Review – Gravity: Why I Love IMAX and Don’t Like Stanley Kubrick

When I was younger, about seven or eight, I remember when the Richmond Science Museum started showing movies in its IMAX dome. At the time, it was the only IMAX theater in Virginia. I remember my mom and dad taking me and my little sister underground to enter the giant sphere, passing the massive room encased in glass that housed the largest projector I had ever seen. When we took our seats, when the pink haze that covered the walls finally faded away, I remember being struck numb by the journey I was suddenly taking. I flew high with the eagles over impossible mountains and bottomless canyons, cascading through wind and rain and snow. I dove with sharks to the very depths of the ocean floor, and I careened through the ruins of old. In all honesty, I felt like I could fly.

But my favorite IMAX movies were the ones that took me into space. When my feet were picked up off the ground and I was launched freely into the stars, I was in awe, overwhelmed by the vastness of the cosmos laid out before me. I tumbled around comets, danced across galaxies, soared over planets I may never see, and looked back on the Earth, our beautiful blue marble, and was mesmerized. Watching these films as a child was one of the only times I ever felt truly immersed in a location.

No IMAX film since then has managed to capture me in the same way. No film, that is, until Gravity.

In an era where IMAX and 3D are no longer special, where every film is subject to warped editing and blown up to massive proportions for no other reason than to double the ticket price, director and cowriter Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá TambiénChildren of Men) uses these tools for their intended purpose: to engulf the audience in a universe they may otherwise never know. He makes a case that magic can still be made with these resources, and with the help of brilliant camerawork, a dedicated special effects team, and a truly submerging score, Gravity is a sight to behold.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as two astronauts on a space walk when their satellite is destroyed by deadly space debris. Left floating in the void just outside of Earth’s atmosphere, they must make their way to a neighboring space station armed only with their wits and what little oxygen they have left.

Because of its content, Gravity has been compared to another famous galactic film: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Let me say this: Gravity is a far superior film to Stanley Kubrick’s “masterpiece,” mostly because 2001 is boringIt is a drag of a film that feels much longer than it should, and no matter how many times people have tried to sit me down and watch it, I always disconnect within the first half hour. I’m not engaged, I’m not interested in any of the characters or their individual plights, and the thing is stuffed so full of unnecessary symbolism that I end up laughing during those rare moments the movie hasn’t put me to sleep.

Gravity, on the other hand, never stops being interesting, mainly thanks to the brilliant work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, The Tree of Life) and composer Steven Price (The World’s End). We’re introduced to the universe of…the universe in one unbroken shot, watching our brave astronauts simply having fun being astronauts. It’s quiet, peaceful: the glow of the Earth reflects off our heroes’ helmets. Then, the debris hits, and we’re launched face-first into space, spinning with the spacemen and hurled through the stars as a cacophony of brass throws us into just as much chaos. Then, it’s quiet again, almost melancholic, as the two sole survivors gather their wits and press on, their only motivation being to stay alive.
This is the dichotomy that plays back and forth throughout the film: death and life, hopelessness and hope, waiting for the world to end and pressing on, and its delivery is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s a great argument for the most simple stories being the most effective: there are no ulterior motives and no shoehorned philosophies to speak of. There is one shot in the entire film that is at all symbolic, and it alone accomplishes more than 2001 ever could.
In short, Gravity makes the case that cinemagic is still very much alive, that IMAX and 3D can be so much more than gimmicks when done well. It may not be the movie of the year for some people, but it certainly made me feel like a kid again.