Books offer quality, well-told stories. Music is a treat for your ears. Movies are, first and foremost, a visual medium. This continues a series focusing on that element of filmmaking: the art of cinematography. The following is a collection of my favorite shots from Gravity. [may contain spoilers]
The guy who made both your third favorite movie of all time and your favorite Harry Potter flick is making a film about astronauts stuck in space.
Say whaaaaaat? Waiting for that pitch to become reality was an agonizingly long 2+ years. I read the script, followed the casting news, nearly bought the posters, and watched the trailers against my will (I knew all along that spoiling its visuals would hurt more than spoiling the ending for myself). October 2013 inevitably arrived and, despite my ceaselessly mounting anticipation, Gravity delivered on all of its promise.
Sorry David Fincher, that guy filming the volleyball tournament who kept awkwardly staring at you officially has a new favorite director.
On Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Alfonso Cuarón crafted what would stand as my favorite entry in the eight-film series. Cuarón’s Children of Men is a masterpiece of dystopian sci-fi. Gravity became his third home run in a row; actually, I despise baseball... Gravity completed Cuarón’s hat-trick!
My only knock against the film is the scientific inaccuracies that have been widely reported. As evidenced by this weekly feature I write, however, the thing I like most about movies is their visuals. That being the case, I have little issue with ignoring plot holes. Even those who ARE bothered by such problems must concede that Gravity excels in nearly every other area. Sandra Bullock (swoon) earns every Best Actress nomination she receives this season, Steven Price delivers a properly intense score, the effects teams dazzle (seriously, give ‘em all of the awards), and Emmanuel Lubezki proves once again why he’s one of the best cinematographers in the business....
Alfonso Cuarón is an expert at extended single shots. Gravity opens with further evidence: a continuous shot (there are no discernable cuts, it all appears as if it was filmed in one go with a single camera) that lasts about twelve and a half minutes. The four gifs above make up my meager attempt to capture the engrossing intro. Each shot is so different, so exceptional on their own, yet appear in the film with no cuts in between. It’s a jaw-dropping practice, one which can’t be done justice with gifs and my amateur writing abilities.
I think that last clip is the highlight of the bunch. The way the camera falls into sync with Dr. Stone as she spins out of control is exemplary.
I never could have guessed that my favorite frame out of a 90 minute Cuarón + Lubezki + space collaboration would contain no trace of Mother Earth or that starry stuff we see when the Sun mercifully leaves our skies. Referring to the third planet as Mother Earth just now was a deliberate choice of words, trying to draw attention to the symbolism of this photography. Sandra Bullock’s character is being reborn during the events of Gravity. This shot efficiently conveys that fact. There is even a cord that appears as if it could be connected to Dr. Stone’s abdomen like, of course, an umbilical cord.
The same imagery is also depicted on the fantastic poster that I headlined this article with.
The shot on the left is a tiny part of the film’s second incredible continuous shot. This one is a measly six minutes long. Initially we just see Earth, but before long a speck in the distance turns out to be Dr. Stone; she’s still spinning out of control. The camera joins her in the spinning before inching closer and closer until it passes into her helmet and we assume her perspective. It then retraces its movement until we see her whole body drifting away into the distance. George Clooney’s character finally makes radio contact and we pull close to Stone again. A few more seconds pass and Clooney’s Kowalski materializes out of the background to rescue our heroine. They circle around, link together with a tether, and flee the scene. It’s basically equivalent to a roller coaster ride, and what I’ve featured here is merely the prettiest portion of the lengthy sequence.
I hate that I had to cut the beginning of that second shot in order to make the gif a functional file size. I think what I liked most about it was how we spend so long looking the other way before finally turning to see the threat the moment it wreaks havoc on Dr. Stone’s ride. It is intense. The destruction itself, the shredding of the panels, is well-orchestrated and looks great.
That shot of Dr. Stone spinning while the Moon rises in the background is another part of the second continuous shot I described above. It also happens to be one of the very few times I’ll ever have good things to say about an instance of a character shining a flashlight into the camera. This bit wouldn’t have been featured here if not for how great that Moon looks coming over the horizon. I have a soft spot for little twists on the norm; the sun rising is less spectacular in this context.
Rounding out this “outer space is pretty” interlude is a token shot of the northern lights. I felt like more could be done to highlight the beauty that is an aurora, but eh.
Speaking of token shots, every movie featuring space travel most likely takes a moment to demonstrate space’s lack of gravity using a liquid. This has to be my favorite example of that cliché. Looks like water, yeah? It couldn’t just be water though, because that wouldn’t be special and I wouldn’t be shining the spotlight on it. That is actually a tear. It’s emotional. It’s beautiful.
Wall-E! Fire extinguishers in space will always take me back to Wall-E. That’s not worth discussing though. These last four gifs are actually another series that come from a single long continuous shot. This one is almost as magnificent as the opening one. The way the camera is so efficiently moved from one angle to the next, constantly readjusting its focus on a new action, is brilliant. Each one is a great shot that features excellent framing, but put them all together with seamless transitions and you’ve got... ugh, it’s marvelous. This movie, man.
If you haven’t seen Gravity yet, that’s a real shame. Its second theatrical run is all but over (currently showing on just over 300 screens, when a normal count is anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000), so the best way to experience the film is nearly a thing of the past. Gravity was made to be seen on a big screen, so that experience is significantly diminished when you’re viewing it on something made for a living room instead of a 300-person auditorium.
Allow me a moment to express how bitter I am about how the only legitimate IMAX theater in my area skipped right over screening Gravity. It held onto Elysium for months before introducing Catching Fire seven weeks after Gravity opened... sigh.
For next week, I’m thinking Norse.
P.S. Check out yesterday’s trailer for the new Godzilla movie. I enjoyed both Cloverfield and Pacific Rim a good deal, I own both movies, but this Godzilla... oy.