Gravity (2D) (2013)


Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Release Date: October 4th, 2013 (US); November 7th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Science-fiction; Thriller

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity has been lauded with praise from audiences and critics alike since its recent big screen release, being labelled groundbreaking, pioneering cinema. Emphatically described as immersive and emotive. Even breathtaking. Perhaps so much so that no space-set extravaganza will ever be the same again, purely because space on film in the future has a Gravity-esque brass ring to aspire to.

This abundance of praise, however, has been attributed primarily to Gravity in its 3D format (heck, even Mark Kermode thoroughly enjoyed this version). The jury is therefore still out on Gravity in its classic, run-of-the-mill 2D version. Does the trend-setting cinematography and floaty camera work succeed at all in two-dimensions? Is the film as engrossing and all-encompassing without the plethora of protruding debris and George Clooney-ness?

Quite simply, the answer to these questions is no. Not a resounding no, but a no nonetheless. And this flares up a number of issues, the most significant being whether or not Gravity in 3D is, more-so than any other three-dimensional film to date, essentially a theme park thrill ride in a cinema. Perhaps even — put in the plainest of terms — a gimmick. This is not necessarily a negative — film critic Danny Leigh on BBC’s Film 2013 mentioned that the film which Gravity reminded him most of was the Lumière Brothers’ L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (known in the UK as Train Pulling into a Station).

First shown in 1895, the film is a short 50-second piece depicting a steam train’s arrival at a bustling station. The first of its kind, the oncoming train apparently startled audience members and sent them fleeing in fear of the vehicle. The Lumière Brothers, themselves pioneers in the art of filmmaking, perceived cinema and the cinematic experience as a physical one, where audience members would be totally entranced and involved in what they were seeing. This was the birth of cinema and back then cinema was an out-of-body experience.

Fast-forward over a century and, by all accounts, this wholly enveloping feeling has returned as Gravity in 3D. But the same cannot be said for Gravity in 2D. The film sees Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone on her first space shuttle mission, partnering spacewalk veteran Matt Kowalski (Clooney) on his final mission (you can see where this one is going). After hearing news of a Russian satellite accident, the pair are bombarded with the resultant debris and metal, leaving them separated, low on oxygen and in desperate need of a safe return to Earth — to gravity.

Gravity (2D) looks stunning. The intricately manoeuvring astro-camera delicately shifts around the blackness, almost giving off the sense that the viewer is up there with the mission team (it probably does relay this sensation entirely, in 3D). The screen displays the magnificence of planet Earth in its fullest form and the film, as a purely flat visual output, looks simply awesome. So awesome that the philosophical Kowalski comments on the “beauty” a number of times.

Bullock is good as Dr. Stone, a woman who has recently lost her child and finds solace in the emptiness of space — an emptiness that no doubt has engulfed her for what feels like millennia, and that has left her devoid of any genuine happiness or enthusiasm for life. George Clooney does George Clooney very well, bursting with unbridled charisma and charm. The pair, and Bullock in particular, do genuinely come across as actors who have gone hell-for-leather and to ensure that there is a completely organic impression emitted from their space-set performances, an organic understanding that the film itself does incredibly well to generate (a generation likely far greater in 3D) as it was obviously unable to shoot on location.

Here is where Gravity (2D) returns from cloud nine to the bleak pavements of earth: the narrative is nothing more than just alright. Much of the film sees the astronauts glide around space for a period of time before colliding with a number of space stations and shuttles as they search for a route back to Earth. The novelty of watching these small, inconsequential beings wander at times aimlessly around the dark beyond wears off fairly early on, and unfortunately the dialogue is too commonplace and puffy to keep the audience attentive. There are bountiful amounts of clichés (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”) and a number of deep-rooted conversations about existence and life (foetal position alert) recycled from sci-fi B-movies. The film is self-aware of this, and it would seem that the 3D version of Gravity does not need to worry about plot because the entrenching nature of proceedings means viewers are too busy being wowed by that new, exciting feeling of immersion in space alongside the characters.

