Alfonzo Cuaron’s Gravity is a survival story unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. The film is tied with David O. Russell’s American Hustle for the most Oscar nominations with a total of ten. The film is a landmark for 3D cinema, completely pushing the boundaries of what is possible to achieve on the big screen. Gravity captivated audiences upon initial release and is certainly worthy of the spotlight at the 86th Academy Awards held on March 2.
Gravity received worldwide critical and commercial success upon its initial release on October 4. The film has been praised for its unbelievably gorgeous cinematography and mind-blowing visual effects as well as the strong performances from both actors. Gravity grossed nearly seven hundred million worldwide off its hundred million production budget. The film was written by Alfonzo Cuaron and his son Jonas.
The film is the tale of two astronauts’ struggle to survive following the mid-orbit destruction of their space shuttle. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer out on her first space walk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope when debris from a nearby destroyed defunct Russian satellite tears apart their shuttle. Dr. Stone is untethered during the disaster and begins to float out into space. After veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) recovers her, the two must make their way to the International Space Station if they ever want to step foot on planet Earth again. While Cuaron has stated that the film is a piece of fiction with liberties taken to tell the story, several astrophysicists and former astronauts have commented on the film’s attention to detail.
Underneath the Academy Awards spotlight, it is plain to see why Gravity has become one of the most celebrated films of the year. Cuaron and his son first shopped the film to Universal where it stayed in development for many years before Warner Brothers purchased the rights to the survival screenplay. Gravity is an extremely ambitious film as Cuaron and his team wanted to shoot extremely long takes inside a “zero gravity environment,” something that had never been attempted before. The filmmakers decided to use a combination of computer-generated imagery and automative robots to achieve this effect. This meant though that shots and blocking would both have to be planned well in advance of shooting so that the robots could be programmed to move the actors into their correct positions.
Highly acclaimed director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki also came up with what he dubbed “the light box.” “The light box” is a 20-by-10-foot cube made up of 196 2-by-2 foot panels to hold over four thousand individually controllable LED lights. With “the light box,” Lubezki could control and manipulate each individual LED light inside so that the practical lighting would completely match the virtual in a film where nearly 80 percent was hand-animated on a computer.
Several other ground-breaking techniques were used on Gravity to give the audience the sense that Cuaron and his crew filmed in space. To achieve the look of weightlessness, Bullock was rigged to a new 12-wire carbon-fiber harness that allowed the team to essentially puppeteer her in whichever way needed. The filmmakers behind Gravity also attached cameras to motion-control rigs which were then enhanced with visual effects to give the appearance that Bullock’s character was tumbling heads over heels out into space.
Bullock and Clooney were usually confined to a very small standing space and along with trying to visualize the out of this world atmosphere they were trapped in, the two actors had to hit every cue perfectly since so many elements were pre-programmed to occur. Gravity also features impeccable sound design by giving the audience the idea they too are floating helplessly in outer space. Through the use of vibrations and touch, the sound designers utilized the concept that sound does not travel through space to heighten the claustrophobic tension of being trapped in space. When combined with Steve Price’s magnificently haunting and nerve-racking score, Gravity sounds as good as it looks. Gravity took over four-and-a-half years to complete.
With its intricate and complicated cinematography, ground-breaking visual effect work, pulse-pounding score and phenomenal performance by Sandra Bullock, Gravity proves why it deserves every single second under the Academy Awards glowing spotlight.
By Benjamin Murray