'Gravity' (2013) Movie Review

Gravity movie review
Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Photo: Warner Bros.

NOTE: This review was originally published on September 9 after I saw Gravity at the Toronto International Film Festival. I am republishing it today as it hits theaters this weekend.

A rumble slowly begins to build as text across the screen sets the stage for Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, a story that will take us 600 kilometers above the Earth's surface, into the blackness of space. The rumble grows louder... No oxygen. The rumble grows louder, into a dull roar... Below freezing temperatures. The roar grows louder still... Life in space is impossible. And louder, until... Nothing.

Grade: B+

Gravity"Gravity" is a Warner Bros. release, directed by Alfonso Cuaron and is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language. The running time is .

The cast includes George Clooney, Sandra Bullock and Ed Harris.

The noise disappears into deafening silence. A shot of Earth fills the screen and astronaut chatter echoes through the theater as the space shuttle Explorer slowly comes into view. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and a third astronaut, Shariff (Paul Sharma), banter back and forth with Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris as an homage to Ron Howard's Apollo 13). Clooney's dialogue here is slightly obnoxious and not as funny as I think it's intended to be while Shariff bounces around like a child at the end of his tether.

Stone is on her very first mission to space and it's about to become a bumpy one. A Russian satellite was intentionally destroyed, but the unintended collateral damage caused by its debris is rushing toward the Explorer and they have only a matter of seconds to abort the mission and get out of its path. They're too late.

Over the course of this continuous 13-minute opening sequence without a single visible edit, the scene turns to horror as shards of debris rip apart the shuttle, Shariff is killed and Stone is sent hurtling into outer space with only the voice of Kowalsky to settle her down and calm her nerves, which is necessary because she's chewing through oxygen at a rapid rate.

What follows is a harrowing attempt to survive in an environment not meant for survival, and we've only scratched the surface of this 90 minute thriller.

Gravity is an interesting film in that its highs are so high it forces you to forget about its more underwhelming lows. It's a movie to be experienced in theaters if there ever was one, but for all the moments of intensity, the in-between, character building segments don't deliver nearly as well, though without them the themes and metaphors would be lost. What to do?

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and co-written with his son Jonas, Gravity is a film unlike any you've seen before and yet for all its technical brilliance there are still areas where Cuaron simply can't seem to get out of the way.

For example, for as much as I love Steven Price's score, it's entirely unnecessary after the opening sequence hammered home the effectiveness of silence. The sound artists have the audio covered as evidenced early by the low, barely audible hum of bolts being unscrewed heard over the astronauts' dialogue, and even more so as a field of satellite debris is hurtling through space at tens of thousands of miles per hour without a sound, remaining silent as they smash into the shuttle. Your heart begins to race. The entire audience is tense and you can feel it. What isn't needed is artificial sound and yet, Cuaron goes back to it time and again.

The dialogue is also a sore spot. At one point Stone mentions how Kowalsky simply won't shut up. I felt the same way and am surprised Cuaron did not. While I certainly could have watched this film without any dialogue whatsoever, cutting the number of spoken words by half would have definitely improved the overall project.

That said, for every slight misstep the film faces, the moments of tension are so absolutely harrowing you can almost feel your muscles tighten. While it's essentially a film that builds to one perilous scene after another, these scenes are so well done it doesn't really matter. However, the final scene is one that will probably have a lot of audience members throwing their hands in the air and saying, "Really?" Not because it's unrealistic, but more so because it's just one more obstacle in the way of survival that doesn't seem entirely necessary.

This final scene, however, is one of the most thematic scenes in the entire film, playing off the foreboding opening text in combination with the film's title as questions also come to light. If space can't support life should we really be out there? At the same time, the importance of life and accepting your situation, facing your fears and fighting against the odds is just as prevalent. What is life if you runaway and hide when facing tough challenges? It's those moments where all hope seems lost and we decide to fight that define our character.

