The Pull Of Gravity (2013)
It makes my soul supernova with an intergalactic glee to see how this film has really gripped the popular imagination now that is has launched into multiplexes throughout the world, it’s pretty darn rare for such an anticipated film to meet such lofty expectations, so although I have already written my review having seen the film for a second time with friends at the weekend I thought it was appropriate to briefly craft a revisit here at the Menagerie. For my money it has been one of the most debated and dissected films of the year, not exactly starved of coverage given its epoch defining technical achievements, with many critics citing the film as a return to the genesis of cinema by invoking Melies, Griffith and the purely spectacle side of the art-form which have been sorely lacking through a decade of deadening digital pyrotechnics. The numerous scientific audits have amused me as of course the Cuarón’s have been faithful to the spirit of space exploration whilst some of their shortcuts are necessarily unrealistic, as even on a second viewing I could swallow a narrative which essentially can be reduced to some vertiginous game of Frogger. The rather odd narrative flourish at one point in the film which I thought could be problematic was diminished on the second viewing (if you’ve seen it then you probably know what I’m talking about) but whilst the intention was to run a diagnostic on some of the films manufacture I found myself genuinely swept up in the story again, and although the emotional framing is a little sleight I do think you needed some arc in order to really get a satisfying splashdown.
So minor quibbles aside I’d judge this as almost a masterpiece, an unquestionable step forward for SFX in the digital wake of Avatar, I almost don’t want to know how they achieved some of those effects and movements from a technological perspective as that peek behind the curtain might spoil some of the fun (oh, OK here’s some intel), but from the dark side of that moon I’ve heard that these revelations have actually deepened fans appreciation of the film stratospheric reputation so I’m torn – in any case this mission is definitely getting a debut day Blu-Ray acquisition in 2014. I’d wager that technical Oscars across the board are guaranteed, with further nods but no wins for Bullock and Cuarón, as there is still some prejudice against this sort of thing from a best picture or acting perspective and besides, 12 Years A Slave has those categories locked down next February. Here is a instructive is a technical article I’ve sourced, and isn’t it interesting that the overall aesthetic intent was specifically looking to achieve as long a shot as possible, a gravitational reaction to the hyper cutting, serrated and frayed edges of Greengrass et al. and the still prevalent vogue of so-called ‘chaos’ cinema?
One arena I couldn’t get into before was the 3D presentation and its increasingly firm cementation as a viable format, would you Adam n’ Eve it but even the legendary bulwark against the format Mark Kermode has even reluctantly come out and said that yeah, you really do need to see this one in stereoscopic surroundings. My position has always been clear, when used appropriately the format is just as proficient, illuminating and illustrative as any other stylus in a filmmakers arsenal – sound, colour, composition, pace, figure movement, set-design, performance styles, film-stocks and treatments, and well, I could go on – as long as it’s deployment serves the story, and given that the approach in Gravity is to plunge the audience into high-orbit I think they’ve achieved their goals, and incidentally tackled the whole light-loss complaint that often provides ammunition to the detractors. Speaking of sound the soundtrack is astounding (from the UK’s Steven Price) and the sound design is a whole other continent, a fantastic addition to the jaw-dropping visual sheen, after Director mate Del Toro convinced Cuarón that his original intent to keep entire sequences silent might be scientifically accurate but alienate the wide audience he was hoping to reach. I’m also told that in the spirit of international co-operation they approached David Fincher for advice, he said they’d need to wait seven years for the technology to realise their ambitions (it took just under five) whilst James Cameron thought while it sounded fantastic it would cost $400 million – they did it for a cool hundred.
In terms of the films themes or assignations I don’t have much to add, I just love it when creative souls have a vision so vast, so galactic that the technology itself to represent that imagination needs to be constructed in order to be achieved. It’s a process of discovery and experimentation which in turn shapes the designs and the final piece, as reading around some of this films five-year history has deeply reminded me of the similar gestation period and organic evolution of Kubrick’s 2001. Simple and pure human ingenuity, a sense of spirit, perseverance and endurance which can be considered a meta level component of the film itself. So finally I have been amused to see that co-screenwriter Jonas Cuarón has filmed the reverse scene of one portion of the film which should be interesting, and here is a fantastic discussion with Emmanuel Lubezki whom is one of the great cinematographers of our fragile new millennium. Some of the smarter reviews I’ve consumed have remarked on the film’s interior qualities, of how this is a tale shining with a sense of cool melancholia, both with a sobering austere reduction of our attempts to conquer this impossible horizon and a programme which looks inward and back to a return to Earth, rather than outward to the infinite cosmos and the stars. The padded gauntlet has clearly been thrown down for 21st century filmmaking, a film marrying ideals of survival and loss under the digital infrastructue of modern cinema – so over to you Jim and J.J. for 2015 eh?…..