Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in Gravity. Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
In theaters Thursday, Oct. 3
4 stars (out of 4 stars)
This isn’t just a film. This is a wondrous, heart-stopping experience.
And it must be said upfront: This experience needs to be taken in on the biggest, IMAX-iest screen possible. You’ll think you were just shot into space. Actually, you won’t have a chance to think at all. The epic 13-minute opening act alone unspools without a single merciful cut.
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The ominous words appear first: “At 600 km above Earth. . . there is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life on space is impossible.” With Earth glowing in the background and the sun about to rise, a crew of astronauts floats into focus. Two of them, an easygoing veteran on his last mission (George Clooney, perfectly cast) and a methodical rookie engineer (Sandra Bullock, more on her below), banter while doing rote mechanical work. They will soon survive a sudden and terrifying disaster.
Is the pulse starting to race yet? Good. Because those 13 minutes aren’t up yet.
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It’s Bullock who must ultimately persevere under the extreme circumstances and figure out how in the world to get home. And what a nerve-racking thrill it is to watch her undertake the endeavor, especially when she makes a few critical mistakes along the way.
Masterfully directed by Alfonso Cuar n (Children of Men), this taut 3-D sci-fi marvel dazzles on a visual level along the lines of Avatar and 2001: A Space Odyssey and frightens to the core a la the original Alien. Indeed, in space no one can hear you scream . . . so when Bullock helplessly spirals through the atmosphere and counts down her diminishing oxygen level, you can only gasp for air along with her.
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Yet amid all the how-did-they-do-that effects, Bullock is a quietly powerful presence. Playing someone who heads to space to escape her tragic problems back home in Illinois, the actress conveys both blind fear and inner strength — even in her cumbersome space suit. Consider her knockout performance one of the film’s innumerable wows.