Monday, February 24, 2014

Film Review - Gravity


Before I start what will probably be only the first in a series of “Best Picture” nominee reviews I think it is necessary to reflect on how I evaluate films in a review. Every film has its own unique relative paradigm determined by realistic expectations and comparable titles. The grading scheme is not a generalized bar. There is really no way to compare a movie like Robocop with 12 Years A Slave – they are too different.  Each film is measured then by how successfully it fulfills its potential, engages the audience, and compares to other movies of similar nature. If two vastly different films both receive an “A” – say Argo and Star Trek for example – it does not necessarily mean that those two films are comparable, just that they each were about as good as they could have been.

Roger Ebert was guided by this same philosophy of “relative, not absolute” critique and perhaps best summed it up by saying: “When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher.”

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The hype is real: Gravity is a true tour de force of visual storytelling. The images in Gravity are so arresting and spectacular that hardly anything else matters. No film since Wall-E has told such a powerful story with so little dialogue and such an emphasis on the power of picture. Some books have been called “unfilmable” and in that spirit I would suggest Gravity could be “unreadable”. The appeal of the movie is so heavily rooted in the visual wonder that it is hard to imagine the story working as well in any medium other than film. 

Gravity utilizes the “ticking clock” technique (which is exactly what it sounds like) to present a gauntlet of crisis sequences. The story feels as paradoxically vast and claustrophobic as space itself. So much happens and so little happens. Without spoiling too much, it is fair to say that the set up from the trailer, which showcased a collision in space and astronauts adrift, sets the course for the entire film. Every event leading up to the crash and every event afterward run linearly together in a fluid stream of events. There are no flashbacks or side stories. The entire ninety minute running time occurs amongst the stars.

For all intents and purposes there are only two actors: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. There are a few other supporting roles but the two leads are the only characters of any consequence. Both actors put in highlight reel performances and provide the film with a heart to match all the eye candy. Bullock is the star but Clooney’s performance as a wildly, carefree veteran is what really adds a level of humanity to the story.

How much you enjoy Gravity will largely depend on how much you like watching a movie. This is not the kind of film that makes you forget about the medium and get lost in its story and characters. Gravity demands a kind of cinematic appreciation that is really only relatable to its older brother 2001: A Space Odyssey. A major factor in the enjoyment of the film is marveling at the technique and ambition of the production. The masterful cinematography, editing, design, and direction has no trouble pulling you in, latching you down, and immersing you in the magic on screen but it is worth knowing before starting Gravity that it is an experience in film like few other.

Grade: A

Posted by Terry Pierson, Library Clerk