Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, and Ed Harris

When it comes to technically impressive films, Avatar has long been my gold standard.  There's nothing quite like being immersed in James Cameron's daring vision of Pandora.  While I've got tremendous respect for the movie from a special effects standpoint, I've always thought that the story lacked substance.  When I initially heard of Gravity, I had similar concerns.  The trailer looked incredible, but I didn't think a strong story could be developed about Sandra Bullock floating in space.  Not surprisingly, the film is only 90 minutes.  Fortunately, we have a master of science fiction in the director's chair with Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men).

Ryan Stone (Bullock), a biomedical engineer with just six months of training, is on her first space shuttle mission.  Conversely, Matt Kowalksi (George Clooney) is a veteran astronaut commanding his final mission.  While the crew is out on a spacewalk and Matt is joking around telling stories, they receive one nasty gift from mother Russia.  When the Russians detonate one of their dysfunctional satellites, the explosion causes a chain reaction that forms a massive cluster of satellite debris.  Their shuttle the Explorer is in this cluster's deadly path.  As the debris approaches and communications go dark, Ryan, Matt, and the other crew members lose contact with Mission Control (Ed Harris).  When it finally arrives, tragedy strikes in the most horrific way imaginable.  And the weatherman said there would be clear skies today.

The debris from the satellite shreds the Explorer to pieces.  With the exception of Ryan and Matt, the entire crew is killed in the mayhem that unfolds.  For his part, Matt somehow survives unharmed.  Ryan, on the other hand, is strapped to the shuttle's cargo bay arm and has one rocky ride through the debris.  She eventually detaches herself but is sent flying out into the dark of space in the process.  Fortunately, Matt is wearing a jet pack at the time of the accident and goes to rescue Ryan.  Upon finding her, he tethers himself to her and takes her back to the wreckage that once was the Explorer.  There, they must figure out how to get back to Earth.  To start, they begin sending communications to Mission Control unsure of whether anyone can hear them.  With Houston in the blind, Matt low on fuel, and Ryan low on oxygen, there's not a whole lot of time to figure out a solution.  It certainly doesn't help that the satellite debris will be coming their way again in another 90 minutes given its speed and trajectory.

Gravity is one hell of a wild ride.  While it's a very familiar type of survival thriller, it's an immersive experience not quite like anything I've ever seen on the big screen.  From the incredible visuals highlighted by a big beautiful planet Earth to a powerful emotional drama about what one is willing to do to wake up just one more day, Alfonso Cuarón's dazzling science fiction thriller is a cinematic triumph that is spectacular in every way.  The special effects are breathtaking.  This epic tale of one's fight for life is nothing short of inspiring.  The acting is world-class.  Ladies and gentlemen, Gravity is one for the record books.

Alfonso Cuarón and his crew have done some breakthrough work here in Gravity that rivals any science fiction film ever made.  What's so refreshing about this movie relative to other sci-fi films is that it's something real.  It's a digital recreation of our own planet Earth, not some futuristic alien world.  They give us the grandness and majesty of Earth in truly vivid clarity.  With fine, detailed shots of oceans, clouds, and land masses from up above, Earth has never looked so beautiful on the big screen.  Cuarón and his crew also treat us to stunning shots of spacecraft, satellite debris, and the dark of space.  In terms of pure special effects, there's no other movie quite like Gravity.

Beyond just showing us something special, Cuarón and his crew immerse us in the movie in an immensely creative way.  Because there's no sound in space, the visuals are so much more important.  They have to inspire, thrill, and move us at various points throughout the film.  They have to elevate Ryan's lonely sojourn from one end of space to the other.  Given the fact that there's no gravity, these visuals have to offer something truly original as 3D becomes a whole new ball game.  Nothing demonstrates how Gravity's visuals do all of this better than the fact that clothes, flames, and tears float around the atmosphere straight into moviegoers' faces.  Having seen Gravity in IMAX 3D (the only way a respectable movie lover should see it), I can say that it feels like we're part of this turbulent journey with Ryan and Matt every step of the way.

Gravity is more than just great special effects.  Cuarón spends a great deal of time in the film weaving a tale of tragedy, struggle, and triumph.  Though the story is fairly basic, it's one fueled by both unflinching courage and unabated terror.  Cuarón offers a powerful emotional tale about a woman who metaphorically just drives to escape the scars of her past.  While that driving is initially a character flaw, it becomes a quality that embodies Ryan's will to live in the face of nearly insurmountable odds.  It becomes something truly inspiring. 

At the same time, Cuarón gives us one frightening film.  It's safe to say that most people fear dying.  Worse yet, most people fear dying alone.  With the utter darkness and silence of space, Cuarón takes this fear to a whole new level.  No one can see the cataclysmic explosions caused by the satellite debris.  No one can hear the screaming as this lonely astronaut deals with obstacle after obstacle.  No one knows of the deaths or will ever find the cold, lifeless cadavers floating through the stars.  Cuarón pulls out all the stops to play on this fear, and Gravity is something truly terrifying because of it.

As our stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney deliver terrific performances.  For her part as our leading lady Ryan Stone, Bullock gives a truly iconic performance.  She does some intense, emotional acting as she dances with death in the darkness.  Her performance encapsulates that unyielding bravery and unbridled horror that fuel this larger-than-life tale in a very personal, relatable way.  In the midst of a special effects bonanza, she manages to connect with the audience in a very real way.  As her tethering buddy Matt Kowalski, Clooney gives a stately performance where he just shines.  He gets to do exactly what he was born to do in this film. He brings a calming presence and an undeniable charisma to the big screen that is so needed in a movie that could otherwise be so bleak.

With Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón offers moviegoers a wondrous nightmare.  Though I won't be jetting off to space anytime soon, I fear now for those few who will as they grapple with another reality altogether.  Seeing the world like few ever have and perhaps ever will must be awe-inspiring.  Dealing with no gravity must be physically demanding.  Coping with the isolation of space has to be unbearably lonely. You have to be a special kind of person to go up there, and you have to be a special kind of filmmaker to bring this to life on the big screen in the most lucid way fathomable.  Alfonso Cuarón has done something really special here.  Gravity gets a sober rating.  This is undoubtedly one of the year's best films and a technical achievement that has taken cinema in yet another direction.