Gravity” is not meant to be experienced by iPhone, iPad or the box where you watch Robin Williams and Michael J. Fox try to turn back the clock. No, director Alfonso Cuaron says. Part with a dime for “Gravity,” get yourself immersed.
“You’ll want to find an IMAX screen, 3D, Dolby Atmos sound,” says Cuaron, “The visuals and the sound are most immersive in this setting. This is a film that was created for depth and scale. I want audiences floating in space, partaking of the journey with the characters.”
And judging from the ecstatic reviews for Cuaron’s film, in that he has succeeded. The “hypnotic” (Entertainment Weekly) science fiction movie about an accident in space is “one of the most awe-inspiring achievements in the history of special-effects cinema,”(Time Out), a movie that sends the viewer “into free fall” (The Village Voice) along with its marooned astronauts.
(Roger Moore’s review of “Gravity” is here)
Cuaron, the director of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of Men” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” spent years setting this project up, years planning effects, years waiting for his stars, Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, to become available “because I could not imagine telling this story without them. The challenges that they had to endure just to get across a performance — intense, pre-programmed shots with computers and robots, actors strapped into very restraining harnesses. On top of that, the exercise of abstraction that is required for an actor to convince you that they’re going through this terrifying thing is truly their gift, as performers.”
Cuaron knew it took great, empathetic stars to win our sympathy with only their presence, their voices and their history. Bullock and Clooney would be only faces and voices, seen through the visors of space helmets as they faced the terror of a collision in space and its aftermath, the fear of dying alone “up there.”
“This film takes place, entirely, in micro-gravity,” Cuaron says. “‘Apollo 13’ got across the sense of micro-gravity with just a few, brilliant scenes. Ron Howard took his actors up into the Vomit Comet (NASA training jet) for transitional scenes, and those convinced you. Here, our entire movie is outside, in the micro-gravity of near Earth space. Long, continuous takes in this environment. We had lights and computerized cameras and actors in rigs and we created the illusion of floating and spinning.”
The “Gravity” of the film’s title is both literal and metaphorical, Bullock told Space.com, with the “lack of gravity” being “the perfect way to describe not being able to ground yourself.” Cuaron says that is by design.
“It’s what bonds us to Earth. It’s fundamental to human life…We have a character drifting into the void because she has lost her ground, a victim of her own inertia. She is literally drifting further from human communications and connections. She has to learn to fight her inertia, to come out of her bubble and find the grounding that she has lost.”
But beyond the metaphor, beyond the film’s emotional depth, Cuaron wanted his first film in seven years to be a tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller, which is why there are no apologies for the barrage of worst-case scenarios that pile up on our hapless space-walking astronauts — space junk, crashes, decaying orbits and shrinking oxygen supplies.
“All these worst-case scenarios are things we never virtually never saw in fifty years of space exploration,” Cuaron, a self-confessed “space nut,” says with a laugh. “It’s extraordinary that sending people into the most hostile place you can think didn’t produce disaster after disaster. But that didn’t happen because of the wisdom and the brilliance and commitment of the people who sent astronauts up there. But their space suits? Probably not as tough and durable as we make them out to be.”
The Mexican director, who turns 52 in November, has a long-established reputation for making emotional moments work. As concerned as he was to get the stunning effects and as insistent as he is that viewers get the primo-immersive, digital 3D experience out of “Gravity,” he was skeptical that this big-budget sci-fi picture would bring viewers to tears. But that response in early screenings “has been the happiest surprise. My co-writer (his son Jonas) insisted, from the start, that people would react this way. He thinks if you tell a tense story, put people on the edge of their seats and make people invest in the characters, audiences will be disarmed — rationally. And being disarmed, they let in emotions.
“I hope he is right.”