I feel like I need to say something upfront so I don’t forget. It may also be the only time you ever see these words coming from me, so appreciate it for what it says.

If you have any interest at all in seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, you owe it to yourself to see it in digital 3D. Hell, I’m absolutely pissed that the Bullock museum isn’t showing it in IMAX 3D. It absolutely adds that much to the experience.

When I saw this teaser for the first time, I want to say it was about 6 months ago, I felt nauseous just sitting at my desk at work. And then I went back and replayed it fullscreen HD just because I hadn’t been gut punched enough the first time. And it was more encouraging to me talking amongst friends to see what their reaction was. I believe the general consensus among those with a negative reaction was along the lines of “Yeah, you have fun with that.”

It had nothing to do with concerns about the story or the quality of the cast. The visuals from this 90 seconds of footage simply triggered the claustrophobia (or perhaps it would be better to say astrophobia) too strongly in the people I know who have that particular fear. I don’t have that phobia myself but even then the teaser made me uneasy as hell. I’ve had that experience before, though, and wound up pretty disappointed in the final product (see The Conjuring).

I’m glad that didn’t prove to be the case here.

It’s a high concept pitch. Retiring veteran shuttle pilot Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is on a space walk with technical specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). A satellite accident results in catastrophe leaving them adrift in orbit above the Earth. What will it take for them to survive?

And the story paints by the numbers for the first twenty minutes or so. Kowalski is confident and a bit of a smart ass. Stone is the fish out of water just trying to survive in uncomfortable surroundings. There’s even a supporting role in another specialist who’s digging the hell out of zero G a lot more than Stone is who comes across as cookie cutter as it gets. From the characters alone this movie shouldn’t be nearly as interesting as it is.

What sucked me in completely was how utterly immersive their environment is in orbit. Call it hyperbole but I stand by a comment I made on FB to friends: this is absolutely the pinnacle of special effects work I’ve ever seen in film. If I didn’t know better I would swear they filmed the entire thing in orbit. Nothing breaks the illusion for me.

So when the bullets…pardon, debris…starts flying, the peril Stone and Kowalski find themselves in is harrowing. When perspective shifts from omniscient to Stone’s view within her helmet, I could see how people might get motion sick with how Stone spins, jerks and bounces around. My gut is sore from how hunched over and clenched up I was as the action progressed.

What makes the environment even more immersive is how Cuarón uses complete silence when the action is most intense. This isn’t a tentpole studio production trying to give you more bang for your buck. There’s one shot in particular of Stone at the midpoint that I think was a very deliberate visual homage to Kubrick’s 2001 and I appreciated it not only for the nod, but the active recognition that dead silence can be more terrifying than having the whole of creation exploding in your ears as well as your eyes.

I’m not a big Bullock fan, but she’s compelling as Stone. I made the mistake of reading a review before the film’s release that made (in my opinion) a bigger deal out of her character’s flaws as they’re revealed than was warranted. I expect that there is going to be some nitpicks about her backstory and what implications it would have for her mission. At least that was where my mind went whenI first read about them. In the end I found it irrelevant to my belief in Bullock’s portrayal.

Clooney as Kowlaski is equally good, though he doesn’t get as many opportunities to dominate the screen as Bullock’s Stone. When Kowlaski does make his presence felt, I like how Clooney does it, going for a more subtle approach. I can buy into Kowalski as the veteran hand in space and easily see him as a leader in a difficult situation. He anchors Stone mentally as well as physically in spots (I suppose that merits a “spoiler alert” but if you watch the trailer you see it in action).

The movie clocks in at a very tight 90 minutes, and it’s damned efficient storytelling. There’s no dead air, no scenes that feel like they needed to be trimmed or excised entirely. The tagline “Don’t let go” could just as easily describe what the movie did to me as it serves as a suggestion to the leads. Free of Gravity‘s airless environment, I feel like I can finally slow down and breathe.

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