At their best, movies are able to make viewers feel as if they’ve been transported to another time, another place.
No movie this year accomplishes that particular goal as well as “Gravity,” the visually and emotionally stunning space thriller from director Alfonso Cuarón.
The most realistic-feeling outer-space movie ever made (sorry “SpaceCamp”), “Gravity” is a remarkable technical achievement that also provides white-knuckle thrills from start to finish and a tour de force performance from Sandra Bullock.
It is also the rare movie that makes 3-D an integral part of the experience, not just a gimmicky add-on.
Cuarón (“Children of Men”), who also wrote the script, offers a familiar story in “Gravity” — man in a life-and-death battle against his environment — but in this case the environment is the perfect vacuum of space, and Cuarón tells the tale in a way we’ve never seen before.
The plot unfolds quickly. A few American astronauts are finishing up a scientific mission on the Space Shuttle. Mission commander Matt Kowalski zips around casually in a jet pack, trading quips with mission control (the voice of “Apollo 13” and “The Right Stuff” vet Ed Harris) that start with “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.”
Bullock is the neophyte, Dr. Ryan Stone, a space-sick medical engineer with scant astronaut training plodding through her first mission.
While Stone finishes up some scientific adjustments, however, the astronauts receive a warning. The Russians have blown up one of their own satellites, and the debris is having unexpected repercussions.
An eerily quiet — space is funny that way — disaster quickly hits, leaving Kowalski and Stone to fend for themselves in the vast nothingness.
Clooney, as the veteran on his last mission, one way or the other, is smart, breezy and fearless. He’s the perfect maverick that we imagine as an astronaut.