Recycling critics’ opinions of productions in order to get the punters in is nothing new. Victorian playhouses would be festooned with playbills quoting rave notices. Today’s film distributors seem happy just to quote the number of stars awarded to their movies (why is it that Empire gives every film that’s ever been made five stars?), but the producers of the space thriller Gravity set a new gold standard when this gripping adventure was released in November. Booking a series of double-page spreads in national newspapers and magazines, they simply printed rows of five white stars (plus attributions) on a black background: 16 five-star clusters. It was like an aerial view of the saluting dais at a Soviet May Day parade.
Is Gravity that good? Indubitably, though this critic’s advice would be to try to experience it in an Imax in 3D, with the sound cranked up so that the floor shakes. As Mark Kermode memorably observed, after staggering out of the film’s preview: “If you aren’t mesmerised by the look of Gravity, then maybe it’s time for you to stop going to the cinema.”
If you do get to see Gravity under optimum conditions, you will most certainly leave the cinema a more humble human being, profoundly moved by the epic majesty of our solar system. This experience is greatly enhanced by Steven Price’s soaring electronic score, quite the best space music since Vengelis’ backing for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Director Alfonso Cuaron’s giant achievement is a very simple – and at 90 minutes not overlong – story, with just two actors, one of whom only appears in the first half of the movie. A medical engineer on her first space mission (Sandra Bullock) and a veteran astronaut (George Clooney) are carrying out routine maintenance on the Hubble space telescope, when they receive an urgent warning from NASA that a Russian missile collision with a redundant satellite has produced a huge shower of space debris which is rapidly approaching the orbiting telescope. The ensuing ‘debris storm’ is as scary as the news footage of the Japanese tsunami and this year’s Filipino typhoon all rolled into one jaw-dropping sequence. The film then charts the astronauts’ frantic attempts (with finite amounts of oxygen left to survive on) to travel to an unmanned Chinese satellite and liberate its return module to get back to earth.
Gravity will almost certainly feature in next February’s Oscars – particularly for Tim Webber’s virtuosic computer-generated visual effects. If Kubrick’s 2001 was a space odyssey, then Gravity is a space epic.