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Gravity shoots like a meteor — and totally rocks

From the Sky Down

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If you were always first on your bus to the planetarium field trip, eager for a suggestion of the cosmos as it looks beyond our atmosphere, Gravity is the madeleine that's about to send your brain hurtling back to its geekiest childhood daydreams.

If you believe in pure cinema — in motion and light and sound — and if you believe in maximal, gleaming tech as its best delivery system (3D, digital projection, a massive screen), Gravity is your Heisenberg blue meth.

And if you didn't get your fill of George Clooney in a space helmet when the actor made Solaris a decade or so ago, well, then Gravity is for you, too.

Gravity is no Solaris. It's based not on a complex sci-fi novel — and is not, in fact, sci-fi at all — but on a simple story conceived and written by the movie's director, Alfonso Cuarón, and his son Jonás Cuarón. That story is not an Orpheus-and-Eurydice variation but a more basic, more modern mythological tale, that of the can-do American facing dire threats. The can-do American mom. The can-do American mom as embodied by Sandra Bullock.

Also unlike Solaris, people are going to go see this movie. You are going to go see this movie. You will go see it because every TV and every magazine and every newspaper has carpet-bombed U.S. eyeballs with ads ("Experience it!") and making-of features ("Goddamn, this was hard to pull off!") and interviews ("Sandra Bullock is back!"). Lining up for this thing is now basically required.

I have already seen Gravity and I am going to see it again.

I am tired of reading about it. I don't like 3D and am, all these years after Speed, agnostic about Sandy B. And I know how it ends. (You probably do, too.) But Gravity is the rare purpose-built dazzler that it is in love with the deep possibilities of visual storytelling more than with the required beats of studio moviemaking. It is so elemental, so basic in its thrills (and terrors — suffocation, death, oblivion) and so easy to grasp, that it's hard to imagine anyone disliking the thing.

Unless the objection is on script grounds. Calling Gravity's narrative stripped-down or spare is like saying John Cage's 4'33" is quiet. A space shuttle crew's mission is interrupted by exploded satellite debris tearing through their orbital path — through them — like scattergun fire. Rescue is impossible, survival increasingly unlikely. That's it. That's the plot. And it's told in dialogue that only gets creakier (and more nakedly Christian) as tension mounts.

Cuarón, director of the darkest Harry Potter movie and the relentless, bleak Children of Men, can do a thick plot and good dialogue. But he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Terrence Malick's recent favorite as well as Cuarón's main man) know there's no point in letting words crowd their camera (or their seamless CGI or Steven Price's properly jarring music or the gripping sound design) or Bullock's perfect performance. In this case, they know best. They know what primal should look like, and what it should feel like — like this.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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