Gravity is a spectacular space drama like no other, a truly towering achievement from director Alfonso Cuarón that exceeds the outer limits of what cinema has previously achieved.
The premise is strikingly simple, but the execution must have been unimaginably complex. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the only people we see on screen during the entire movie, play Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, two astronauts working on the Hubble Space Telescope before Houston inevitably informs them that they have a problem. When catastrophe strikes, they find themselves trying to survive in the inhospitable conditions of outer space.
The scale of the picture is simply staggering. Films have depicted life off terra firma ever since Georges Méliès made A Trip to the Moon, and yet never before has so much detail, so much precision, been placed in recreating the elements involved with working in zero gravity conditions so entirely alien to us. Captured in awe-inspiring long takes, Cuarón alternates between the terrifying vastness of space to claustrophobic shots from inside Stone's helmet. I have never seen anything like it.
Leaving the cinema was to come crashing back down to Earth, enraptured as I was after spinning through the orbit of this 90-minute 3D extravaganza. And despite all reservations you might hold to the format, this is a space drama that demands to be seen in 3D, on the biggest screen possible.
Notice my reluctance to label Gravity as science fiction - it's not. Everything in the picture is not out of this world, just out of this planet. Astronauts routinely toil away on satellites orbiting above our heads all the time without us noticing. But here, the ordinary truly is extraordinary, and the enormity of the film's scope is matched by the intimacy of the drama.
Both leads bring a mature authority to their performances; Clooney incessantly talkative and full of life, Bullock reserved and detached, a person who it seems only works for NASA to get as far away as humanly possible from the misery of home. But character development, like the film's story, is surprisingly economical. Quiet moments of insight are constantly supplanted by the jaw-dropping spectacle as the film mainly revels in destruction over deconstruction. This is very much a Hollywood story about survival and hope that will set your heart thudding and your lungs gasping for air; the exhilarating action sequences making the bog-standard blockbusters of 2013, from Man of Steel to Pacific Rim, feel mind-numbingly dull.
So many images, from the reflection of Earth repeatedly spinning in to view on Stone's visor, to her later curled up embryonically inside a space capsule, stay with you long after the film is over. Whilst it would be unfair to dismiss the film as style over substance, Cuarón has here crafted a clarion call to the spectacle of cinema. Gravity might not be the most nourishing movie released this year, but it's certainly the biggest treat.
Gravity is screening as part of the 2013 London Film Festival. The film will be released in UK cinemas nationwide from 8 November.
London Film Festival Reviews