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Feeling Gravity's Pull - A Look Back

Last year we donned 3D glasses for an IMAX showing of Gravity. Off the chart reviews. A 17 MINUTE opening shot. Unparalleled vfx. Showered with Oscars. But how is it one year later?

This time last year we all donned our 3D glasses and sat way too close to the screen for an IMAX showing of Gravity (Cuarón, 2013). The reviews were off the charts. The visual effects were unparalleled. It had a 17 MINUTE opening shot. It was literally showered with Oscars. But how is it a year later on? I remember enjoying it when I saw it, but left wondering how it would have been with the vfx stripped away. Would the story have been enough?

There is no doubting the stunning technological achievement by Framestore. From the incredible work by Bot & Dolly’s robot arms, to the previs and pre-lighting, the beautiful “weightless” animation and jaw-dropping renders, it is a tour de force of modern movie making. This is still true today. It really shines on Blu Ray. The opening shot is still just as intense and the disaster is so involving it almost feels like its your problem. Sandra Bullock (as Dr. Stone) does a solid job and George Clooney (Matt Kowalski) is still as wooden and absent as he was a year ago. That being said I have never really found the story that gripping, it seems like a string of unbelievable happenstances. The fire, the lack of radio contact, the distances between space stations were all rather questionable and the less said about the “Wall-E-esque” fire extinguisher scene, the better. I never really found the ending particularly satisfying either, I suppose I kept thinking back to Apollo 13’s (1995) brilliant team effort to overcome adversity and that left Gravity just feeling a bit hollow.

What really stood out on a rewatch however, was the sensational use of sound, or rather lack of sound. Steven Price’s Oscar-winning soundtrack is gripping and intelligent in its sparseness. It sucks you into the vacuum of space and the silence really amplifies Dr. Stone’s isolation and problems.

Its not like Gravity is a bad movie, but I do feel it was a little overrated. As a VFX artist, I am always looking beyond what the effects do. They should be a vehicle to tell the story and not become the story. All in all the movie has held up well and is clearly a landmark piece of cinema from a technological standpoint. From a story standpoint however, I’d much rather watch The Right Stuff (1983) or Apollo 13 any day. I am a huge Alfonso Cuarón fan and think his movie Children of Men (2006) is far superior. It is a brilliant commentary on society set in a dystopian future. The visual effects are just as impressive, but you won’t be able to notice them. Just watch the birthing scene...