Here lies the fundamental dispute that the 2D versus 3D debate boils down to: Gravity (2D) is a visually wonderful, but narratively generic drama about people in space trying to return home, whereas Gravity (3D) is a revolutionary experience in watching and becoming part of a film — it is pure cinema, the essence of what the Lumière Brothers envisioned all those years ago.

There is a moment towards the end of Gravity (2D) where the camera pans above a number of objects travelling very rapidly over the Earth. Even in two-dimensions this is a spine-tingling moment, and it evokes a final 15 minutes that is tense, goosebump-inducing and quite simply brilliant. These final moments probably equate to every moment in Gravity (3D). If that truly is the case, Alfonso Cuarón has done something pretty special indeed. The director has vehemently pushed for the film to be seen in all its three-dimensional glory, on the biggest screen, and it seems that is exactly how it should be seen.

I’m off to the IMAX.

The Summer of Sci-Fi

Okay, I will admit it: only fairly recently have I jumped on the sci-fi bandwagon. I have always enjoyed the odd science fiction film, but I used to be much more of a drama or comedy guy. Not anymore. Over the past two years, I have really begun to develop an admiration — through intrigue and awe — for science fiction. I think it started around the time Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was announced. Having never watched the Alien films (I have now) I was surprised that Prometheus had grabbed my attention as much as it did. The plot sounded interesting, the poster looked ominous, the actors lined up were of a very high calibre. Then the trailer arrived and I was completely sold. The mood set in the trailer was outstanding — total atmospheric eeriness. In terms of the film itself, I went to the cinema to see the day it came out and, in my opinion, it lived up to the hype. Perhaps having not seen any of the Alien films beforehand I went in with a different mindset to those who had seen them — I was not expecting a lot of Alien-related content because I didn’t really know what Alien-related content would look like.

But I digress. This summer — and beyond — we have the pleasure of being offered a significant number of science fiction films in cinemas. Having just finished my exams at university, I have only been afforded the chance to go to the cinema once in the last few weeks and that was to see Iron Man 3. But now that I am off university and free to do what I like for five months, the cinema beckons along with the upcoming sci-fi films. Up first, at the end of March The Host was released in cinemas, starring Saoirse Ronan, and having been panned more or less by critics — holding a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — it has performed pretty well at the box office. Up next, the highly anticipated Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise. I regret not seeing this film in cinema as, at least for an hour, it harps back to classic sci-fi films like Silent Running and Total Recall according to Mark Kermode of Mayo and Kermode’s Film Reviews on BBC 5 Live. Other reviews have been moderate to favourable and the film has grossed over $200 million dollars. Of course, the biggest and most looked forward to science fiction film of the summer has to be Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I plan to do a blog post on soon, watch this space).

Following that are films such as The Purge (2013) starring Lena Heady and This Is the End (2013) with an ensemble of comedy stars. In July, Pacific Rim hits cinemas — perhaps literally going by the trailers. Billed as Giant robots vs. Giant monsters, Pacific Rim has a tough job in ensuring it does not just become a film where, well, giant robots hit giant monsters. The well-publicised Elysium begins screening towards the end of August — a futuristic take on current political issues, helmed by Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Before the summer ends, The World’s End (hopefully not) will complete Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” and again it boasts the funny duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Even after summer, the science fiction fountain keeps flowing with the likes of Riddick, Ender’s Game and the second part of The Hunger Games franchise — Catching Fire.

I guess the reasoning behind this blog post is to not only give you an insight into how I got into science fiction, but also encapsulate how much the genre dominates our cinemas. Back in the 1970s and 80s — when I was not alive — sci-fi films were at the forefront of cinema: films like Blade Runner, Silent Running, The Terminator, and even before then Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps now, in 2013, science fiction is on a parabolic rise and hitting a return to form. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is simply an easier way for filmmakers to grab an audience’s attention with awesome visuals. But why can’t it be both? I for one am very much looking forward to this summer and am excited to get stuck into some sci-fi — are you?