Thursday, December 26, 2013

Movies: Gravity ('Best of 2013' List)

Gravity concerns the first NASA mission of civilian medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock. She's responsible for a bit of tech that's normally used in hospitals, but that is now being tested as an augmentation for the Hubble Space Telescope, which is being serviced by the space shuttle. Dr. Stone is one of a team of five, the most senior member of that team being astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, who routinely jokes with Mission Control about having "a bad feeling about this mission", apparently on every mission he's ever been involved in. Coincidentally and unfortunately, his faux-premonition turns out to be correct this time.

Catastrophic events ensue.

Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón, whose 2006 dystopian film Children of Men is one of my favourites, continues here with a directorial audacity and assuredness, even more impressive considering it's been seven years since he made Children. As one of many noteworthy examples, the film opens with a single 18 minute shot that lays out the geography of the scene while retaining the openness and, seemingly paradoxically, the disorientation that being in space provides. More impressive is the organic nature of the presentation: I wasn't fully aware that it was one meticulously choreographed sequence for that length of time until it ended, and my brain caught up with that fact. "Wow!", it said.

I own a stereoscopic television, and also now work on projects that are stereoscopic, but I find myself mostly over the whole notion of "3D" entertainment, to the point that I rarely use the 3D capabilities of my set anymore, and will mostly actively seek out 2D presentations of films I see in theatres. I find that usually 3D adds nothing to the film-going experience, other than, ironically, an impediment to my immersion in the story being presented. There are very few films where I think it worked in the way it was intended and was successful: Avatar, How to Train Your Dragon, and (although a flawed film otherwise) Prometheus.

Having said all that, I think Gravity is the best 3D film I've seen, and if you see it theatrically you should see it in 3D, and ideally on the biggest screen you can find (honest to goodness IMAX). The effectiveness of the 3D here had me experiencing that nervous, tingling sensation I've sometimes felt in real life when looking down from really tall buildings or airplanes, and that I've never experienced when watching a 3D film -- until now. Also, while I'm positive that the emotional resonance and visual splendour on view will still be as engrossing, I think that if you wait for home video that you will be missing out on an added level of immersion that makes the film so satisfying.

Thrilling and refreshingly efficient in a way that recalls, for me, Jaws (which is high-praise), Gravity would be one of my 'best-ofs' in any year it was released.

More goodness:
  • Sandra Bullock: it's equally her film as it is Cuarón's, and possibly her best performance.
  • Framestore et al, feel free to pick up your VFX Oscar now.
  • I thought that was you, Ed.
  • The fetal position.
  • Unexpected bungee.
  • Tears in space.
  • A lullabye in a foreign language.

P.S. I you haven't seen Gravity yet, and you haven't seen the official trailer, avoid the trailer at all costs. I avoided it, then saw the film, then saw the trailer -- it gives away everything, and I was mighty happy I hadn't seen it before hand. For the most part, I think trailer editors these days (or whoever is directing them) need to be punched in the nards.

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