There are several astonishing things about Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, but the most shocking one is that it’s only about 90 minutes long.
Ok, that may not seem so astonishing, but it totally runs counter to major movie trends these days. Most Hollywood blockbusters now are overstuffed and bloated with excessive plot and characters — most likely tied to the current superhero craze — in an effort to make audiences feel like they’re getting their money’s worth at the theater, because, you know, it ain’t cheap to go to the movies anymore.
Cuarón, who co-wrote the Gravity script with his brother Jonás, starts his story right in on the action. Career astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and reluctant scientist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are on a space walk fixing the Hubble Telescope when debris from a nearby shattered satellite sends Stone careening far into space. The rest of the movie then deals with Stone and Kowalski’s efforts to somehow get their way back to Earth.
There’s no pre-mission build-up. No introductory bonding between Kowalski and Stone. We understand their situation and relationship immediately through some light and unobtrusive expository dialogue.
Although some backstory eventually kicks in to help motivate Stone to continue her return home, that level of emotional engagement isn’t completely necessary, but it’s not a bad distraction either, filling in some time so that the film isn’t just 75 minutes long.
The intensely visual way that Cuarón propels the story of Gravity feels like the director was inspired by his famous one-take car chase scene in Children of Men and expand that one scene into a feature-length production. But, of course, in space and with fewer characters and with a much more charming and sympathetic lead actor like Sandra Bullock over Clive Owen.