Alfonso Cuarón is among the world’s finest, most versatile filmmakers, and someone who—knock on wood!—hasn’t yet directed a dud. Gravity is quite OK too, but in the second tier of his work.
Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. At cinemas throughout New England.
By Gerald Peary
Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón is among the world’s finest, most versatile filmmakers, and someone who—knock on wood!—hasn’t yet directed a dud. Gravity is quite OK too, but in the second tier of his work, along with The Little Princess and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Cuaron’s two masterpieces are his erotic gem, Y Tu Mamá También, and Children of Men, his great adaptation of P.D. James’s equally excellent dystopian sci-fi novel.
But Gravity does have superb parts, like the completely stunning opening scene with his characters floating about a space station. It’s the most riveting sequence Out There since 2001: A Space Odyssey; and, in homage to Kubrick, Cuarón takes his time with long, long, poetic takes. The 3-D usage is completely organic and beautiful, the best since Wim Wenders for the dance performances in Pina.
More 3-D that I liked. The tongue-in-cheek moments when tools float through space and toward the audience, then are fisted at the last second by a character before, I guess, they crash into our noggins. Funny! It’s also an affectionate homage to the primitive (and primal) in-your-face scares of early 1950s three-dimension, The House of Wax and other delights.
And then there’s the very exciting scene, where things really speed up, when the characters bounce about avoiding debris from a collapsed Russian satellite. Neat!
But my problem is the very conventional story which, too soon, kicks in. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) stops being a sexist charmer with a barrage of goofy one-liners and flies away, perhaps dead and gone. He leaves poor Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a novice in space, to fend for herself. And he leaves her to reveal her unhappy, cloying backstory, the yuckiest part of the movie.
Have we been here before? In post-feminist Katherine Bigelow territory? With The Final Girl in dozens of horror films?
It’s definitely ingenious, the clever ways that Dr. Stone gets by, but jingoist too, the self-reliant American among Russian and Chinese space stations. Will she make it home safely? I’m not going to be a spoiler, but the incredible box office for Gravity, and its extraordinary approval rating from audiences, might clue you how it all ends.
Gerald Peary is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston, curator of the Boston University Cinematheque, and the general editor of the “Conversations with Filmmakers” series from the University Press of Mississippi. A critic for the late Boston Phoenix, he is the author of 9 books on cinema, writer-director of the documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, and a featured actor in the 2013 independent narrative Computer Chess.