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‘Gravity': Sandra Bullock space saga attracts stellar reviews

Oliver Gettell, Los Angeles Times

Film critics are over the moon for “Gravity,” director Alfonso Cuarón’s orbital drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as a pair of astronauts stranded in space trying to find their way home. Since the movie’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival in August, it has earned nearly universal praise for its immersive visuals and down-to-earth performances, and the latest round of reviews is no different as the film arrives in U.S. theaters on Friday.

The Times’ own Kenneth Turan writes, “‘Gravity’ is out of this world. Words can do little to convey the visual astonishment this space opera creates.” He adds: “Though the strong work of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney … is essential to what the film accomplishes, the great lure of ‘Gravity’ is the way director Alfonso Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber have collaborated to make us feel we’re stranded in outer space ourselves, no questions asked.”

Although the core of the film “is pure genre down to the workmanlike nature of chunks of its dialogue, it makes the most of that situation by having a formidable narrative drive, a plot smartly worked out to the smallest, most persuasive detail, and an intense, immersive score and sound design by composer Steven Price.”

PHOTOS: Scenes from ‘Gravity’

The New York Times’ A.O. Scott similarly says: “All of it — terrifyingly and marvelously — evades summary and confounds expectations. You have to see it to believe it.” The technical accomplishment extends to the use of 3-D, which Scott says surpasses films like “Avatar,” “Hugo” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”

Scott also agrees with Turan that the storytelling isn’t faultless: “The script is, at times, weighed down by some heavy screenwriting cliches,” particularly “the tragic back story stapled to [Bullock's character].” But the film has heart: “Much as ‘Gravity’ revels in the giddy, scary thrill of weightlessness, it is, finally, about the longing to be pulled back down onto the crowded, watery sphere where life is tedious, complicated, sad and possible.”

The Boston Globe‘s Ty Burr adds, “it appears there’s nothing Cuarón can’t do. Now he has made an astonishingly detailed, visually painstaking state-of-the-art production that advances what the cinema can show us — even as the human story at its center feels a little thin after a while.” It makes for “an eminently satisfying night at the movies,” even if, “as the film leapfrogs from one deserted space station to the next, it becomes a straightforward chain of obstacles to confront and surmount.”

VIDEO: ‘Gravity’ trailer

Bullock also impresses: “Given the absurdly difficult technical requirements, [her] performance is affectingly uncluttered and direct.”

Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press implores, “there’s only one truly correct way to experience ‘Gravity’.… In a theater. On a huge screen. And in 3-D. Yes, even for all you 3-D naysayers — we hear you, but this is the movie you HAVE to see in 3-D.” Once in the theater, “you’ll ask yourself, how did they DO this?” and “you’ll then forget the question, because you’ll be caught up once again in this 90-minute thrill ride.”

Echoing her fellow critics, Noveck also says, “the film’s one flaw stems from an effort to give Bullock’s character more of a back story than necessary, perhaps an overly sentimental one. But overall, the actress finds that difficult balance between frailty and tenacity. And Bullock’s grounded presence — pun intended — is a huge plus here.”

PHOTOS: Sandra Bullock: Career in pictures

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gives kudos to both lead actors, writing, “To compensate for what he can’t express with his face and body, Clooney amps up his personality and puts everything into his voice, and to marvelous effect.… As for Bullock, it’s a role that requires displays of warmth, relief, grief, regret and stark, shrieking terror, and she is up for every moment of it.”

LaSalle also urges audiences to see this one on the big screen: “Cuarón has made a rare film whose mood, soul and profundity is bound up with its images. To see such images diminished would be to see a lesser film, perhaps even a pointless one.”

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