Wednesday, 11 December 2013

“Gravity” is magnificent, Sandra Bullock is brilliant, and the special effects are stupendous

We went to see Gravity yesterday, with some trepidation. First, the hype has been overwhelming – often a bad sign. Second, there’s been as much emphasis on the technology involved in creating the film’s 3D special effects as there was with Avatar, and that turned out to be a really witless stinker. Then, when we got to the cinema, we were informed that this was a “newbie” showing, which means that patrons are welcome to bring their babies along (why would you?).

The 13.30 showing was sparsely attended, but everyone apart from one other couple had a wailing little pink bundle in tow. When the 3D trailer for The Hobbit came on, it was out of focus, so I put on the special 3D glasses, but that only made it worse. Then, as soon as the main feature started, every one of those little pink bundles started bawling at once – couldn’t hear a bloody word.

I was wondering if the time hadn't come to try for a refund and a stroll around Richmond until the next showing – but then, miraculously, after five deafening minutes, the little blighters all shut up at once, and I realised that, mercifully, the 3D was working perfectly. For the next 90 minutes we were mesmerised, transported, awed and utterly immersed. I’m not sure I’ve been as gripped by a film since childhood.

I won’t bother with a detailed review – there have been plenty of good ones in the press, like this one in the Guardian – but I will say that, for the first time in my experience, 3D actually has a serious dramatic role to play, rather than just to make us go “ooh!” as an object hurtles towards us out of the screen (a cheap, silly trick that rapidly palls with repetition). Here, apart from making us feel as if we were hurtling through space, it was used to involve us emotionally in the story, and to produce a genuine sense of wonder: there’s a scene where Sandra Bullock’s tiny figure floats in the immensity of space which genuinely stops one’s breath, and the scene where, having managed to clamber inside a space station and remove her space-suit, she curls into a floating foetal ball had me in tears. And a scene where her tears float like dew-drops in front of her face, conversely, made me smile. Yes, there are some traditional “wow” moments - the sheer strangeness of tiny flames detaching themselves from a fire on board another space-station and floating through the air like liquid fire made me gasp – but the main function of 3D here is to enrich and deepen one’s responses: even the appearance of an amusing frog in the foreground towards the end presages the film’s meaningful and very moving finale.

George Clooney just is George Clooney – and he’s very good at it. But Sandra Bullock gives a perfectly-judged, heart-squeezing performance. It’s hard to believe that, sixteen years ago, in Speed II: Cruise Control, she gave possibly the worst and most annoying performance by a leading actress in cinema history. Here, she is flawless. Of course, it helps that, like her most distinguished female-menaced-in-space precursor Sigourney Weaver, she has a fascinating face full of planes and non-standard features - the camera doesn't just love her, it's intrigued by her. (She must be a shoo-in for an Oscar, despite having received one in 2009 – and Gravity must surely win best film, best special effects and best director.)

I’m not a big fan of going to the cinema – I hate all the distractions – but, while I'm sure Gravity would still work on a television screen, it would be like listening to a symphony while wearing ear-plugs. So catch it at a picture palace - but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a “newbie” showing.

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