It was only a routine mission to fix an item of equipment orbiting the Earth, and though Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical scientist, was nervous about this trip and the space walk it featured, she felt safe in the knowledge that nothing could go wrong as long as she had a good crew with her. That crew included Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran of many missions who while she was performing the necessary operation on the equipment was floating around voicing his wish to perform the longest space walk ever, well aware this was not going to be a possibility. But as they set about their task, a warning came from Mission Control (Ed Harris) - something about debris.
If nothing else, director Alfonso Cuarón's action adventure Gravity would be remembered as a significant example of technical achievement in cinema, with a film that saw to it almost all of the scenes took place with no gravity whatsoever. This was a gift to the 3D photography, as what could be better for that than a bunch of objects floating towards, away from and past the audience, therefore the film quickly became that most sought after entertainment, sought after by the studios at any rate, which was the experience that simply had to be seen in a cinema, the implication being that waiting to watch it at home was just not going to deliver the full effect. As a result, those ticket prices ensured Gravity was one of the biggest movies of its year.
That success continued at the Oscars and other award ceremonies, and initially it was as though nobody had a bad word to say about it, but there's always someone who's going to bring the mood down and soon the naysayers became as loud as the champions of the work, both comparing it to the landmark space film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, it was a lot more like other sixties disaster movies set there like Marooned or Countdown, though as the presence of Harris's voice indicated, really this was for those who wished to know what Apollo 13 would look like unfettered by the insistence on sticking to documented facts and giving the creators a chance to unleash their imaginations on a character stuck in orbit suffering mishaps that bordered on the sadistic.
As anyone knew who saw the trailer, which didn't give away too much to its credit, the disaster in this case occurred when that aforementioned debris hits the mission, leaving Ryan and Matt the sole survivors. How can they reach safety when they are essentially adrift in a void? This may have been implementing newfangled, indeed the newest-fangled, technology to craft its imagery, but there was a key image that harked back to many a science fiction scenario, and that was the dead astronaut, his helmet broken to reveal his dead features inside. That was often a skull on many a vintage paperback, though here it's a face with a large hole gaping in it, but they indicated the same thing, which was the vulnerability of humanity at the edge of what was possible with all their endeavours.
What we want to know is if Sandy or George will join the dead astronaut trope, one reaching back to the likes of Stanley Kubrick's 2001 or the original Planet of the Apes, and Cuarón did his best to keep us guessing by rendering the dilemma as hopeless-seeming as possible, which worked up a palpable degree of tension. Yet there was a spiritual aspect to this as well; Ryan has lost a daughter some time ago, and since then has felt adrift in life, never mind space, so this loneliness following a tragedy is enveloping her as she battles to stay alive, even considering giving up the ghost when the odds are stacked so high against her. But don't die just yet, says... what? God? The spirit of her daughter? The force of life in humankind? Whatever, the urgency to prevail over terrible circumstances looms large in the script, as much putting us through the wringer as the characters are, though with the plotline so brief there was something oddly disposable about its inspirational encouragement, as if Cuarón's effects were impeccable, but his efforts to galvanise were strictly off a fridge magnet. Music by Steven Price.