Style that still lets the bride shine...
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuaron
CAST: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Paul Sharma and Ed Harris
CLASSIFICATION: 7-9 PG L
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
Anxiety-inducing and visually arresting, this sci-fi thriller is more of an exploration of the human spirit than an action movie set in outer space.
Suspenseful and immersive, it will totally kill your childhood ambition to go into outer space as it shows you the dangerous side of space travel. Still, you will be mesmerised by the arresting images of Earth and the astronauts’ increasing desperation to get back to the spinning globe.
Instead of concentrating on the “and then and then and then” side of an action movie, we get how the people respond to a problem. Their reactions are identifiable, despite the exotic location of outer space, and this is the absorbing part.
You are kept on the edge of your seat the whole time, without realising that time is ticking along until the oxygen runs out and you gasp right alongside the characters.
Sandra Bullock is Ryan Stone, a driven medical engineer on her first trip to outer space. Her discomfort in space walking is apparent and in total contrast to veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney), who is zipping around with a jet pack while she is tethered to a robotic arm.
A freak accident with space debris sends Stone spinning off into space and Kowalski comes to find her, but they then realise they are cut off from Mission Control (Ed Harris) in Houston (oh yes, the Houston jokes fly thick and fast) and their original spacecraft is damaged.
What they decide to do and how they do it forms the rest of the plot, but what keeps you glued is the way the director, cinematographer and actors create an experience. You are not so much just watching a story unfold as going through it yourself.
Apparently they got the look of the weightless astronauts moving about just right (according to those who have actually done it), and though a huge amount of cgi and previsualisation went into this production, it never feels created, but totally organic and real, albeit really intense.
Long continuous shots – including several where you go from an objective wide view encompassing Earth in all its glory to a close-up of Stone and then into her helmet for a look at the world from her point of view, and then back out again – help to create a feeling of claustrophobia despite, or because of, all this open space.
Cameras float along with the spinning astronauts and the lighting references the light and shade of Earth to suggest the changes in orientation of the astronauts in relation to Earth. There are subtle references to previous space movies and the sudden silences remind the viewer there is no sound in space.
The astronauts are dependent on their communication link with Mission Control and when that is broken, they know they are totally alone on the edge of their known universe.
This is when, in film language, they are truly going to get to know the measure of their own selves.
Clooney is a calming bulwark as Kowalski, composed and unruffled, with a twinkle in his voice that makes that very zen approach a comfort rather than alienating. You want him to help you and believe that he can.
Bullock is the girl next door, the Everywoman we can connect to.
Stone initially likes the isolation of the job, and there is at first something ambiguous about her response to what is happening.
Trying to calm her down, Kowalski asks her about her life down on Earth. A picture emerges of a woman who has suffered an immeasurable loss and it turns out her unnatural focus is driven by this tragedy rather than the job.
Still, terror is the overriding factor, and we all know that feeling.
For a large part of the film we see only Bullock’s face, which shows us fear and desolation; she is what tethers us to the human experience in the vastness that is space.
A sequence in which she floats weightless in the International Space Station’s airlock is reminiscent of a baby in the womb, tying into the theme of rebirth, which is ultimately director Cuaron’s goal.
If you liked Children of Men or Europa Report you will like this.