I thought Gravity was a very visually stunning film and that both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney did well in their roles but I can't really wrap my head around all of the awards buzz that it has received. Honestly, if I were to rate all 9 of the Oscar Nominees for Best Picture, I would put Gravity at the bottom in the number 9 spot. It was a really good movie but there were far better pictures released this year. Then again, that's just my personal opinion.
It was visually stunning, but we live in an era where visually stunning special effects are quite common in sci-fi movies. Are these effects more visually stunning than, say, Avengers? Or even Man of Steel, for that matter?
I don't think so. I think the beauty was in how the effects were used. "Visually stunning" is a phrase used so much that it loses its impact. But if you can create an effect that makes a member of the audience remember why they're afraid of extreme heights, well, then you're cooking with gas. If you can create an effect, no matter how simple or understated that confers a sense of crushing isolation or claustrophobia, then that's a worthy accomplishment.
I don't think we're really impressed with these vast panoramic views of the Earth or kick-ass space-station explosions. Not anymore.
But seeing Sandra Bullock strapped to the end of that space shuttle arm made me recall the same flutter in my gut the first time I saw actual video footage of actual astronauts strapped to the same actual contraption, a hundred miles above the actual Earth. Or that scene immediately after she is torn loose from the shuttle, when the camera pans around from her face to the inside of her helmet. When we literally see out of her eyes in a fairly seamless transition. That isolation felt tangible. Or even the next scene where she's just spinning deeper and deeper into darkness, with nothing but the suit lights to illuminate the scene. It made the stark reality of space...real
These weren't visually spectacular effects. But they were among the most evocative effects in the movie. They don't require any flash or glitz to work. They don't even need Clooney's dialogue ham-fistedly reminding the audience why the view of the earth is beautiful.
And then, there are the effects that reveal character. Like when she grabs the fire extinguisher and uses it to attack the fire in the ISS without first thinking to brace herself. She's a total rookie in space, and despite having already gone through some harrowing experiences that would make the most steely-eyed missile-man shudder, she still makes rookie mistakes.
It's not unusual anymore to find great, flashy effects in a sci-fi movie these days. But all they're really good for usually is titillation. Cuaron is great at using very subtle special effects to help him reveal the story and the character and the mood, however. That's something that probably won't be recognized, though, because the eye tends to miss them, even if the brain does not.