The space shuttle is on a repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.  Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is the mission specialist who is conducting the repair and installing new components she designed for use in the medical world.  Commanding the mission is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on his final mission before retirement.  He’s trying to break the spacewalk record held by a Russian cosmonaut and is using a prototype thruster pack to maneuver quickly and easily without being tethered to the shuttle.  Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris) tells the crew the Russians have fired a missile and struck one of their satellites causing a great deal of debris.  It isn’t at their altitude so there’s nothing to worry about.  Later, Mission Control orders both the shuttle crew and the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) to evacuate immediately.  The debris field caused by the Russian missile strike has started a chain reaction, crashing into other satellites and causing more debris.  Soon, Mission Control will lose contact as all the communications satellites will be destroyed and a deadly wave of debris will be heading their way.  Kowalski, Stone and another astronaut are still outside the ship with the debris arrives.  The third astronaut is struck by a piece of satellite and killed instantly, the shuttle is hit which sends it spinning out of control with Stone still attached to the end of the robotic arm.  When the arm is broken off by more debris, she is sent spinning wildly out into space.  Stone is panicking, breathing very quickly and using up her oxygen too fast.  After several tense minutes, Kowalski is able to catch up to her and attach a tether.  Using the thruster pack, the pair slowly returns to the crippled shuttle, containing the bodies of two more astronauts, which is unusable to return to Earth.  Kowalski decides to head to the abandoned ISS and use a Russian spacecraft to take the pair home; however, the pair must hurry as the debris field is still in orbit and will pose a threat to them every 90 minutes.
This review will be short.  “Gravity” is about as close to a perfect film as I’ve ever seen.  There isn’t a wasted scene or word of dialog in the whole movie.  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are terrific as the no-nonsense mission specialist and the happy-go-lucky astronaut.  Their interplay is initially almost painful to listen to as the pair is as different from each other as possible.  As their partnership goes from one of life-saving necessity to uneasy friendship, Bullock’s Stone opens up about the tragedy in her life that has caused her to close down:  The death of her young daughter in a random playground accident.  Bullock is so good; this revelation changes the audience’s opinion of her character from cold-hearted scientist to sympathetic victim in the blink of an eye.  Clooney’s Kowalski is…well, Clooney!  He’s suave, debonair and cool under pressure.  The kind of guy you want by your side in an emergency.  He’s essentially playing the same character as in the “Oceans” films and that is perfectly fine.  The “character” of George Clooney is much like the idealized vision of the perfect astronaut with an unflappable personality prepared for any eventuality.  He’s the perfect man for the job.
The film looks spectacular, especially in the IMAX 3D version I saw.  The effects are perfect with no weird looking weightless scenes.  I thought the film must have shot scenes in the airplane used for zero G training known as the Vomit Comet; however, all the floating inside the various spacecraft was done either with wires and harnesses or digitally.  It looks terrific and better than any weightless scenes in any movie ever, possibly save for “Apollo 13” which did some shots in the Vomit Comet.  If there are any nits to pick about the weightless scenes, it involves Sandra Bullock’s hair.  I’m not complaining about the short style but the fact that she doesn’t have a look known amongst astronauts as the “space ‘fro.”  In weightlessness, hair of nearly any length floats around as the astronaut moves.  Due to static electricity, each strand of hair tends to repel all other hairs so it tends to flare out.  Look at video of any female astronaut and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m sure this would have been fairly easy to replicate digitally but was probably very low on the filmmaker’s priority list.
On top of the performances and the visuals, what makes “Gravity” a truly great film is the ability to make the audience feel the fear, the dread, the hopelessness of the characters.  While none of us can begin to imagine what it would be like to float helpless in space, the movie gives us a taste.  By the end of the movie, I was exhausted both emotionally and physically.  My shoulders and back were sore from being in a constant state of tension.  Any film that has that kind of physical effect on an audience has obviously done something right.  “Gravity” seems to have done all of it right.
“Gravity” is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.  Nearly all the time Bullock is on screen should be considered a perilous sequence as something is about to kill her during the whole movie.  We see the aftereffects of an astronaut being hit by a piece of debris travelling at 20,000 miles per hour.  It isn’t pretty.  We also see the bodies of two other astronauts exposed to explosive decompression and the vacuum of space.  Foul language is widely scattered and, I believe, completely understandable considering their situation.
If you easily get seasick perhaps “Gravity” isn’t the movie for you.  There are a couple of scenes early on where we see from Bullock’s perspective inside her space suit as she’s spinning out of control.  The combination of the perspective, 3D and IMAX caused a tiny bit of stomach upset for me.  Those who feel queasy while driving on a bridge over water might want to skip the IMAX 3D but don’t avoid the film otherwise.  “Gravity” is a movie everyone should see as you are probably looking at a Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress contender in next year’s Oscar race.  If I was a member of the Academy, I’d vote to give the film all the awards.
“Gravity” gets an out-of-this-world five guitars out of five.
Can this week’s crop of new movies come close to matching “Gravity?”  Probably not, but I’ll see one anyway.  Vote for the next film I review.
Captain Phillips—Based on the true story of a freighter captain whose ship was attacked by Somali pirates and the rescue mission carried out by Navy SEALS.
Machete Kills—Machete is recruited by the U.S. President to stop a crazed global terrorist from starting a nuclear war. With a bounty on his head, Machete faces death at every turn from an all-star cast of deadly assassins.
Stan’s Choice—Stan see and reviews any film of his choice in theatres or On Demand.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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