Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Judging from the breathless fervor of its reception—to date as universal as it is overzealous—it would seem as though the Children of Men director’s long-awaited latest has gone ahead and changed cinema irrevocably; it ought to go without saying that this is dubious. Admirers, doubtless compelled by the union of cutting-edge technology and an interstellar setting, invoke Kubrick as the most flattering comparison, drawing tenuous connections between the stars and claiming this schlock as heir apparent to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it’s significant that critics struggled to make sense of 2001 upon release in 1968, while critics today easily embrace Gravity. The lack of friction speaks to its both its populist bearing and intellectual paucity. Who could possibly be challenged or provoked by this, let alone moved or pushed to thought?
Despite constant intimations of philosophical import and cosmic grandeur, Gravity ultimately resembles nothing more than an unusually portentous Disney theme-park ride or a video-game cutscene expanded to feature length, Cuaron having marshalled his talents toward what’s essentially the world’s most expensive 90-minute sizzle reel. It’s effective only insubstantially and superficially. A demonstration of (not inconsiderable) technical prowess, the movie shows scant interest in the human dimension, sidestepping the hard work of writing characters and drama by furnishing its paper-thin narrative with overused archetype and cliche. Kowalsky (George Clooney, faux-charming) and Stone (Sandra Bullock, faux-scared), stock types dusted off and thrown in space, hurtle from one ludicrous miniclimax to the next, every moment of repose disrupted by the whiz-bang of some new deadly cataclysm. Our heroes can’t even pause to catch their breath without finding they’re out of oxygen.
And so it is that Gravity motors on, stopping on occasion to unload an embarrassing bit of half-baked backstory or to ponder mortality with the air of a college-aged stoner. Cuaron, to his credit, seems dimly aware that his dialogue is laughable (the film opens with a “Macarena” joke!), and so he soon conspires to jam inter-astronaut communications to better focus on the much-discussed contemplative silence of space. But even here he fails himself: Steven Price’s bleating, obnoxious score drowns out the natural sounds of nothing at all. It’s just more of the same old spectacle, precision-calibrated for audience appeal. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Gravity facilitates such praise. It’s been constructed as a vehicle for enthusiasm, tailor-made for gobsmacked and unthinking awe before its glitzy high-tech wonders.
Opens October 4