Movie: Gravity; Director: Alfonso Cuaron; Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures; Rating: PG-13. Rating: 4 and a half out of 5 stars.
Space has been the subject of countless human dreams.
It has to have been, with all the films chronicling it. Some help to solidify our fears of the endless nothing so alien to our way of life, while others help turn that endless nothing into a platform for envisioning the future or speculating on what could be there.
"Gravity," the latest excellent film by Alfonso Cuaron, helps in both ways. But, unlike scary fare that came before it, it's actually humans themselves who have put themselves into such a terrifying situation. And Sandra Bullock, despite her Academy Award win for 2009's "The Blind Side," really comes into her own and becomes a true force while carrying this film through.
The first shot of the film is an unbroken, roughly 15-minute long shot. In the film era, a reel of film shot at 24 frames per second would last a little over 20 or so minutes, so it was plausible that such long, unbroken shots could be obtained but they rarely were. But what makes this take so spectacular, and a perfect introduction to the film's proceedings, is how it is, in its own way, nearly a complete film on its own.
Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first space mission for NASA. She's working on the electrical mechanics of an American satellite under her mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). There's two other people on the mission, but they won't matter.
Kowalski is a veteran NASA pilot and mission commander who loves classic country music and is dead-set on beating out the world record for length of a spacewalk, which seems nearly unobtainable. He's got an easy manner and the way he was just floating around the satellite telling jokes and stories to Houston (the Houston tech is voiced by an unseen Ed Harris) made me laugh a little, as it did others in the theater. It was a perfect contrast to the flustered and focused Stone.
A story about finding a woman he wanted to take out on the town in some Mardis Gras party in the 1980s standing with some hairy fellow was cut short when the Houston tech called for the mission to be immediately aborted.
A Russian satellite had exploded and the pieces were rushing through Earth's orbit at extreme speed, devastating other satellites in its path - and the pieces are now hurtling toward them.
When the pieces strike, and they do, everything is thrown into absolute chaos and a third astronaut is pelted in the face with a piece, breaking his helmet and allowing space to dry out his flesh in a grotesque fashion. Stone is spinning farther and farther away from the station on a crane arm and she's panicking so much that she's unable to report to Kowalski an accurate description of where she is.
The scene goes on, and it seems as though the film could end there. Their shuttle and satellite destroyed beyond all use and the two astronauts floating, with quickly depleting oxygen reserves, in space. Nothing hospitable. No help. All other stations either too far away to receive radio broadcasts or emptied of their occupants at the first sign of danger.
But these are two Oscar winners we're dealing with. While one character, Stone, seems reserved to die and float off into the outer reaches of space, Kowalski has never lost his cool. He's the perfect leader, remaining playful and confident in front of those who have given up against terrible odds.
The dichotomy of the two is a perfect mix. Somehow, with Kowalski there, the fear and pain of being so alone and so far from home, despite the glorious sunrise over the eastern rim of the Earth so far away in stark contrast to the black, isn't nearly as bad. There is hope, if Stone can seize it.
Some may look at this film and see nothing but a pair lost in space, but the film is a technical marvel of achievement that shouldn't be missed.
In fact, "Gravity" may be one of the best arguments for getting an IMAX theater anywhere near here.
The Saturday afternoon I saw this was the most packed I've ever seen the local theater. And it seemed they were all there to see this film, as the only spot I could find was in the very rear and furthest corner. Even there the film left me breathless and at the edge of my seat.
If you can look past the slight scientific inaccuracies present, such as the absurd notion that so many stations would be in drifting distance from one another, then you'll be left in awe.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)