It’s taken longer for the IMAX format to take off in the way my nine-year old mind thought it would back in 1996. After seeing the likes of Alaska: Spirit of the Wild, Fantasia 2000 and Cyberworld 3D even my young mind realized this format was reserved for documentaries and other “spectacle films,” leaving “real” movies on the smaller screen. While Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequels have adopted the format for each of their action sequences and James Cameron’s Avatar was soley spectacle, neither fully embraced the format.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity comes closer than any other at meeting this medium even if Cuaron is more dedicated to the Dolby ATMOS sound system than the display format and while critics and audiences are rightfully applauding the visuals – more on those in bit – the sound design is a marvel. I didn’t think think anything could top the races in Rush in the sonic department but whether it’s Steven Price’s score, or minimal sounds of space that follow the ever-moving camera.
It’s hard to imagine long-time Cuaron cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki would ever top the long takes in Children of Men. The fluidity in the opening sequence as it follows our three astronauts moving in and out of first-person as if the camera in zero-gravity is the closest younger viewers will ever come to seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1966. For the best visual experience, I can’t stress this enough: See this in 3D, on the biggest screen possible. On a full-size IMAX projection, there is no screen as so much a window that offers an experience rival to any major theme park ride.
Keeping the film from treading too far into spectacle for it’s own sake is the in the performances, specifically Sandra Bullock who carries most of the weight. Looking back on the last five year’s who could have called the lead from The Proposal and All About Steve would not only star in the biggest sci-fi movie of the year but also give the best performance of her career. She finds the truth – as they say – in her performance which is all the more impressive considering the meticulous blocking and timing used during the shoot. While the comparisons to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley are apt, I couldn’t help but think of Anna Scott (Julia Robers in Notting Hill) who is characterized as a star because she’s in a “space movie.” I have never been the biggest fan of Bullock. That has changed.
As much as I could rave about my experience, I can’t help but wonder if I would be as enthusiastic had I merely seen it in 3D or *gasp* old fashioned 2D. James Cameron’s Avatar left me equally enthusiastic. I haven’t revisited the two and a half hour epic since then, not even when stumbling upon it on cable. I imagine I will revisit Gravity in the next year before I give Cameron’s film any thought beyond this review because it’s a much better film but it won’t ever live up to that first viewing, even on a large TV with an excellent sound system.