"Gravity" grabs audience with memorable execution at JC Cinema

Mason's Cinema offers students a chance to watch "Gravity" this weekend (photo courtesy of GMU's Office of Events Management).
Mason's Cinema offers students a chance to watch "Gravity" this weekend (photo courtesy of GMU's Office of Events Management).

For most of the twentieth century, filmmakers have tried their best to show the dark side of space. From Ridley Scott’s “Alien” to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” space has been expressed through film as a place where anything can happen. However, no film taking place in the endless void of outer space has terrified me more than Alfonso Cuarón’s science-fiction epic, “Gravity,” now playing at the Johnson Center Cinema.  

Taking place sometime in the very near future, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) has been sent to space to complete a repair mission on the Hubble Space Telescope. Things seem to be going fine until a series of satellite debris travelling at the speed of a fired bullet is spotted, destroying her ship and killing most of her crew in the process. The only remaining survivor, besides Stone, is Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), an experienced astronaut trying to break the record for the longest spacewalk. Together, they must find a working space station and get back to Earth before the debris returns and shreds them to pieces.

From one look at this synopsis, “Gravity” would seem to the average moviegoer like a survival film. However, Alfonso Cuarón’s direction sets it apart from the rest. Cuarón and his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, create a stunning environment, which, interestingly enough, delivers more story than the lines spoken by Bullock and Clooney.

One would wonder how this is at all possible. After all, it is just a setting. Simply put, it is the way the camera is placed that makes this possible. When placed in the right space and angled so that enough light can reach the lens, the camera can create a powerful message spoken entirely in silence.

For example, there is a scene when Sandra Bullock hides inside a space station and curls into a ball. If this were any other film, the camera would possibly hang onto this moment for a few seconds and then cut to the next scene. However, the director chooses to instead hang onto this moment for a while, allowing the sun to silhouette Bullock, creating an image of an innocent child. Not only does this pay an homage to the Star Child from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but the camera is also placed in such a way that it is able to capture enough light around the actress, creating a symbol of sanctuary.

It would seem simple enough to just place Bullock in the station and have her breathe a sigh of relief or just say something to herself, indicating she has found a safe place for the time being. However, by allowing her calm actions and the established set do the talking, it sends a message more powerful than any word can muster. There are many examples to be found like this one throughout the film, and it just makes it even more powerful to watch.

Adding on to the importance of the visuals, the CGI environment created for the film is breathtaking. Tim Webber, the visual effects supervisor behind the film, has created a world that will have the audience staring in awe at the impressive surroundings which will have them believe that Bullock and Clooney were actually in space. With the stunning look of Earth above the astronauts’ heads and the destruction caused by the space debris, there is no doubt in my mind that “Gravity” will earn the Oscar for Best Visual Effects at this year’s Academy Awards.

While the visual effects make up for a great amount of this film’s success, Sandra Bullock’s performance as Ryan Stone helps carry “Gravity” to a level of greatness that could not have been reached with CGI alone. Since she spends a majority of the film tumbling and spinning through the endless void of space, she had to give a memorable performance to compensate for the minimal character interaction. Fortunately, she is able to do so with powerful actions and lines that add depth to her character and will have the audience rooting for her survival all the way.

While the visual effects and terrific acting remain the same as when the film was in the theaters, it still seems to be missing something that, sadly, the JC Cinema can do nothing about. This is the third time I have seen this film, but the first time in 2D. When I finished watching it, I felt like the absence of 3D took a toll on the overall effect of the film. Without it, the characters do not seem to stand out amongst the stars like they did in the theaters.

Despite the lack of 3D, this is still a smart and relentlessly entertaining film. With an impressive performance by Sandra Bullock and visuals that will have the audience on the edge of their seat from the first space debris attack, “Gravity” must be experienced by all. It only clocks in at an hour and a half, so if you are looking for a quick break from writing essays or studying for exams, take some time to go to the Johnson Center Cinema on  Feb. 20 at 9 p.m.; Feb. 21 at 6 and 9 p.m.; and Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.

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