Behind the camera, Cuaron has assembled a talented team to execute his vision. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's camerawork is extraordinary as are the film's effects, which have me wondering just how much of the movie is live action and how much is CG. For all I can tell 75% of it may have been entirely computer generated, which would explain the 2+ years it took to bring the film to theaters. Either way, the mixture of live-action and CG is seamless.

All told, the good outweighs the bad, but there are definite flaws preventing it from reaching the highest of levels from a story standpoint. The post-conversion 3D is serviceable, though I would still prefer to see it in 2D. Seeing it on the largest screen you can find, however, is a must. Gravity is as much a cinematic experience as it is a story, if not more so, and it's one you're going to want to seek out.


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More Reviews
  • http://www.cinemaconfessions.com/ Gautam Anand

    Some of your points are valid Brad like loud score and a little too verbose at times. But they were minor issue for me. Truth be told, I had the most thrilling experience in a cinema theater ever. And when I say "ever", I mean it, in all sincerity. How much I loved the film is captured in my review where I write

    "Breathtaking, visceral, visually awe-inspiring (more than anything you have seen on screen till date) and a technological marvel in every aspect, Gravity should find its place among seven wonders of cinema - if there are any. Gravity is not as much about story-telling as it is about entrancing you with its visual poetry and gripping you with possibilities of life and death in space."

    Anyone interested can read my 5/5 review here .. http://www.cinemaconfessions.com/2013/10/movie-review-gravity.html

  • http://www.smartfilm.blogspot.com SmartFilm

    While I agree that the film definitely takes some missteps, the direction and effects more than make up for any miscalculations.

    A snippet of my review:

    "The true star of Gravity is not Sandra Bullock but director Alfonso Cuarón and his crew of special effects wizards. Getting started with a bang in a mind-blowing 13-minutes uncut shot, the dance of Cuaron's camera quickly establishes the level of head-scratching wonder that will go on to define the film."

    Read the rest here: http://www.silverscreenriot.com/reviews/out-in-theaters/311-out-in-theaters-gravity

  • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

    Nice writeup, Brad. Here's my review (from 3:00 a.m. when I got home) - I'm not as up on the film as many others are:

    There's no denying that the strong points of Gravity are big highs. Specifically, there are several scenes with tremendous amounts tension where I found myself thinking "Wow this is intense". The intensity results from a combination of the acting, camerawork, and sounds / music - all of which work in unison nicely.

    Unfortunately, in between these moments, I found the script and characters to be subpar. On the script front, the dialogue felt very forced at times, with jokes falling flat and stories making me think "ummm...ok, this really isn't that interesting". There is also a random scene that comes out of left field in the third act which kind of annoyed me and I did not think fit the story at all. The characters, while minimal in quantity, are unrelatable to each other and the audience, making them simply not engaging. I should note the weakness is not due to any of the performances, which I had no issues with. Rather, it's the lack of relationship and camaraderie established between the characters. I wish this was different because while I praised the film's highs earlier, they would have been even better if I cared more about the characters involved in these situations.

    Visually the film is good - I did not think 3D was necessary or really helpful. I think you must watch it on a large screen though. Score and sound were fine, but nothing to really write home about.

    Overall, Gravity, while a good film, did let me down a little bit (perhaps my anticipation was too high). If you're a technical marvel junkie then this is a must-watch and I think you'll really enjoy it. If you're more into characters and script, I still recommend checking out in theaters, but with expectations at bay.

    7.0 / 10 or "B-"

    • http://www.cinemaconfessions.com/ Gautam Anand

      "If you're a technical marvel junkie then this is a must-watch and I think you'll really enjoy it"

      Wrong assessment I would say. I am not at all a tech movie junkie, but still I loved the Gravity. Though I am into sci-fi films but only if they have human element in them [e.g. Eternal Sunshine, Upstream Color or the upcoming Her]. I hate films like Transformers, and most of the superhero films to the point that I have even stopped watching them.

