Star-Studded Cast Leaves Audience Breathless in Space Epic

"Life in space is impossible." "Gravity," which is director Alfonso Cuarón's first film since 2006's "Children of Men," set its tone in the first few seconds with these words. Gravity at its core is a simple story about survival in an inhospitable environment. The film opens with Dr. Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney respectively, on a Space Shuttle mission to make repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. The mission is quickly complicated by a chain reaction of space debris that strands the astronauts in orbit and prevents them from communicating with earth. These events are shown in one uninterrupted, thirteen minute shot that opens the film.

From there, the film is driven by the astronauts' attempt to safely return to earth. Clooney plays the veteran astronaut Kowalski well, but the real standout is Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a rookie on her first space shuttle mission. The minimalist script requires Bullock to carry a good deal of the film's narrative solely through facial expressions and body language, and she handles this challenge admirably. The characters aren't particularly deep, not going far beyond the basic rookie and veteran templates, but it works in the context of the film. In fact, the small amount of back story that is included for Bullock's character actually feels out of place, since not much time is spent developing it.

The real star of the film, however, is the visual and sound design. The film makes extensive use of CGI, which is handled fantastically. There is a scene in the middle of the film featuring the International Space Station, which contains some of the most effective and striking visual effects ever seen in a space film. The cinematography is also superb, which is most notable during the film's many long tracking shots, particularly the opening. The film's sound design is also spectacular. As the film's opening notes, there is nothing to carry sound in space. Whereas other films would feature loud explosions and grinding metal, the scenes of catastrophic destruction in the film are mostly silent, as they would be in space. This subversion of our expectations creates a very jarring effect that only serves to enhance the film's effectiveness.

At only 90 minutes long, the film accomplishes much with its limited runtime. It doesn't outstay its welcome, telling the story it wants to tell concisely without many distractions. For some, the minimalistic story and stereotypical characters may not be enough, but for those looking to experience space without being an astronaut, "Gravity" is probably as close as you will get for some time to come.