Venice Film Festival 2013

Film review: Gravity - George Clooney and Sandra Bullock float freely in this flawed deep space spectacle

4.00

 

A decade after collaborating on Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2003), Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron and British producer David Heyman have combined forces again on Gravity, a 3D survival thriller set in deepest, darkest space. The new film (which opens the Venice Film Festival) is a visual triumph even if its storytelling is less than sure-footed.

George Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky. Sandra Bullock is cast as Dr Ryan Stone, an engineer on her first assignment. As the film starts, they are on a routine shuttle mission. Showing off his spacewalking ability, Clooney’s character is joshing away with the controllers back in Houston. Bullock is tinkering with the machinery. Then, inevitably, disaster strikes. Debris from a Russian satellite is hurtling toward them, contact with Houston is lost and their chances of returning safely to earth recede rapidly.

The opening scenes have a mesmerizing, abstract beauty. Cutting is kept to a minimum as we see the two astronauts floating in space in what seems like perpetual slow motion. Cuaron makes playful use of 3D, showing objects slipping out of their grasp and hovering in front of us. The brilliant cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who also shot Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, delights in the opportunity to contrive the kind of galactic imagery we’re more used to seeing in Carl Sagan documentaries about the cosmos than in Hollywood studio thrillers. The production design is meticulously detailed. Gravity was shot at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios and certainly won’t do any damage to British technicians’ continuing reputation for excellence.

Clooney’s constant wisecracking provides an earthy counterpoint to all the self-consciously sublime footage of space. Given that he is in his space suit and helmet in almost every shot in which he appears, it can’t be said that we see a great deal of him. The impressive Bullock is more visible. Like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, her character is tough and self-reliant and challenges the gender stereotyping still often found in action movies. Bullock, who reportedly only won the role when Angelina Jolie rejected it and Natalie Portman dropped out, clearly relishes a physically demanding and unglamorous role as far removed from the world of Miss Congeniality as can be imagined.

The one problem with Gravity is that the plotting never quite matches its visual imagination. There isn’t the same urgency or plausibility here found in JC Chandor’s recent, similarly themed All Is Lost (which featured Robert Redford as a lone sailor whose boat is sinking.) At times, as the astronauts desperately battle fire, tangled parachute strings and malfunctioning machinery, matters risk becoming just a little banal and predictable. Even so, this is a film that, at its best, really does induce a sense of wonder.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea