Gravity is a remarkable film by any standards. It’s a science fiction film (yes, it really is! Science fiction = fiction about science, it’s that simple) that’s attracting art house audiences.
It’s effectively a resurgence of the 1970’s big-budget disaster movie: the top stars of the day, the best special effects that money could buy, and a near-unimaginable disaster that forces the characters to reassess what’s important in their lives and instills in them new hope and a determination to survive.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about it is how lightly it wears its technical artistry. The special effects and visual effects teams on this movie have done remarkable things – but at no point does that threaten to pull you away from the plot. It would be perfectly possible to sit through Gravity and never realise the effort that had gone into creating the illusion of being in Earth orbit.
Hollywood movies have always shifted form to take advantage of the latest technologies. The great screen musicals were a direct response to the invention of the ‘talkie': now we have sound, what’s the most dramatic use we can make of it? Technicolor, Dolby sound – even my least favourite development, 3D – all changed the creative elements of the movies as much as the technical ones.
And new visual effects have made it possible to tell stories we could never have told previously. Jurassic Park, Avatar, The Matrix, Pacific Rim, all stories it would have been impossible to tell effectively without CGI.
What Gravity seems to suggest is that we’ve now reached a point where those effects are no longer a selling point – because they’re simply another storytelling technique. They’re exactly like sound and colour: something we simply accept as part of the fabric of the movie.
This may make it harder to sell those big blockbusters previously marked on the quality and novelty of their visual effects. But it places the story back at the heart of film-making – and that can only be a good thing.