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The final frontier – ★★★½

Hype is an incredibly challenging thing to deal with. As a film fan it’s never fun to have to wait an age for a big release, and is even tougher when the film has been gaining the kind of reviews that Gravity has since it premiered at Venice at the tail-end of August and then opened across North America at the start of October. With a film like this you need to see it without any of those dreaded things we call spoilers, which makes browsing the web all the harder in the days after a film’s U.S. release when the internet at large seems to think it’s now OK to reveal major plot points. Anyway we’ve made it to its Irish release, but can the finished product live up to expectations? Almost.

Gravity is director Alfonso Cuarón’s first film since Children of Men kind of came out of nowhere all the way back in 2006. It’s tells the story of two astronauts (Oscar winners Sandra Bullock as Stone and George Clooney as Kowlaski) who are marooned in space after a cloud of space debris wrecks their shuttle and communications systems forcing them into a series of challenging survival tasks all with the slim chance of a rescue mission or trip back to earth.

One dimensional characters in three dimensions

One dimensional characters work best in three dimensions

So let’s quickly get the bad news out of the way first. The script for the film sometimes feels like it was written by a Warner Brothers work experience student. There are a few lines here that will make any seasoned film fan grimace and get in your way of enjoying the film. You expect to have to put up with this kind of thing in films like Avatar or Pacific Rim, but after the incredibly dense and meaningful stories presented in Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También, you wonder whether Alfonso Cuarón made a mistake in allowing his 31-year-old son Jonás to help him with the script.

But the good news is that if you’re able to put the one-dimensional characters and script niggles aside you’re in for one of the most thrilling and unique cinema experiences of the year. Simply put, space looks bloody amazing. The reason for that (and the real star of the show) is cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki whose most notable collaborative work in the last decade is probably the Terrence Mallick film The Tree of Life which saw him nominated for an Academy Award. It hurts my primitive earth brain to work out how some of these shots were planned and composited.

Gravity is a true triumph of filmmaking in the twenty-first century which brings techniques that used to be called “post production” closer to the heart of process. The opening shot of the film is one of those things that you’re just marvelling at as you slowly realise we haven’t had any cuts for about ten minutes. Seeing Lubezki and Cuarón’s film on a 3D IMAX screen is the best way to see it, as it states the best case since Avatar and Hugo for the immersive qualities of those pesky glasses you’re being made to prop on the end of your nose.

For at least thirty minutes you’re sitting there with your mouth open, feeling awestruck by what’s unfolding on the giant screen in front of you. While the film falls away briefly in the middle bogged down by some spirituality and plausibility issues, by the time the ending came around I was buying into it all again – though the final scenes and manipulative score are certain to be a little divisive with more cynical audiences. Another real positive, daft as it may sound, is its running time. Rather than unnecessarily stretch out the running time, the action all wraps up in well under 90 minutes which is a real rarity amongst these big winter awards contenders.

Thinking about it all now I cannot wait to see the film again. On second viewing there’s absolutely no unknown entities and you’re simply presented with an opportunity to enjoy the film as the closest thing to being in space we’ve ever seen on-screen. Hopefully in the future it’ll be easier to escape the sense of disappointment in the story.

Released nationwide across Ireland on November 7th 2013

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.