      I would say Gravity is different from everything we have seen before. It might be heavy on technology, but it never feels so, just because the film is so beautiful. To categorize this film just by saying it's for tech junkies or for that matter any specific group would be gross injustice to this sheer wonder of a film.

      • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

        Maybe the way I wrote it read wrong. Was not saying that you would only love it if you were into technical aspects. Rather, was saying you must watch it if that's your thing. I do think people can love Gravity for different reasons though, even though I may not 100 percent agree.

        Despite the qualifications / criticisms in my review, I did enjoy it and am considering going again in theaters.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Winchester/ Winchester

    I haven't seen it so obviously can't comment on whether I would agree or disagree on where it maybe stumbles until I do, but based upon what I have read to date (although I'm trying to avoid any reviews etc which are too specififx) my expectation is that they wouldn't be so severe as to dilute the effect of the overall film.

    Hopefully, that won't be an incorrect calculation as it's the main film I want to see for the remainder of the year.

  • http://www.licacfilm.blogspot.com dam94

    This is the single best experience I've ever had in a theater, but it has one flaw that prevents me from calling it a masterpiece.


  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jaylav3205/ Jason Lavender

    I loved this film. I saw it IMAX about an hour ago and it was one of the best movie experiences I have ever had. My only complaint it why did Clooney have the thrust on his suit and Sandra doesn't. That makes no sense to me. Thoughts?

    • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

      Ha - I was thinking about that during the film, but not something I remembered when reviewing.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/ArthurCarlson/ Arthur Carlson

      He didn't have a thrust on his suit. He was wearing one of those backpack things that people on a space walk wear. I have no idea what it's called. I think he was wearing it more because he wanted to break the space walk record. The others weren't involved in any space walking but were tethered to the either the ship or the telescope.

      But that's how I saw it.

  • PJ Edwards

    It coulda been a contender. The screenplay is so bad, it drags down what could have been a great movie. If there was a mute button in theaters I would give it an A, but since dialogue is a part of the film I would give it a C. Yes, it dragged down the experience that much.

  • http://www.twitter.com/marlonwallace marlonwallace

    I wonder if anyone caught the shot that Cuaron captured of the Buddhist statue? In my review of it, I remarked about how unlike in 'Life of Pi', Bullock's character doesn't really pray or look to God. In space, you can't really look up to the sky as Heaven. You're surrounded by nothing but literally a black void, so her fate or her salvation will have to come from within. This kind of inward looking is very much in line with Buddhist philosophy.

    SPOILER ALERT: Buddhism also embraces the idea of re-birth, so how powerful therefore was the shot of Bullock after her character pulls off her space suit and curls up into the fetal position like a baby in the womb about to be born again.

    It's not a mother's contraction that pushes Bullock's character through the cosmic fallopian tube. It is in fact the overwhelming force of gravity in a glorious moment that births or rather re-births her.

  • http://timeforafilm.com Alex Thomas

    Agree with your review Brad, it already looks like its being highly overrated.

    Sure, the visuals were fantastic and there's great moments of tension. But I had a lot of flaws as you mentioned that I just can't say it's one of the best films of the year.

    Gave it a B+ but it's a soft one!

  • http://imqwerty.wordpress.com/ Jordan B.

    The only real problem with the film, for me, was the ending, which did have me thinking, "Really?" Aside from that though, I liked the film a lot.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/topyxyz/ topyxyz

    Saw the film on IMAX. Great experience, though I thought I was seated a little too close to the screen. Totally agree with Brad here. People were sleeping through the dialogue and were at the edge of their seats during those very intense moments. Very good film, slightly weighed down by unavoidable problems with its premise. B+

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    I wish I had waited to see it in IMAX- this is a film to be experienced, not just seen.

    But.... I'm not sure I loved it as much as I wanted to. Visually I guess it makes it more interesting, and definitely in a league of it's own. I didn't care for Clooney- and it wasn't his performance so much as maybe it was the character that I didn't like. I liked Bullock though, and i'm glad she's the actress that ended up in the role.

