Other art-house directors have tried their hand at using 3-D technology, and they've had varying degrees of success. Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Win Wenders' Pina come to mind. Neither of these films experienced the kind of crossover success that Ang Lee had with his Life of Pi. Much like Life of Pi, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, which opens area-wide on Friday, has crossover appeal and really deserves a wide audience. It's an incredible film.
Part of the appeal stems from the casting. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are household names with big box office appeal. But they're cast into curious roles here as a couple of astronauts who get stranded in space after their shuttle is destroyed. The movie might have star power but it's success is due as much to its plot and character development.
The film begins with a long, slow sequence during which Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) try to fix a damaged panel on their space shuttle. When they get word from Mission Control that debris from a destroyed satellite is hurtling toward them, they realize they won't be able to finish the repair job.
The debris destroys the shuttle, leaving them stranded in space. Matt then tethers himself to Ryan and uses his jetpack to get them to an international spaceship where they hope to use a small shuttle to return to earth.
Short on oxygen, the two barely make it to the international space station, but once there they find that maneuvering themselves into a position to board the ship is nearly impossible. They encounter one seemingly impossible problem after another, and the film successfully keeps the tension high for the entirety of its 90-minute running time.
While Clooney gives a decent performance as the exceedingly calm-under-pressure astronaut who's a master storyteller with a keen sense of humor, this film belongs to Bullock. While she wasn't the director's first choice for the part, it's hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off so well. Bullock perfectly plays Ryan, a scientist who's not used to traveling in space, because she shows just how much the woman has to dig deep in order to troubleshoot and try to survive.
The special effects are remarkable too. Nearly the entire film takes place in space where there is zero gravity and the movie, which was shot for a whopping $80 million, certainly looks realistic. Cuarón knows that there's no sound in space, so we don't hear the explosions when they happen, something that makes for a rather quiet soundtrack. But that only adds to the overall intensity. Art house or not, Gravity is one of the year's best films and should net Bullock an Oscar nod.