Some Ramblings - Gravity (2013)
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Relativity is an interesting concept vital in lending perspective in the physical world, revealing the underlying characteristic trait of an object or phenomenon. Good-bad, straight-crooked, tall-short, quick-slow – all depend on the juxtaposition, the background, the relief for the much needed comparison. A few years ago, a twin engine plane carrying JFK Jr. and his wife disappeared over the coast of Martha’s Vineyard killing everyone onboard, owing to what investigators later found, a case of spatial disorientation, wherein the pilot was unable to maintain his levels aligned with the horizon causing the flight to be flown upside down minutes before the moments of doom. A key element to growth (and to the nature of it), this relativity is, without which humanity would still be wandering around rudderless, as though at sea on a dark cloudy night. While mankind was able to wrap its mind around ‘time’ being another relative event, it is in the understanding of ‘space’, paradoxically, that poses most problems, particularly when matter are taken to outside the peripheries of earth’s boundaries. ‘Live it up, the earth is going to last for only another billion and half years’, ominously sounded the latest headline in the science section of the daily newspaper. The number, 1.5 billion years, though well past the point of human caring, is still a finite and a tangible concept to the mind (considering an average human life burns out about 2 billion seconds; and 2 billion years is a little more drawn out). But, how about this – in a universe spanning millions of galaxies, billions of stars and that many more solar systems, earth is but a mote on the ocean bed of creation (or formation). The millions of miles that currently separate the farthest points in the current solar system, barely even register a blip on the scale of space in the extent of universe. Try wrapping the mind around that!

Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was misleading of sorts, when it comes to motion in space. Though the docking sequence, set to the nimble background score of the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’ was poetic in a space operatic sense, it glossed over the maddening precision of space mating performed at dizzying speeds where the fine line between life and oblivion is not more than a few milli-/centimeters. And what if things went south (?) in that void?

‘Gravity’ is a cinematic achievement depending so little on the traditional tools, like characters, plot and drama, instead putting all its eggs in the stunning visuals that are as breakthrough in the seamless integration of live action, animation, CGI and stunning photography as the game changer ‘Avatar’ before, raising the participation of the audience from mere ‘viewing’ to near ‘experiencing’. Right from the opening sequence that simply refuses to cut away for more than 10 minutes, starting off as a distant speck in the furthest corner of the screen and eventually ending up inside the space helmet of the astronaut tumbling away in space untethered to her anchor point, is simply jaw-dropping. Ever since the invention of the virtual camera technique (in Fincher’s ‘Panic Room’, about a decade ago) that lets the camera pass through objects, obstacles and other un-maneuverable spaces without having to cut away, this opening sequence is probably the showcasing of that technology at its finest form. (An equally inventive way of filming such continuous shots, before the advent of the virtual camera, can be found in Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Contact’, where a little over a couple of minutes of action unfolds passing through doors, windows, gliding along the stairs and making tough bends, before the surprising reveal that the point of view of all that action is through a mirror in the medicine cabinet in the rest room). Alfonso Cuaron explored these tracking shots before in his earlier apocalyptic piece ‘Children of Men’ where even tougher shots were cobbled together, this time without the aid of ANY technology, and with a couple of stunt performances thrown in for good measure, all thanks to great camera choreography and actors hitting their marks with pin point precision. And when such vision is married to the current technology, where the only known limitation is one’s imagination, movies like ‘Gravity’ occur.

Setting it in a thriller format helped it exploit the n number of scenarios that could go wrong in a space adventures, right from getting hit flush with space debris down to the dangerous reentry into earth’s atmosphere through God’s corridor, together with a little bit of reactionary maneuvering using a fire extinguisher (depicted in a more endearing way that the current menacing one, in ‘Wall-E’), ‘Gravity’ takes advantage of each of those treacherous situation (in 3-D, no less) and makes it as immersive an experience as it can get. While ‘2001’ uses similar imagery to gain a philosophical perspective on the place of man in the ever expanding universe, ‘Gravity’ takes it a little inward and exposes the insignificance of the same against similar backdrop. That they both end on similar lines – ‘2001’ presenting the next step in evolution of humankind with the starkid and ‘Gravity’ reflecting on the first steps of evolution of amphibians taking their first steps on land – is only natural, considering both the movies mark the early forays into futuristic film making. And to accomplish all this with minimal dialog and near existent plot, redeem and reinforce the cinematic art form as a predominantly visual medium. No words!

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