    I found myself a little bit bored in the second act. And I think it was wonderful visually, but that wasn't enough to draw me in to be completely on board. Maybe it was the dialogue that threw me off, however I did like that one moment where Bullock gets some static over the radio and starts barking with the dogs. I thought it was the kind of perfect crazy moment that someone would go through in that situation.

    I'm really glad I saw it. But I don't see myself revisiting it.

  • E K

    I saw this movie in IMAX 3D and the immerse experience was unparalleled by any theater experience I've ever had.

    I thought the 3D and the expanded depth of field was a huge part of that immersion. I was surprised by this review and many of the comments that suggest the inclusion of 3D is inessential, or more glaringly, less preferable.

    I have read many interviews with Cuaron including one that states "..First, there was the 3-D element. According to Cuarón, Gravity was designed for 3-D “from Day 1,” and in the four and a half years of making the film, “about three and a half was for 3-D work,” he says."

    more of that interview here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/10/03/alfonso-cuaron-on-the-making-of-his-instant-sci-fi-classic-gravity.html

    I just think it's a bit strange to discount the effectiveness of his vision. Especially when most of the tedious work and delays occurred to ensure the 3D's effectiveness.

    Maybe I should see it in 2D to understand the counter-argument. But I fear I would not feel as I did during my first viewing, 600,000 ft. above the Earth.

  • E K

    Also, I enjoy Rope of Silicon and look forward in posting more with the thoughtful and informed community in the future.

  • pushpa latha

    what's wrong with you people? Why are you saying this a great movie? I just went ahead and watched this movie after reading some 'glorious' reviews....and here's my opinion-
    this movie is visually appealing, emotional and kind of thought provoking at some instances, but this can't exactly be called a 'great' or even a 'good' movie. It's just an average flick.
    I don't know who did the dialogue writing, it's just horrible....the timing isn't right at all.
    When you are floating in outer space far away from your space craft, with a very limited oxygen supply, unsure of your survival in the moments to come...with deadly debris floating around you, flirting with your co-astronaut is the last thing you'd wanna do. But, George clooney does it.

    Yes, the visuals are great, but the movie isn't great. It gets boring at one point and the ending is abrupt.
    After seeing all the adjectives people are using to describe this movie, i wonder what's wrong with them. One can safely give this movie a miss.

  • Rainer Lucks

    Sandra Bullock > Such a boring person!!!! I never understand how she even made it in to the Movie industry. She is just such a drag with little acting ability. Seen it and could only give it a 5 out of 10. Clooney added a little spice to it but appeared a little silly. Seen him perform in better Movies. Gravity? Give it a miss and keep your feet firmly on the ground.

  • https://twitter.com/delaney_david David Delaney

    Finally got to see it last night. It was a great experience overall. Visually stunning, tension packed and for once I thought Bullock was great. It was really nice to see a human character in a space set thriller as opposed to the usual archetypes we get in these movies. My favourite part was when she was telling the panel in the escape pod to shut up. Really reminded me of myself shouting profanities at my car when it's beeping, telling me to put on my seatbelt. A tiny moment, but it illustrates Cuarons attention to detail and understanding of the character. Downsides were scant plot, strongly telegraphed themes and the bastard 2 rows away from me eating a bag of sweets constantly throughout the film. Why can't people just eat their dinner before they go to the cinema ?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    I finally decided to finish this movie today. I still had about 20 minutes on the clock. Rewatched it from the beginning, fast forwarded a few times as I wasn't interested in the slightest to see random floating around in space for a second time around. I listened to all the dialogue again and was bored to tears. I struggled to make it to the end, but I finally did. This is probably the best boring movie of all time. It's excellently designed, visually stunning, but horribly horribly boring. Like an amusement park ride that never ends. I'd give it a C- and that's being generous.