A transcendent display of cinematography (The Bordwell definition- not the Academy definition which is closer to photography)- camera movement that perfectly matches the place and story
90 minutes- tight- Cuaron is just a perfectionist—last film was 2006’s Children of Men and then we get a 90 minute film
Win for that pulsating musical score- one of 7 Oscar wins (including the first of three wins back to back for Emmanuel Lubezki
The jaw-dropper is the 12 ½ minute opening take
There are some unfortunate platitudes in the script like Clooney (who is great here) as the Texas-based veteran of outer space who asks Bullock “Where do you pitch your tent?”- not a major flaw but could do without—I think the “universal” story-telling was mistaken for being dumb or lacking depth
The camera is perfectly tethered to the actors as if floating of course- a perfect marriage like on a bungee- the effect is incalculable to the film/narrative/viewer experience not to mention an absolute technical and stylistic marvel and achievement
A survival meditation- 3 passes of the debris are space/time manipulation in editing
Big star-power pays off with the two leads- Clooney is charming (few on screen have ever been more so than Clooney over his career) instantly and good old Sandy Bullock (not an overly talented actress per se) is instantly relatable and sympathetic- it’s narrative short-cutting through casting at its finest
Largely Cuaron has done away with his greens in the mise-en-scene (his 90’s work was loaded with it- and Children of Men brought it back a little) but of course Bullock is wearing a green tank when she changes in the crucial scene of rebirth as she balls up. There’s green paper later—there’s a green Aurora Borealis later, green frog at the end
That scene with her in a ball is important for the subtexual element and religious reading of the film- Clooney as an angel (like Cary Grant in TheBishop’s Wife in 47’), learning to walk at the end of the film (also an evolutionary metaphor), the howling, the fire (hell of course), along with the clear religious iconography in the three satellites (the Orthodox sticker, the Buddha)- those that claim this is just a film of technical achievement aren’t doing enough work to get the subtext – “nobody taught me how to pray” in the actual text, the 3 (or trinity) as a common number which again knowing Cuaron is no accident
It’s not just the opening shot that’s a long take- Cuaron isn’t breaking unless the scene calls for it- tremendous blocking, and re-framing
Great acting by Bullock- the best work of her career- she’s not only our story surrogate and guide- but she has a great breakdown an hour in
As critics we don’t have to apologize for the stylistic achievement—it is ok (and a pleasure) to be awed by great filmmaking
MS/MP border – I’ve seen four times- twice in theater and twice since
What made you drop it from MP to MS? I had a hard time with Gravity but my 3rd viewing I believe made me understand its importance. But I don’t really know what to make of it, its surely a MS but I’m not sure it’s not MS/MP or MP.
@Cinephile. So i had a bit of the opposite– I was blown away by my two theater viewings but the 3rd and 4th viewing (both at home) have caused me to move it down a little. It isn’t like there are flaws in Gravity- it is a brilliant film– just films I think are superior– like Inside Llewyn Davis for starters in along with Ida in 2013 emerge and then it goes from there and that’s how a movie falls from like #3 of the decade to #30.
I do believe strongly that it is the repeat viewings– further study– where the true value of a film reveals itself.
@Drake, I guess I’m with you that it’s a MS, maybe I’ll move it further with one more viewing. My main problem is the dialogue and I think Bullock is terribly miscast. Other than that there isn’t something else that bothers me.
And of course I definitely agree that repeat viewings reveal the true value of a film.
@Cinephile and @Drake – I thought there is an interesting conversation here with regards to what determines the overall value of a film. I’ve watched Gravity twice. The first time I watched it, I was blown away by how intensely effective it was, and I wasn’t really studying cinema back then, neither was I interested in those types of films. But Gravity really changed any genre related bias I may have had. I was really amazed the first time around. My second viewing was at home, and even though not as enthusiastic, I was also very affected. I never really thought that Gravity is the best film of 2013 (I think I’d give that title to Under the Skin, though admittedly I haven’t watched Inside Llewyn Davis yet, which is unfortunate, so I’m not making any concrete claims here as to which film is the crowning cinematic achievement of that year), but the point I’m trying to make is that the way that we perceive films is very subjective:
Gravity is a space film, lots of movement, grand shots, long takes, large scale filmmaking at its finest. To me, this is a film that clearly benefits from a large screen and high quality sound. It really enhances the experience watching it in cinema. Whereas it definitely loses some of its momentum and/or effectiveness when viewed in a small computer, or even television screen. I think that’s the case with several other films as well. Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan essentially locked horns for the Best Picture Oscar back in 1998 and I think it’s clear that, besides more determining factors like campaigning and box office success, voters found it easier to appreciate the simpler and tidier look of Shakespeare than the shaky, action packed and messy wonder of filmmaking that is Private Ryan (that example doesn’t come from me though – shout out to Be Kind Rewind for noting this aspect in one of her brilliant video essays). Of course, there is a case to be made that future generations will watch Gravity on streaming services and not in theatres, so that advantage doesn’t really matter in the long term. But I still think it’s worth noting and if we get to the basics of this topic, I think it turns a bit into a philosophical discussion on the essence of film and how we watch it.
That said, @Drake that was a great analysis here. Some of the points you’ve made about symbolism in the film went over my head when I watched it (except for the evolution thing and the religious undertones – the latter mainly through dialogue, when she talks about praying etc) – which makes me want a rewatch even more. It is undoubtedly a glorious technical achievement with incredible images. I don’t think I’ve ever seen space captured so gracefully on screen – not only visually, but also in relation to us – the horror, isolation, the realisation of how small we are.
I did find the dialogue a little lightweight at some points, considering the overall momentum of Gravity, but that’s only a very minor flaw, even an unimportant one, especially considering how some viewers may need it, so as to release some tension. @Cinephile, as far as Bullock goes, I was shocked by how good she was in this. Apart from the visual and suspense aspects, the whole film is -to degree- reliant on her ability to emote and convey desperation, hopelessness, helplessness, tension, horror. We often talk about actors or actresses being our vehicles through a film, but it’s never been truer than in this case. And imagine, she did that in a studio in front of a green screen. I think it’s a real feat. I’ve never really appreciated Bullock’s dramatic talents, but here I thought she excelled. But then again, in this film practically everyone excelled.
I just overheard some other high schoolers talking about how terrible they think this movie is. Yikes.
@Graham- haha, they’re young, maybe they’ll get interested in cinema some day
But I think they may have seen it in film studies class…
(Though I’m not friends with the kids in question so I don’t know if they’re taking that elective)
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