While space adventures like Star Wars and Star Trek are and always will be the epic space dramas that dreams are made of, filmmakers really haven't spent enough time on "down-to-earth" pictures that depict humanity's current explorations in space. Humanity's story began with small-scale satellite-building stories on the outskirts of the Earth and minor, yet important trips to the moon. However, rarely do space adventures hit the big screen without an asteroid plummeting towards Earth, aliens launching invasions, or at least someone having a close encounter - most likely of the third kind. Realistic films about space exploration have been few and far between, the most memorable of which came in 1995's Academy Award nominated drama, Apollo 13. Since then, space has basically been treated like a hostile villain, portrayed as the setting of chaos and conflict - much as it is in the already highly praised space drama, Gravity.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Great Expectations), Gravity stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, an engineer on her first outer space mission. Her commander, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), is overseeing his last mission as his team orbits the Earth when Mission Control suddenly aborts the mission as satellite debris is quickly confirmed to be on a collision course with the team's location. Unfortunately, the team is unable to defend themselves and the debris massively damages their shuttle and equipment, also thrusting the pair into space. Running low on air and with only limited opinions, Stone and Kowalski are forced to use what means they have left to attempt to make their way to a distant orbiting space station in hopes of using an escape pod to return to Earth. The voices of Ed Harris, Paul Sharma, and Basher Savage also star in supporting roles.
For all of this film's achievements (and we'll get to them), Gravity is still far from the perfect film that many make it out to be. At the end of the day, the film's story is the only substantial hang-up. You can sit and marvel at how this film looks, praise the acting, and even embrace the idea of coughing up extra money to see the film in IMAX 3D - but, the end result and the overall impact of the film simply doesn't get the job done. Maybe it's just me (and that's very possible), but this film leaves a gaping void of borderline irrelevance and eventual unimportance. The story doesn't provide a knockout punch that an Academy Award winner should deliver. Gravity goes through a motion of floating from one dire straight to the next, easily making it understandable as to why this film only goes on for only a brief 90 minutes. There are only so many different places you can float to in outer space before the question of whether or not these characters live or die needs to be answered. The climax of this flick is foreseeable, and easily forgettable.
We can now move on to the film's outstanding achievements - and there are many. By now, you might have heard that Sandra Bullock wasn't the first choice to play Dr. Ryan Stone. Actually, she wasn't even the second, third, or fourth choice. However, director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón should be thanking his lucky stars (no pun intended) that he landed this A-list actress. Most actors/actresses will tell you that acting on screen alone, without anyone else in the conversation is a complex, often taxing endeavor. Fortunately for everyone (viewers included), Bullock does a phenomenally job working through her character's various, heart-wrenching emotional states. Her character is full of fear from even the very beginning, but manages to face down each dire scenario, refusing to be fully engulfed by the constant fear of potential doom.
While Bullock is the domineering presence in this film, Clooney spends his limited presence portraying a character that's completely opposite in nearly every possible way. He's cool, calm, and collected - even after a debris storm reduces the duo's likelihood of surviving to nearly nothing. Clooney brings to the table everything we've all grown to love about the charismatic gentlemen, full of whit and poise. Combined, the efforts of Bullock and Clooney make for an unstoppable force of chemistry, and by the time the film concludes, it will be incredibly difficult to imagine any other actors or actresses in these two well-written roles.
Without a doubt, Gravity is a beautifully visual film, providing a mesmerizing view of Earth from our planet's orbit. In fact, it's so beautiful that it might be hard to get past the fact that it's actually CGI. Sure, the film might be a bit CGI heavy at times, which will be abundantly evident in some portions of the film more than others, but for the most part it provides for an absolutely flawless experience - sparing no expense, I'm sure. The eye-catching realism is quite breathtaking, often so convincing that you'll nearly forget you're watching a movie. During the thrilling action sequences, don't be surprised when you find yourself lost in the moment, easily becoming engulfed in the array of panic that would likely leave most of us screaming in pure horror. In other words, you'll be happy to be in a theater watching the events of this film, rather than in outer space dealing with the unimaginable living-changing experiences capture over the course of this film.
Overall, Gravity is going to be all the rage at the box office and understandably so - yet at the end of the day, it's not as epic as the spectacular space drama, Apollo 13. The hype has been built so high for Gravity that not even the Earth's atmosphere could hold it down - but after the film levels off a bit, hopefully viewers will come to terms with the fact that Gravity is simply a forgettable piece of filmmaking. That doesn't mean you should discount the experience of this film (which everyone should witness at least once), but this film is limited by a simple story and visual effects (in all their glory) that some filmmaker will no doubt elapse in the near future. Sandra Bullock (and likely the film's visual achievements) will garner quite a bit of attention during award season, but ultimately there's very little that sets her performance ahead of an unmemorable role that parallels Tom Hanks in Cast Away. In the end, Gravity provides outstanding, yet brief cinematic enjoyment, although I fear this film will eventually crash land in the "good, but forgettable" category of film.