I showed up at the AMC Metreon in San Francisco at 7:55pm, ready to get consumed by its gargantuan IMAX screen for an 8pm showing of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. My friend, who was waiting to hand me my ticket, had texted me that he was in the lobby, so I sprinted through the front doors and followed the signs until I reached the 3rd floor: IMAX territory. Looking around, I couldn’t spot him, so I pulled out my phone. Here is basically the conversation that followed:
“Yo. Where are you?”
“I’m in the lobby. You here?”
“Yeah, did I run past you? I’m at the entrance to the IMAX screens. 3rd floor.”
“At the theater on Van Ness? How did you get past the ticket guy?”
“What? No dude, the Metreon. Van Ness? They….they have an IMAX?”
“Uhh…yeah I thought that’s what we agreed on.”
“SHIT. What do we do?”
“We tell no one about this.”
“Ahhh…what time is it? 7:58. Fuck it, I’m coming. I’ll be there in 15.”
Flying down the stairs three at a time, I reminded myself that I had already Venmo-ed my buddy $20 for the ticket. Missing this movie was not an option. I bursted out onto the street and scanned my surroundings for a cab. One pulled up right in front of me. I hopped in, explained the situation to my driver, and he literally kicked the gas pedal. THIS GUY WAS ON MY SIDE.
We sped through every yellow light, talked shop about Oscar season, and ten minutes later, I was at the right theater. $9 fare, $4 tip. He deserved it.
My aforementioned friend had left my ticket at the front. I picked it up, waited impatiently on the escalator behind a roadblock of giggly preteens on their way to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and entered the theater only a couple previews in. Then I found the crew I was supposed to meet and sat down, sweating. Great way to start a film that completely assaults your senses.
There’s no question this film has to be seen in 3D on the biggest screen you can find. It’s a spectacle, and as the ad before Gravity started encouraged, “Don’t watch a movie—be a part of it.” I totally bought into this. My heart rate was already uncomfortably high, so I was ready to dive in.
Wow. Gravity is undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences you can have at the theaters—as I sat through it, I was very aware that the feeling I got is the reason they even exist. You’re just not going to get the same emotion from watching something on an iPad in bed. The scale of what’s depicted on screen is far beyond what we’re used to in a movie, and the roles sound and silence play in creating tension and dread only multiply the armrest-gripping physics on display.
The opening shot of the film is 17 minutes long—allowing us to take in the wonder of the planet from low orbit as a shuttle comes slowly into view. Eventually, we hear Clooney’s signature voice, but it’s a while longer before we see his Matt Kowalski and Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone close up. It’s hard to say this without seeming a little gratuitous, but the entire scene is literally breathtaking. As we go from peace, serenity, and ClooneyCharm™ to a sense of rising panic with flying space debris on the literal horizon, the awe really sets in. I was honestly astonished that the technology exists to put this kind of outer-space scene together.
Critics have complained about the lack of story and character development in the film—and I agree with their points. Bullock’s character is given a sad backstory that feels much too forced into a tie-in with the space-disaster metaphor for overcoming adversity and “letting go.” There’s no arguing with that, and for a movie that plays with physics like no other, it’s a little disappointing how one-dimensional the writing is.
However, to let the screenplay’s shortcomings, as well as plausibility of the science in the film, take away from its achievements, is a disservice to the creative vision of Cuarón. He and his team spent over four years making the project a reality, essentially inventing a new technology to make it happen.
For 91 minutes, we follow Bullock’s Dr. Stone as she spins uncontrollably in free space, floats weightlessly inside space stations and escape pods, breathes uncontrollably although oxygen is scarce, and does everything in her power to get back to Earth. All the while, the stability we feel by using her as our center of gravity becomes constantly disrupted as objects whirl around her and each demonstrate a different law of physics in space. Collision, spinning, pushing, pulling, up, down, left, right, infinite directions—it’s almost overwhelming. Walking out of the theater, I was sore in dimensions I didn’t even know existed.
Moviegoers should pay close attention to how they breathe during the film, too—when Bullock’s breathing becomes labored, so did mine. When she had to slow down to conserve oxygen, I was barely breathing (sips of wine, not gulps of beer). It was a totally immersive experience. It’s only a matter of time until Disney buys the rights to Gravity and turns it into the most vomit-inducing ride Disneyland’s ever seen.
Alfonso Cuarón, best known for three completely different films in Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban, and Children of Men, really put something groundbreaking together with his first film in seven years. It really makes you wish Hollywood would be more willing to throw money at clear geniuses with a vision—this is the treat we get on the rare occasions it happens. It’s a crazier journey than Avatar, and it’s much better at hiding its lackluster script than James Cameron was.
Although I might be more susceptible to calling the movie a near-masterpiece and willing to overlook its shortcomings because I spent a ludicrous $33 in total to see it, a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes seems to support my view. So here it is:
IT WAS WORTH IT. Go see it. Bring oxygen.