Gravity is a 2013 science fiction thriller film directed, co-written, co-edited, and produced by Alfonso Cuarón. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as American astronauts who are stranded in space after the mid-orbit destruction of their space shuttle, and their subsequent attempt to return to Earth.
Cuarón wrote the screenplay with his son Jonás and attempted to develop the film at Universal Pictures. Later, the distribution rights were acquired by Warner Bros. Pictures. David Heyman, who previously worked with Cuarón on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), produced the film with him. Gravity was produced entirely in the United Kingdom, where British visual effects company Framestore spent more than three years creating most of the film's visual effects, which make up over 80 of its 91 minutes.
Gravity opened the 70th Venice International Film Festival on August 28, 2013 and had its North American premiere three days later at the Telluride Film Festival. Upon its release, Gravity was met with critical acclaim. Particular praise was given to Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography, Steven Price's musical score, Cuarón's direction, Bullock's performance, Framestore's visual effects, and its use of 3D. Considered one of the best films of 2013, it appeared on numerous critics' year-end lists, and was selected by the American Film Institute in their annual Movies of the Year list. The film became the eighth highest-grossing film of 2013 with a worldwide gross of over $723 million, against a production budget of $100 million.
The film earned accolades from numerous critics and guilds. At the 86th Academy Awards, Gravity received ten nominations, including Best Actress for Bullock and Best Picture, and won seven awards, including Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. The film was also awarded six BAFTA Awards, including Outstanding British Film and Best Director, the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, seven Critics' Choice Movie Awards, and the 2013 Ray Bradbury Award.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alfonso Cuarón|
|Music by||Steven Price|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$723.2 million|
NASA Space Shuttle Explorer, commanded by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, is in Earth orbit on mission STS-157 to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Ryan Stone is aboard on her first space mission as a mission specialist, her job being to perform a set of hardware upgrades on the Hubble. During a spacewalk, Mission Control in Houston warns Explorer's crew about a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite, which has inadvertently caused a chain reaction forming a rapidly-expanding cloud of space debris, ordering the crew to return to Earth immediately. Communication with Mission Control is lost shortly thereafter as more and more communication satellites are knocked out by the debris.
High-speed debris strikes the Explorer and Hubble, tearing Stone from the shuttle and leaving her tumbling through space. Kowalski, using a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), rescues Stone, and they return to the Explorer, soon discovering that the Shuttle has suffered catastrophic damage and the rest of the crew are dead. Stone and Kowalski decide to use the MMU to reach the International Space Station, which is in orbit about 1,450 km (900 mi) away, Kowalski estimating that they have 90 minutes before the debris field completes an orbit and threatens them again.
On their way to the International Space Station (ISS), the two discuss Stone's home life and her daughter, who died young in an accident. As they approach the station, they see that the ISS's crew has evacuated into one of its two Soyuz spacecraft, the remaining Soyuz's parachute being prematurely deployed, rendering it unable to return to Earth. Kowalski suggests using it to travel to the nearby Chinese space station Tiangong, 100 km (60 mi) away, in order to board its Shenzhou spacecraft and return safely to Earth in the re-entry capsule. Out of air and maneuvering fuel, the two try to grab onto the ISS; Stone's leg gets entangled in the Soyuz's parachute cords and she grabs a strap on Kowalski's suit, but it soon becomes clear that the cords will not support them both. Despite Stone's protests, Kowalski detaches himself from the tether to save her from drifting away with him. Stone is pulled back towards the ISS, while Kowalski floats away.
Stone enters the space station via the airlock of the Pirs Docking Compartment. She cannot re-establish communication with Kowalski nor Earth and concludes that she is now the sole survivor. Inside the station, a fire breaks out, forcing her to rush to the Soyuz. As she maneuvers the Soyuz away from the ISS, the tangled parachute tethers snag, preventing the spacecraft from leaving; Stone performs a spacewalk to cut the cables, succeeding just as the debris field returns, destroying the station. Stone angles the Soyuz towards Tiangong, but soon discovers that the Soyuz's engine has no fuel.
After a poignant attempt at radio communication with an Eskimo on Earth, Stone resigns herself to her fate and shuts down the cabin's oxygen supply to commit suicide. As she begins to lose consciousness, Kowalski enters the capsule, scolding her for giving up. He tells her to rig the Soyuz's soft landing rockets to propel the capsule toward Tiangong before disappearing. Realizing Kowalski's appearance was a hallucination, Stone regains the will to go on, restoring the spacecraft's oxygen flow and rigging the landing rockets to propel the capsule towards Tiangong.
Unable to dock with Tiangong, Stone ejects herself from the Soyuz and uses a fire extinguisher as a makeshift thruster to travel to the rapidly deorbiting Tiangong. Stone manages to enter Tiangong's Shenzhou spacecraft just as the station enters the upper atmosphere, unlocking its re-entry capsule just in time.
The Shenzhou capsule re-enters the atmosphere successfully; however, during the descent it is damaged by debris from the disintegrating Tiangong and a fire starts inside the capsule. The capsule lands in a lake, but dense smoke forces Stone to evacuate immediately after splashdown, shedding her spacesuit and swimming ashore. Stone shakily takes her first steps back on land.
Although Gravity is often referred to in the media as a science fiction film, Cuarón told BBC that he sees the film rather as "a drama of a woman in space". According to him, the main theme of the film was "adversity" and he uses the debris as a metaphor for this.
