Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" is heading out of the Venice Film Festival with a boatload of critical raves and a full head of steam that may carry the space opera all the way to Oscar night.
Reviews for the film overflowed with synonyms for brilliant, as critics tried to find new ways to heap praise on the Mexican filmmaker and his galvanizing science fiction adventure. There were a few mild gripes that the film strained at times to explain the universe's big mysteries, but most notices were filled with superlatives for Cuaron's bravura tracking shots and the performance of Sandra Bullock.
In space, it would appear that everyone can hear you cheer.
"Gravity" follows two astronauts who are stranded in zero gravity after debris badly damages their shuttle. George Clooney co-stars in the film which also features cinematography by Cuaron's long-time collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki. The film opens on Oct. 4 and will screen at the Toronto Film Festival after debuting on the Lido last Tuesday.
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In the Guardian, Xan Brooks raved that "Gravity" was "brilliantly assured" and said it kicked off the Venice Film Festival on a high note.
"It comes blowing in from the ether like some weightless black nightmare, hanging planet Earth at crazy angles behind the action," Brooks wrote. "Like Tarkovsky's Solaris (later remade by Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh), the film thrums with an ongoing existential dread."
HitFix's Guy Lodge said the film was a stunning exercise in cinematic virtuosity for Cuaron, who has been absent from screens since 2006's "Children of Men." He noted that the film is not an arthouse picture — it is also a more commercially minded survival film — but argued that "Gravity" does not suffer from any tonal inconsistencies.
"There’s a note of bombast to the finale that feels hard-earned after the staggering physical trials of what has gone before, and I do mean staggering: 'Gravity' is a film both short and vast, muscular and quivery, as certain about one Great Beyond as it is curious about another," Lodge wrote.
"Gravity" is the rare blockbuster with heart and soul to go along with spectacle, according to the Playlist's Oliver Lyttelton. He went on to predict that unlike "Children of Men," "Gravity" could find box office success.
"The film comes as close as most of us are likely to get to actually being in space (undoubtedly aided by the 3D: this is one film that’s really worth paying the extra bucks for to see in the format, whether the lens is capturing a tiny spinning speck in the distance or debris flying in your face)," Lyttelton wrote. "But it shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere rollercoaster ride – even if your instinct, as at a theme park, is to finish the experience and line up again for another go. When all’s said and done, the action is in service of character, and more specifically, Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone."
It may have been filmed in front of a green screen, but The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy said that the space sequences are so realistic that audiences will swear it was shot on location.
"At once the most realistic and beautifully choreographed film ever set in space, Gravity is a thrillingly realized survival story spiked with interludes of breath-catching tension and startling surprise," McCarthy wrote.
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For Variety's Justin Chang, "Gravity" is the kind of evolutionary step forward in film that is guaranteed to inspire a sense of awe in viewers. Its achievement in the realm of visual effects and 3D puts it in the company of "Life of Pi" and "Avatar," he maintained.
"Somewhere, one imagines, the spirits of Stanley Kubrick and Max Ophuls are looking down in admiration," Chang wrote.
One of the few measured responses was by the Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm, who lauded the technical aspects of the film, but decried the thin plotting.
"The film’s raison d’etre is its considerable technical prowess, enhanced by 3D but in a determinedly ungimmicky way. Here the work of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is first class, so what you see is spectacular even if what you hear is less so," Malcolm wrote.