'Gravity' Review: A Beautiful, Space-Age Nightmare

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in the eye-popping film ‘Gravity.’

Sandra Bullock in a scene from "Gravity."
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Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in the eye-popping outer space survival story.

A beautiful, Space-Age nightmare, "Gravity" is an age-old survival tale that feels completely new. And not just because director Alfonso Cuarón (who also co-wrote the film with his son Jonas Cuarón ) has set his saga 600 kilometers above the earth's surface. He takes his cinematic odyssey to its technological and imaginative extremes – fitting, as the conditions his Odysseus faces are about as extreme as they get.

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Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are astronauts whose routine space mission has been interrupted by a perfect storm of satellite debris. What results is a Murphy's Law scenario in the high stakes game of space exploration. The final frontier is a jungle, to say the least, and one degree of difference could send them hurtling to the stars forever.

Cuarón doesn't miss a single opportunity to impress you, be it the International Space Station breaking up into smithereens, a tumble through zero gravity from within an astronaut helmet, or the reflection of Bullock's face on a pane of glass also reflecting the earth, as she realizes she will likely never make it back there. Tim Webber's visual effects are nothing short of ground-breaking. Heightening the drama is the film's deft use of sound, be it Steven Price's orchestration or the echo of a radio frequency. But it may be the sound of space's silence – also expertly employed – that is actually most riveting.

The filmmaking techniques are reason alone to see "Gravity." However, film's humanity should not be overlooked. Clooney as the veteran astronaut manages to stay his charming, easy-going self, even in the face of overwhelming crisis. However Bullock, as the panicked newbie, is the film's true hero; her performance shines despite all that competition from the special effects.

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The plot keeps to the survival story archetypes, though the backstory Ryan reveals and her spiritual awakening aren't really that necessary. Cuarón includes one narrative leap of faith (faith in both its figurative and literal sense) that feels a little below the belt of his otherwise elegant filmmaking. But you forgive him, if only because his little plot trick means that this eye-popping journey of survival will continue.

It's rare that seeing a film in 3-D is actually worth the extra few bucks. In the case of "Gravity," it's not only worth it, but essential. Cuarón's universe should be allowed to expand to its full potential.

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