October 10, 2013

'Gravity' visually and emotionally stunning


---- — 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.

The film, though, really belongs to Bullock as the sad and unsure novice who has to delve deep into herself to find a way to survive. She makes us feel her pain and struggles and is a sure-fire Oscar nominee.

According to scientists, there are a few questionable principles of physics in use during the movie, but from a non-scientific point of view “Gravity” feels absolutely authentic. Somehow Cuarón has filmed an entire movie in what seems like zero gravity, and he makes it look simple, though it must have been spectacularly difficult.

“Gravity” is sparse and economical, but it’s breathtaking and completely immersive. It may be the closest thing to actually being in space that most of us will ever experience. Just make sure to see it on the big screen, in 3-D.

Rental Recommendation: “Apollo 13” didn’t have the special effects of “Gravity,” but it had the advantage of being true. Grade: A.

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Gravity Grade: A Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney Rated: PG-13 (for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language) Running time: 91 minutes