And I am blown away. I think it's fair to say I watch a lot of movies, and I love a lot of movies. I haven't been blown away by a movie like this since...ever, maybe?
Expansively claustrophobic, epic, and stripped-down (only two actors appear on screen, and for most of the movie it's only one,) Alfonso Cuarón (who directed one of my other favorite movies, CHILDREN OF MEN) has invented a new kind of cinema. Astronauts are doing repairs on the Hubble telescope when the serenity of space is broken by word from Houston that a scuttled Russian satellite has triggered a chain reaction (this isn't said in the movie, but it's based on the theoretical Kessler effect) and debris is heading straight for them. The result is catastrophic, with only mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) surviving. And so, they begin a perilous journey in orbit around earth to try to get to the International Space Station and take a Soyuz module home.
Cuarón never lets up, never leaves the astronauts to check in on mission control, or present flashbacks of their earlier lives. Only two actors, and space. We get a few voices through the intercom from Earth, most notably Ed Harris as mission control. But I'd also like to point out the amazing scene with the voice of Orto Ignatiussen as Aningaaq (and no, I had no idea who Orto was before.) The scene where Dr. Stone raises him on the radio is brilliant. He (and Sandra Bullock, of course) brought tears to the eyes of several in the audience just with him speaking...what language was it? Greenlandic? And his dogs barking, and baby crying...it was a rare quiet break in the action and it was positively heartbreaking.
The experience is immersive, and that's the whole point. It's also an emotional journey for rookie astronaut Dr. Stone to find the courage to survive, to press on through adversity and anguish. Kowalski, on the other hand, is cool as a cucumber. While he hasn't been in this exact situation before, he's obviously been through a lot, gathered a lot of stories in his days, and will either have another amazing story to tell or he'll die trying. The emotional arc is for Dr. Stone to get to that same state.
Can I sing the praises of Sandra Bullock for a minute? Does anyone remember when she was just the epitome of spunky-cute romantic action-comedy lead? Remember getting tired of that? (okay, maybe some people didn't, but I did.) I never saw THE BLIND SIDE in no small part because I wasn't that interested in a Sandra Bullock starring role. I apologize, profusely! She is a brilliant actress and she is put through the emotional and physical wringer here. Maybe it's early (and always pointless) to talk Oscars, but she shouldn't just be given the Oscar, she should be given one of those massive Oscar statues they display outside during the awards. That's how much more amazing her performance is than...anything. Okay, is that enough hyperbole?
Let me get back to that immersion again. That's why you'll hear so many people tell you that you have to see it in IMAX, and in 3-D, or whatever your favorite method is for cinematic immersion. And they're all right. I saw it first in IMAX 3-D. I know there are plenty of 3-D haters out there, and for the record in one scene that violates Jason's rule that 3-D should be used to put depth into the screen, not throw stuff out of it (and if you see it you'll know what scene it is.) Well, if you don't like 3-D then don't see it in 3-D. I'm confident the film itself is immersive enough that it will work in 2-D. But if you have any inkling at all that 3-D could work with the right movie, then see this in 3-D. Same goes for IMAX. The only objection I know to IMAX is paying the extra price for it. But it's absolutely worth it. Take a road trip to you nearest IMAX theater if you have to.
Then after seeing it in IMAX 3-D, and thinking about it all the next day, it struck me that I wanted to see it in a D-box seat. I know D-box is controversial, and it's anathema to cinema purists. I've only experienced D-box once and while it was fun, it wasn't something I cared to go back to. I have my way of immersing myself in a movie--sitting in the front row. My one D-box experience was 2 years ago, and I finally found a movie where I wanted to try it again. And at first, I wondered if I might regret it. Sitting so far back the screen looked small to me, at least smaller than it should have. But soon enough I was lost in the movie. And some of the best D-box effects were also the most subtle--very slight, slow floating motions during the quiet scenes. The thrill ride action scenes were also pretty cool, but D-box only move a few inches at most, it can't really throw you around as hard as the action on screen (there would be liability issues if it did.) So my take on D-box. If it's sounds like something you would just hate, avoid it. If you're at all curious, this is the movie to try it out with. If your choice is between IMAX and D-box...I'd recommend IMAX. Now if anyone knows of any theater in the world with IMAX and D-box, I'm up for a little road trip.
Running Time: 90 minutes x 2 = 180 minutes
My Total Minutes: 338,642