Saturday, 16 November 2013


From the trailers and hype the story line of this film is already out there - we know it's about stranded astronauts and the question is, will they get home. Well I'm not going to spoil that for you - you will have to go and see it for yourself. What is remarkable about this film is the cinematography - that and the fact that there are only two characters (and four voices). Filmed at Shepperton Studios in the UK using a room whose walls serve as massive LED screens and using gyros and gimbals to give the appearance of weightlessness, this film advances cinematic technology in a similar way to the innovations we saw in The Matrix trilogy. The visual effect is as though you are there with them floating and tumbling through space - more of a documentary feel with long single takes that travel long distances.

The two characters are Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) a medical doctor on her first space trip and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on his last trip before retirement. They end up stranded in their space suits after a space walk goes horribly wrong. At one point they are tethered together and the tag line 'don't let go' becomes the golden rule as they seek solutions to their problem.

The film raises a  number of issues - the most immediate one being the legacy of space junk and the unintended consequences of simply abandoning it when no longer useful. It also shows the increasingly international nature of space exploration with the Americans, Russians and Chinese all featuring which leads at one point to the wonderful line delivered by Stone 'No hablo Chino!".

As much as the story is about the physical safety of 'not letting go' it is also the emotional safety of having to let go. Stone is carrying a great weight within her psyche - something she has not been able to put down. As the film progresses, the seriousness of their situation encourages the two characters to engage in some metaphysical dialogue as they explore the meaning of their existence. For me this is the real nub of the film and provides the icing on the cake. Stone delivers a wonderful monologue in which she rehearses the 'I know we all have to die at some point - but like this, not today' argument. She questions the meaning of life and the importance of leaving a legacy and draws inner strength from a renewed sense of purpose. I wonder if viewers of this film will allow themselves the indulgence of asking such questions of themselves?

Whilst the visuals of this film are stunning - and yes I did, after the unlikely encouragement of Dr Kermode, shell out to see the 3D version - the big question is, with only two characters can the film sustain sufficient movement, interest and anticipation for its 91 minute runtime? The answer is a resounding 'yes'! The pace is relentless and I left the film with my veins full of adrenalin!! One of the voices that we hear in the film is that of the NASA Mission Controller - played by Ed Harris, a nice homage to Apollo 13 and The Truman Show two films in which he stars and which are about a space disaster and the quest to discover the meaning of existence.

The visuals in this film alone make it worth going to see. The acting from Bullock is immense and Clooney almost plays himself - something he is becoming increasingly good at doing. The estimated $100m production costs has been more than doubly recouped in US box office takings alone in its first six weeks since release - this film will repay Warner Brothers investment and faith in Director Alfonso CuarĂ³n many times over. The project was four years in the making and Warner Bros apparently didn't see a single frame in the film until a few months before release.

As you may imagine, I rather liked it - and like the good Dr would recommend the 3D experience - it would be even more immersive in IMAX I would imagine. Do go and see it - no matter how big your TV is this will never be quite the same unless you view it in the cinema. For innovation, acting, conceptualisation and the ability to consistently sustain tension, I'll give it 9/10!

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