Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’ve seen this movie before, back in 1972.
Director Alfonso Cuaron is one smart cookie. Seven years ago he co-pens and directs one of the best, most profound, most intelligent Science Fiction films ever made, Children of Men. Then he waits. We wait too. Rumors started spreading in early 2011 that Cuaron would return with a big-budget Sci Fi. Come 2013 it’s the hottest ticket in Venice and Toronto.
Cuaron’s brilliance is that he really didn’t deliver a Sci-Fi at all. Sure, it’s set in space, but what he’s done is single-handedly re-invented the blockbuster disaster movie. Gravity is The Poseidon Adventure 41 years later. Before everyone gets their knickers in a twist, I don’t mean this as anything but a compliment. In my opinion, for the most part, action thrillers have devolved into convoluted stories filled with weapons, interminable chases, skull pounding soundtracks, and epileptic fit inducing frantic editing to provide the dramatic tension. It takes a filmmaker of much greater skill to compel that same, and far better, tension from a simple premise and storyline. One that is filled with personal challenge after challenge, beautifully crafted long shot cinematography, and appropriately evocative sound design. One area in particular where Cuaron has elevated the genre is eliminating the du-rigueur all-star-cast-of-thousands and pairing it down to a two hander. Well, actually, a 1.5 hander if the truth be told. Where the former could rely on diversity of characters, here, two actors have to carry the day. Insightful and brave.
While Poseidon may be sniffed at today, it was full of tremendous visual spectacle, great sound design, and was the highest grossing film of 1972. I also went on to snare 8 Oscar noms, winning 2. Another similarity is the dedication of the cast. In Poseidon, all the cast did most of their own stunts, with the requisite bumps, bruises, wear and tear along the way. With Gravity, I’ve read that Bullock chose to remain inside her mechanical rig for entire 8 to 9 hour shooting days to not delay the production. Now that’s dedication. My esteem for Ms. Bullock has grown. Not just for her fortitude, but also for her reigned-in believable performance. There always has to be a teeny weenie bit of schlock, as the genre calls for it. You don’t want Dave Bowman in a role like this. I gave George some slack because of this dictum too. A final commonality is the weak kneed-ness of studios. Irwin Allen had to come up with half of the $10M budget himself ( slyly, he made it for $5M .. it grossed $93M ) and Universal footballed Gravity to Warner when they got cold feet. ( Gravity recouped over half of its $100M budget opening weekend alone ). Note to studios .. The faint of heart never won the fair ladies hand.
Much has already been said of Emmanuel Lubezki’s gorgeous and evocative cinematography and Steven Price’s equally masterful score that there’s no need to add anything here. The real genius, though, is the Cuaron brothers script. While outwardly simple, if it were indeed simple to create we’d be seeing it every day, and we most defiantly don’t. Simply masterful tension and pacing; this is why Gravity works. As per ‘themes’, well, Gravity don’t need no stinkin’ themes. It does quite well on with its own simple arc thank you. Rebirth is most often mentioned, and there are a lot of indicators that Cuaron had that in mind. After all, Children of Men was one of the most thematically rich films out there, I’m sure he had to put a ‘little’ something in here. As for all the other theories springing up right now? Well, I don’t mind. I love when a film lets the viewer explore and contemplate. It’s one of my favourite things about a film. I can’t help but be reminded of a quote from Cuaron himself, though .. ” When people see some depth you never intended that's really cool, you just put on a face and say "Oh, yeah, that was deep". What are you going to say? I'm just a moron with luck?”
Gravity is a completely fun, completely compelling, completely satisfying action adventure romp. I’m sure it will be this year’s block buster box-office champ, and go on to garner a bunch of attention come February, just as its ancestor did 41 years ago. My only trepidation is that with success comes imitation. Anyone remember the 1976 ‘Flood!’ and 1977 ‘Fire!’? I don’t even want to think of Airport ’79, The Concorde!