Hi-tech space thriller set to take the Baftas by storm

Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Sandra Bullock in Gravity
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AND so the winner is...

Hang on a mo, we’re not there yet. But even before the names are announced at the Baftas it’s clear that there is a favourite: the space thriller that is Gravity.

There has been much buzz about Alfonso Cuarón’s disaster movie in space since its debut last year. For some it represents the evolution of the disaster epic: having broken beyond the boundaries of planet earth – earthquakes, twisters, tsunamis, volcanoes – the genre can now enjoy new life in the cosmos.

And there is a campaign to secure Sandra Bullock a second Oscar for her (largely solo) turn as the stricken astronaut stranded beyond reach of help.

But Gravity is really all about technology. And for many punters – this one included – it represented a plausible portrait of the vastness of space and the loneliness it might represent for someone lost within it.

Thus a wodge of the 11 Bafta nominations it has received are for technology. They include visual effects, production design and sound as well as best film and best actress. And having seen the film in 3D (a process I normally hate; it’s gone beyond gimmickry and become rather ho-hum) on a big screen it genuinely offers something different.

Peer back into the dim and distant past and it was George Lucas who revolutionised the use of special effects in film with Star Wars. Back in 1977 the team behind the film boasted of creating 300+ effects for the film.

These days 300+ might equate to a few seconds’ of screen time. But that’s irrelevant.

Lucas sought to use and develop special and visual effects as a tool. So did Peter Jackson with his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series. The shift from technology as an aid to storytelling to pure entertainment has meant it has lost its impact.

Then along floats Sandra Bullock (and George Clooney) in Gravity.

The film’s plot is actually pretty thin. But that acts as a boost to the film; too much detail would take one’s attention from the backdrop of stars, planets and whooshing space debris – the movie’s “villain”.

And because it’s largely a human tale of triumph over the worst kind of adversity – no rampaging aliens, no mighty asteroids on a collision course with Earth – the combination of actor and effects works. And it works perfectly.

The yardstick in measuring the success of a film like Gravity is the believability factor. Do we believe Bullock is in jeopardy? Do we believe the space shuttle has been smashed to smithereens? Do we truly fear that she will die in space?

And can we accept that all of this drama is being played out up there, somewhere above our heads in the (not too distant) heavens?

The answer to all is a resounding yes.

Gravity is a memorably visual movie. It relies on its audience being carried along with Bullock on her journey as she floats in a most peculiar way.