a missile at one of their own satellites.
He's a longtime space veteran, keeping up a nonstop joking patter with mission control while zipping around untethered. She's a rookie, nauseous because she hasn't adjusted to weightlessness and nervously focused on her telescope repair when disaster strikes.
Suddenly she's untethered, hurtling out into the blackness of space, spinning uncontrollably and gulping her meager supply of oxygen in panic. She is terrified. She is utterly alone.
Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men,” “Y Tu Mamį También”), who wrote the story with his son, Jonas, does the same thing with this nail-biter that Ron Howard did with “Apollo 13.” He presents you with characters you emotionally attach to, so that every peril they experience leaves you gripping your seat, hoping they find a way to survive.
And there are a lot of perils in this movie.
No, I'm not gonna tell you what they are and spoil things.
What I can tell you is that the movie is some kind of technical marvel that has yet to be explained but is utterly believable every second. Without using the “vomit comet” airplane method Ron Howard did to film weightlessness for “Apollo 13,” Cuarón has somehow found a way that combines computerized cameras, wires and harnesses, and digital effects that are utterly convincing. It's particularly amazing because the entire movie takes place in weightlessness.
You might want to pony up for 3-D or even IMAX on this one. It's definitely not a movie to be watched on an iPad or other personal electronic device.
The cinematography is nothing short of awesome, including an opening shot that runs uncut for so many minutes I lost count. The camera, like the actors, floats around the telescope and the space shuttle and into the faces of the actors without ever breaking. All the while that big blue marble Earth glides in and out of the shot.
Cuarón uses the fact that there is no sound in space to accentuate the cold, hostile, alien world in which Ryan and Matt find themselves stranded. He also uses Bullock and Clooney, charmers the camera loves, to emotionally anchor a picture that so often flies out of control.
Matt, the calm, steady voice of reassurance, is the perfect balance to Ryan's panic and disorientation. Together they'll have to try to improvise a way forward.
“Gravity,” a grave movie floating out there in the blackness, turns out to be a movie about hope, about finding an anchor and the will to struggle on. Cuarón, Clooney and Bullock have created an instant classic, one sure to be talked about not just through awards season but for years to come.