When I was a kid, my dream was to become an astronaut. I'm pretty sure I checked out just about every book on space my local library had to offer, and at night I would stare up at the sky and imagine what it would be like to fly among the stars.
Needless to say, that dream didn't quite pan out — which is probably a good thing, considering my fear of heights, flying and enclosed spaces. ;) But I never quite lost that fascination for space, which was why I was intrigued by the previews for Alfonso Cuarón's new film "Gravity." The movie captures the wonder, mystery and terror of the endless reaches of space; it's both the harrowing trial of an astronaut marooned in space and an intimate story of humanity's determination to survive, even when there's almost no hope.
I don't say this often, but if you have a chance to see the movie in IMAX 3D, it's absolutely worth the extra money for the upgrade. The film opens with an extended unbroken shot of a space shuttle drifting above the blue and green surface of the Earth; it's breathtakingly gorgeous, and the IMAX format makes you forget you're just sitting in a theater, and you feel almost like an astronaut who really is drifting through space.
Mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is wrapping up his final space shuttle mission, and mission specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a bit nervous on her first trip to space. All seems quiet and calm as they work to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, until the shuttle receives a panicked message that deadly debris from a demolished satellite is on a collision course with their spacecraft. With no time for the crew to escape, the space shuttle is hit with a blast of debris, and Stone is sent tumbling through space.
The rest of the film depicts Stone's fight to survive in the vacuum of space, without help from mission control back on the ground. The movie has a relatively brief running time compared to most blockbusters, but Cuarón uses those harrowing 90 minutes to great effect. The movie is, in some ways, a blend of "Apollo 13" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." There is plenty of action and tense moments as Stone tries navigate through space to find a ride back to Earth, but there is also plenty of philosophical themes and symbolism, such as the need to let go of the past and the idea of emotional rebirth and learning to embrace life again after a tragedy.
Although George Clooney's character provides some much-needed moments of humor, Sandra Bullock spends much of the film's running time alone. She gives a compelling performance and has no problem carrying the film, doing a good job of pulling the viewers in and making them feel as though they are experiencing the same events and emotions she is.
"Gravity" is already receiving Oscar buzz, and it's a film that will certainly linger with you after you walk out of the theater. If you've every dreamed of being an astronaut, this is probably the closest you'll get to that experience without leaving the ground.