The Geek Renaissance is upon us and has been for the last several years. Science fiction is at the forefront of TV and movies, no longer solely relegated to that weird 9pm Friday timeslot on Fox. Enjoying superheroics and tales of space adventure used to be proclivities fans hid away when the cool folks were around. Now it’s okay to like sci-fi, and the entertainment industry is responding by churning out truckloads of the stuff for our eager consumption. While science fiction is going mainstream, however, the sci-fi we’re most used to seeing lands closer to the realm of fantasy. It’s rare that we get thoughtful and believable movie that actually pays more attention to the “science” than to the “fiction,” and that’s what makes Gravity such a treat. It released in October of 2013 to vast critical acclaim and would prove to be one of the best movies — and perhaps the best movie — of the year.
In a decade when movies are becoming longer and longer, there’s something refreshing about Gravity’s clocking right around an hour and a half in length. It would have been very easy for writer / director Alfonso Cuarón to push this movie into the three hour mark, but he wisely keeps it around ninety minutes. Gravity’s setting, story, and direction spin such a tense and suspenseful tale that adding any extra length would be a disservice to the perfect balance of character moments and explosive action that defines the movie. Between the dizzying spectacle of space and the constant white knuckle peril, Gravity had me needing a breather by the time the credits rolled.
Gravity gained some notoriety after its release when an array of scientists and real-life astronauts spoke out about what they liked and disliked about the film and its believability. It was hard to find many indefensible flaws in the film’s research and logic, even for veteran film science debunkers like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. There certainly are some liberties taken for the sake of pacing and plot, but there’s enough reality meshed into Gravity’s narrative that even its critics widely acclaimed the movie and praised it as a vehicle for interesting laypeople in space exploration. Granted, it makes space exploration look like a horrible and traumatic thing that nobody ever should attempt, but it still gets us interested and engaged.
Sandra Bullock stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer and space rookie, up in orbit for her first time, helping to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Commanding the mission is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a seasoned astronaut on the brink of retirement. There are references to and glimpses of others, but for all intents and purposes Stone and Kowalski are the entirety of Gravity’s cast of characters. The film opens with a breathtaking and vertigo inducing single shot that lasts for seventeen full minutes and effectively introduces us to both of the principal characters before launching them into danger. Of course their Hubble mission does not go according to plan, and the spacefaring duo are left drifting in the emptiness with an inoperable shuttle. The rest of the movie pits them against and in concert with physics and space technology as they try to find a way to safety with quickly diminishing resources and options.
Gravity is a fantastic movie, and its presentation on Blu-ray is a much deserved and excellent one. The film looks and sounds amazing, and it comes with a full suite of bonus features. The primary added bonus is “Mission Control,” a making-of documentary that lasts longer than the movie itself and examines all phases of Gravity’s conceptualization and production. Next up is a collection of “Shot Breakdowns” that examine five special effects scenes by giving each its own mini-feature that runs between five and nine minutes. “Collision Point” is an additional documentary that lasts about twenty minutes and has actor Ed Harris presenting the realities of space debris, a problem with close ties to the movie’s plot. Finally, the Blu-ray includes a short film from Alfonso Cuarón called Aningaaq that ties into the main movie in an interesting and tangential way.
From its first moments to its last, Gravity is a spectacle of intimate acting, awesome space vistas, gripping action, and a combination of breathless claustrophobia and agoraphobia. It’s a movie every space enthusiast should see, but it’s just as important and accessible for general film fans. Gravity is an example of what modern science fiction can be, and here’s hoping that it inspires some similarly intelligent and realistic forays into modern sci-fi cinema. Gravity releases on Blu-ray this week and is in stores now.