When the Challenger space shuttle exploded a little over a minute after launching from Cape Canaveral in January of 1986, I was sitting in my grandparent’s living room, watching on television as it burst into flame. All seven astronauts perished, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. I couldn’t imagine a more horrible demise, so I vowed never to become an astronaut. I was 2½ years old.
I’ve never regretted my decision, but I’ve always wondered if I was missing out on something truly magnificent. Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D thriller Gravity completely satisfied my curiosity.
Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the film (rated PG-13 for intense action, disturbing images, and bad language) takes viewers on an adrenaline-packed space journey of terrifying twists and mind-boggling visuals. Bullock, in a nuanced and emotionally charged performance, plays Ryan Stone, a medical doctor on a NASA research mission. Clooney plays mission commander Matt Kowalski, a long-time astronaut on his final expedition.
They are on a routine space walk when debris from another satellite destroys their shuttle, leaving them floating in space, the sole survivors of an ill-fated mission. By all counts, that should be the end of the story, but Kowalski happened to be wearing a jet pack when the accident occurred and has just enough fuel to get them to the International Space Station before their oxygen runs out. When they arrive, things aren’t quite as they’d expected, and their status goes from bad to worse.
At times the chain of events seems conveniently catastrophic, pushing the plausibility factor a bit far, but the awe-inspiring space photography and crystal clear 3D imagery (particularly on an IMAX screen) make up for it entirely. You literally feel as if you’re in floating in space, 200 miles above the earth’s surface. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at once. Add to that Cuarón’s deft use of music and silence, Bullock’s stellar performance, and the prospect of falling into the endless expanses of the universe, and you get a movie that’s sure to turn heads at next year’s award ceremonies.