Dr Ryan Stone hits it on the head when she utters the simple phrase, ‘I hate space’. Yes, the view is great and to be able to say you’re an astronaut must come with certain perks but the reality is – space looks terrifying. Especially when Alfonso Cuaron is the puppet master, in what will no doubt be one of this year’s festival highlights: Gravity.
When we meet our two protagonists, and essentially the only two characters in the film, life in space seems great, slight nausea aside. Medical engineer Dr Ryan Stone, an astonishing performance from Sandra Bullock, has been on the mission for a few weeks while Matt Kowalsky, the expectedly charming and witty George Clooney, is a veteran, counting down the days before he can make his final journey back to Earth. There’s music, laughter and in-jokes with Houston – at least until what was initially a routine space walk is interrupted by a shower of satellite debris headed in their direction. From this point on, prepare not to breathe for the next 90 minutes.
Through Cuaron’s filmmaking, as ferocious and unrelenting as the debris storm itself, the two astronauts – and the audience thanks to some subtle but surprisingly affecting 3D – are flung through the emotional and physical turbulence of space as they make their desperate attempts to return to the shuttle.
While the cast list may be thin on the ground, the headline performance is undoubtedly the visualisation of Cuaron’s brutal world, intricately realised by VFX Supervisor Tim Webber and cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki, to astounding effect. From simple reflected moments in helmets to drifting alongside the characters into wide open space, frenetic movement to almost surreal calm and stillness, Gravity transcends simple viewing to become a fully immersive cinematic experience. Whether you watch the film simply as an epic disaster movie or allow yourself to embrace the deeper metaphors that run deep from birth, transformation and even evolution, Gravity is easily one of the best films you’ll see this year.
Tethered to the protagonists through heart-stoppingly beautiful photography matched by touching performances from Bullock and Clooney, Gravity is a dizzying adventure into the unknown world above and the power of the human will to survive. Absolutely unmissable.
Gravity was first screened on Thursday 10 October 2013.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival, in parttnership with American Express, takes place until 20 October 2013. View the programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff