Release Date: October 4, 2013
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10
Space is a majestic and unforgiving place. We are a mere speck in this ever expanding universe. Our natural curiosity to explore drives us to break free from our earthly bonds to find out just what is out there. Like any earthbound expedition this comes with inherent risks and often times they can prove catastrophic; the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia certainly come to mind. Alfonso Cuaron’s epic opens with text, menacingly underscored by composer Steven Price, which tells us that in space “there is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.” Over the course of the next ninety minutes, Cuaron takes you on what one character calls “one hell of a ride.”
The crew of the space shuttle Explorer is on a routine mission. They are currently making repairs to the Hubble telescope which is currently attached to the shuttle. Buzzing around in a jetpack is the shuttle’s pilot Matt Kowalski who is set to retire. During his spacewalk he happily shares anecdotes that many, including mission control, have already heard. Tethered to a robotic arm is mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone. Fighting nausea she tries to focus on the task at hand. Not long after, the crew receives word that the Russians had a missile strike against one of their own satellites and this has created a deadly debris storm. It isn’t long before the crew of the Explorer encounters this storm and the results are catastrophic. With the shuttle lost, oxygen supplies minimal, long-range communications dead, Kowalski and Stone must find a way to get to safety or die in the vastness of space.
This film is a technical marvel on all fronts. It certainly is a game-changer especially in terms of 3D. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is often breathtaking. Outside of an IMAX documentary it is very likely that earth hasn’t been captured so beautifully. Often times it feels as though you are there and thanks to the 3D it puts you there. You get a sense of the vastness, as well as the claustrophobic feeling, of space. The visual effects are top notch as you are convinced that these people are in a zero gravity environment. New equipment and technology was developed to make this film and it has certainly paid dividends.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are excellent as Stone and Kowalksi, respectively. Clooney is essentially playing himself. He’s the charming, self-effacing, lovable pilot-type who happily “drives the bus.” It serves the character well as he draws on these traits to help break the tension and keep Stone relaxed and focused as they face imminent death as every second ticks by. He is particularly strong when the disaster strikes and how he handles the situation afterwards. He’s calm, cool and collected. Bullock shines as Ryan Stone. Everything audiences love about Bullock comes through in Ryan. As the film progresses we learn there are more layers to her character than being a mere mission specialist not to mention a nice haircut that certainly gave the visual effects department a sigh of relief. There are two scenes that stand out where she is quite effective but in an effort to avoid spoilers we’ll just leave it at that. Ed Harris also appears as the voice of Houston Mission Control. A nice touch considering his appearances in The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.
Cuaron has directed another science-fiction gem, Children of Men still stands as one of his best. Featuring numerous long single take shots that really put you in the moment it is a truly breathtaking experience. The thirteen minute opening is a marvel to watch and you cannot help but wonder just how they pulled that off. Written by Cuaron and his son Jonas they have created a grand space adventure that pushes the envelope in terms of filmmaking and storytelling.
If there is any film out there that should be experienced in a theater AND in 3D it is this film. There are many shots that will lose its impact when not seen in 3D. The 3D is not gimmicky and when there are in your face moments they are subtle. Even if you decide not to see in the way it was intended this is “one hell of a ride” that you don’t want to miss. Either way, you want to see this one on the big screen.