A rookie astronaut, Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock), on a shuttle mission must defeat the vast emptiness and chilling indifference of space when they are trapped there in 'Gravity.' (Warner Bros.)
Every movement is crucial. With every grip you’re literally hanging on to your life. You’re surrounded by nothingness. Each breath may be your last.
Welcome to the reality of “Gravity,” the electric thriller starring Sandra Bullock that’s literally out of this world. Sure, it’s “Castaway” in outer space, it’s “Speed” meets “Apollo 13”; but in truth, it’s unlike any film you’ve ever seen.
Much of this has to do with the situation at hand, with a script written by director Alfonso Cuaron (“Children of Men”) and his son, Jonas. But it also has to do with the director’s masterful rendering of the vast emptiness, and chilling indifference, of space itself.
He at once makes it both heavenly background and overwhelming danger. Factor in weightlessness, lack of atmosphere, the vast absence of anything to cling to, or any way too even right one’s self, and it becomes the most terrifying environment imaginable. Cuaron captures the immensity of that dark beauty with spine-stunning precision, and in all-immersing worth-every-penny 3-D.
The story is simplicity itself. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a rookie astronaut on a shuttle mission to gain scientific data. She’s not some space jockey daredevil, just a scientist with a job to do.
As the film begins she’s outside the shuttle, repairing something and feeling queasy as she floats about. Also outside, trying out a new jet pack for maneuvering in space, is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky, on his last mission and trading quips with the voice of Mission Control (Ed Harris).
A report comes over that a nearby satellite has exploded and its fragmented remains are now racing through space. Then the remains are spotted heading right at the shuttle. Stone and Kowalsky hustle to get back inside the ship, but they don’t make it.
The shuttle is shredded, those inside are killed instantly. And Stone is cut loose to go tumbling uncontrollably head over heels out into the great nothingness.
This would make for a very short but impactful film, but obviously there’s more (although not endlessly more; the movie is a breathless 90 minutes). Stone, the rookie who doesn’t even like space, has to figure out not only how to survive, but also how to get back to Earth.
The specifics of her efforts are as exciting and entertaining as any action film you’ve seen. And yet, at the same time, the movie becomes a classic portrait of one person against the elements (even if those elements consist mainly of a vacuum). Stone’s background is slowly revealed, and if parts seem convenient, Bullock still sells the woman and the adventure as a whole.
But Bullock works within the film, not on top of it. Cuaron integrates the human and personal into the greater universe in a grand choreography of instinct and oblivion. It’s beautiful, blended terror of the (literally) highest order.
In the end “Gravity” has only the most basic things to say, but it says them so well and presents them so marvelously that it’s a cinematic wonder. The great beyond has never felt so present.
Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language
Running time: 90 minutes