"Gravity" may be the best movie ever made about being up in space.
I don't mean inside a space station. For most of this movie, the astronauts are outside. Whether tethered or strapped in jet packs, these astronauts are floating through space with nothing between their spacesuits and the great empty beyond of outer space.
And the first thing "Gravity" establishes is the stunning serenity that space has to offer. It's a spectacular thing to behold - for us in the audience and for at least one of the astronauts.
"Beautiful don't you think?" asks veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney.)
"The sun rise," Clooney responds.
Clooney plays the old pro in space and Sandra Bullock is the rookie medical technician.
The movie lets us revel in the magnitude of it all, the peacefulness and the bliss. It's a wondrous marvel that soon gets interrupted however.
The serenity of space is abruptly replaced by the terrors of space and for the rest of this movie, it's a fight for survival against increasingly dire odds.
This is a visually spectacular movie that begs not only to be seen in 3D but also in the IMAX format. Director Alfonso Cuaron immerses you not only in the vastness of space, but also in the very real physical threats encountered up there. There are plenty of deadly explosions and enough close calls with flying debris to satisfy most action film aficionados.
In fact, there are so many calamities Bullock has to face, one right after another, that at one point she says, with exasperation, "You got to be kidding me." But it keeps the movie exciting and each action sequence is brilliantly handled - great spectacles grounded in realistic details.
"Gravity" is a stunning movie that only gets into trouble when it tries to give Bullock her own personal gravity. The movie somewhat clumsily gives her a psychological burden she must grapple with, in addition to all those physical challenges she faces. Space becomes symbolic for her need to escape from something that's been haunting her back on earth. I know that notion is meant to deepen our experience of the movie, but to me it felt reductive: the expanse of space reduced to the space between her ears.
But thanks to the power of its images, what will stay with most viewers long after "Gravity" ends is not the personal demons that Bullock's character is battling, but the power, majesty, and dangers of outer space.