Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone
George Clooney as Matt Kowalsky
Ed Harris as Mission Control (voice)
Eric Michels as NASA (voice)
Basher Savage as Space Station Captain (voice)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Impressive 3D, breathtaking action, and strong performances by Bullock and Clooney make “Gravity” a space survival thriller well worth checking out on the big screen.

Dr. Ryan Stone is a rookie astronaut on her first mission with the Space Shuttle. Assigned to upgrade the Hubble space telescope, she’s accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky and three other astronauts.

The routine mission goes awry when debris from a Russian missile accident heads towards the shuttle at the speed of a bullet. In a devastating accident, the shuttle is destroyed and Stone finds herself spinning uncontrollably into space and away from Earth. But believe it or not, she still has hope of survival.

“Gravity” is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.

What Worked:
“Gravity” has a heck of a lot going for it. First of all, it’s a great survival story. It follows in the footsteps of “Apollo 13,” “Cast Away,” “The Grey,” and many other tales of man (or in this case woman) vs. nature. There are a lot of horrific ways to die and spinning off into space has got to be pretty high up there (no pun intended). “Gravity” takes that basic fear of helplessness and uses it to underpin every action scene in this movie. I’m an action movie aficionado and I can’t remember the last time a movie made me hold my breath like “Gravity” did. And there are few environments as unique, deadly and beautiful as space to set a survival story in. If you’re a fan of action or survival dramas, you’ll really enjoy this.

“Gravity” also makes incredibly effective use of 3D. The loneliness and isolation of the astronauts is enhanced by seeing them as little dots floating over the Earth. As Stone flies towards objects with only one chance to grab a hold of something, the 3D adds to the sense of nothingness she’s headed towards. Then, of course, you have the novelty of zero gravity enhanced by 3D bolts, tools, and water floating in front of the screen to help sell the fact that Clooney and Bullock are in space. You feel like the 3D is less of a gimmick and more of a cinematic tool for Alfonso Cuarón to use to tell his story.

Another highlight of “Gravity” is the fact that Alfonso Cuarón uses incredibly long takes without a single cut in them. The opening of the film goes on for almost 20 minutes without a single cut as the camera flies to the Space Shuttle, in and around the astronauts, then into the middle of the disaster that puts Stone in peril. There are other very long takes in the film, but you almost don’t even realize it because you are so engaged in Stone’s struggle for survival. This Blu-ray is going to have a very interesting “making of” documentary.

As for the performances, we only really get to see two actors in “Gravity.” George Clooney plays Matt Kowalsky, the veteran astronaut on his last mission. Clooney is his usual charming self and he adds the little bit of comic relief to an otherwise incredibly intense film. He makes it all look effortless. But the real star is Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone. This is her film and she carries it well. Her performance is really toned down compared to many of her other roles, but that’s what is called for here. She’s a woman in a life or death situation, burdened by grief, and possibly about to die at any moment. Witty dialogue isn’t in the cards. But what’s cool about her character is her underlying intelligence and technical competency. When’s the last time you saw a heroine in an action scene break out a technical manual (in Russian, no less) and start operating a computer to get away from an exploding space station? Hopefully she’s an inspiration to girls to consider a technical career or any sort. I also have to mention that Ed Harris is the voice of Mission Control in this film. It’s kind of a fun tip of the hat to his roles in “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13.”

What Didn’t Work:
While a lot of “Gravity” is pretty realistic, Cuarón does occasionally take artistic license with the laws of physics. If you have any sort of interest in engineering, physics, or space then it’s probably best if you check your critical brain in at the door. For example, Stone is shown spinning off helplessly into space as you would expect, but then Kowalsky is shown zipping around with a jet pack as if he was in the Millennium Falcon. Some of the zero-g physics are accurate, some aren’t. Then any time Stone opens an airlock, it blows open violently and threatens to launch her into space like an Angry Bird. Nothing seems accurate about that. Another scene shows Stone stripping out of a space suit as easily as everyday clothing. Anybody familiar with real space suits knows that there is all sorts of wiring and plumbing that makes it no simple task. But this is all admittedly nitpicking. Just watch it and have fun.

You also shouldn’t look too critically at the script. If you strip away the cool effects and impressive cinematography, what you’re left with is a fairly light story. It’s mainly about Stone getting from point A to point B without getting killed. They do throw in some back story about Stone losing a young daughter, and there is a theme about letting go, but that’s not what anybody is going to remember. They’re going to remember the action. I think any “Best Picture” talk is a tad premature.

Finally, if you’re prone to motion sickness, “Gravity” may make you want to puke. In early scenes where Stone is spinning away from the Earth, the camera spins and spins and spins. I have to admit I started getting a little nauseous. Fortunately this is toned down through the rest of the film, but I have a feeling that it will affect some audience members. I can’t imagine how it will look in IMAX 3D.

The Bottom Line:
“Gravity” is a great film well worth checking out, especially in 3D in theaters. I think some of the hype is a tad overblown, but there is no doubt that this is a satisfying film and yet another great space drama.