Despite being set in space, the film uses motifs from shipwreck and wilderness survival stories about psychological change and resilience in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Cuarón uses the character, Stone, to illustrate clarity of mind, persistence, training, and improvisation in the face of isolation and the consequences of a relentless Murphy's law. The film incorporates spiritual or existential themes, in the facts of Stone's daughter's accidental and meaningless death, and in the necessity of summoning the will to survive in the face of overwhelming odds, without future certainties, and with the impossibility of rescue from personal dissolution without finding this willpower. Calamities occur but only the surviving astronauts see them.
The impact of scenes is heightened by alternating between objective and subjective perspectives, the warm face of the Earth and the depths of dark space, the chaos and unpredictability of the debris field, and silence in the vacuum of space with the background score giving the desired effect. The film uses very long, uninterrupted shots throughout to draw the audience into the action, but contrasts these with claustrophobic shots within space suits and capsules.
Human evolution and the resilience of life may also be seen as key themes of Gravity. The film opens with the exploration of space—the vanguard of human civilization—and ends with an allegory of the dawn of mankind when Dr. Ryan Stone fights her way out of the water after the crash-landing, passing a frog, grabs the soil, and slowly regains her capacity to stand upright and walk. Director Cuarón said, "She's in these murky waters almost like an amniotic fluid or a primordial soup, in which you see amphibians swimming. She crawls out of the water, not unlike early creatures in evolution. And then she goes on all fours. And after going on all fours she's a bit curved until she is completely erect. It was the evolution of life in one, quick shot". Other imagery depicting the formation of life includes a scene in which Stone rests in an embryonic position, surrounded by a rope strongly resembling an umbilical cord. Stone's return from space, accompanied by meteorite-like debris, may be seen as a hint that elements essential to the development of life on Earth may have come from outer space in the form of meteorites. The film also suggests themes of humanity's ubiquitous strategy of existential resilience; that, across cultures, individuals must postulate meaning, beyond material existence, wherever none can be perceived.
Some commentators have noted possible religious themes in the film. For instance, Fr. Robert Barron in The Catholic Register summarizes the tension between Gravity's technology and religious symbolism. He said, "The technology which this film legitimately celebrates ... can't save us, and it can't provide the means by which we establish real contact with each other. The Ganges in the sun, the St. Christopher icon, the statue of Budai, and above all, a visit from a denizen of heaven, signal that there is a dimension of reality that lies beyond what technology can master or access ... the reality of God".
As a child, Alfonso Cuarón had an affinity for space programs and dreamed of becoming an astronaut and would watch live moon landings on television. He was 8 years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969 and was profoundly influenced by Neil Armstrong. At that time his grandmother bought a new color TV in order to be able to see the moon landing that was in black and white. He watched space films like A Trip to the Moon (1902) and was further drawn to films featuring the technology of space exploration, and trying to honor the laws of physics such as Marooned (1969) and Woman in the Moon (1929). After Cuarón and his son, Jonás finished the screenplay, Cuarón attempted to develop his project at Universal Pictures, where it stayed in development for several years. After the rights to the project were sold, it began development at Warner Bros.
Cuarón co-wrote the screenplay with his son Jonás Cuarón. However, Cuarón never intended to make a space film. Before conceiving the story, he started out with a theme; the theme of adversity. He would discuss survival scenarios with Jonás in hostile, isolated locations, such as the desert (Jonás wrote a desert film, Desierto, which was released in 2015). Finally, he decided to take it to an extreme place where there's nothing, "I had this image of an astronaut spinning into space away from human communication. The metaphor was already so obvious."
For the female lead, no fewer than ten actresses were considered to play the role before finally the choice of Sandra Bullock in October 2010. In 2010, Angelina Jolie, who had rejected a sequel to Wanted (2008), was in contact with Warner Bros. to star in the film. Scheduling conflicts involving Jolie's Bosnian war film In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) and a possible Salt (2009) sequel led Jolie to exit her involvement with Gravity, leaving Warner Bros. with doubts that the film would get made. The studio approached her for a second time to reconsider her former decision to which Jolie again declined. In mid-2010, Marion Cotillard screen tested the part but instead went on to accept a role in another sci-fi film, Inception, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and the comedy drama Little White Lies. Scheduling conflicts with the TV series Gossip Girl in Manhattan and the acclaimed film The Town in Boston prevented actress Blake Lively from getting the part. For the female role, Cuarón was in search of a lead who was akin to Tom Hanks' character in Cast Away and began looking at a wide range of thespians for the role. Other stars who were considered for the role includes Naomi Watts, Carey Mulligan, Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, Abbie Cornish, Rebecca Hall, and Olivia Wilde.
In March, Robert Downey Jr. entered discussions to be cast in the male lead role. In September, Cuarón received approval from Warner Bros. to offer the role without a screen test to Natalie Portman, who was praised for her performance in Black Swan (2010) at that time. Portman rejected the project because of scheduling conflicts, and Warner Bros. then approached Sandra Bullock for the role. In November 2010, Downey left the project to star in How to Talk to Girls—a project in development with Shawn Levy attached to direct. The following December, with Bullock signed for the co-lead role, George Clooney replaced Downey.
Made on a production budget of $100 million, Gravity was filmed digitally on multiple Arri Alexa cameras. CG elements were shot at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios in the United Kingdom. The landing scene was filmed at Lake Powell, Arizona—where the astronauts' landing scene in Planet of the Apes (1968) was also filmed.
Principal photography began in London in May 2011. The film contains 156 shots, with an average length of 45 seconds—fewer and longer shots than in most films of its length. Although the first trailer had audible explosions and other sounds, these scenes are silent in the finished film. Cuarón said, "They put in explosions [in the trailer]. As we know, there is no sound in space. In the film, we don't do that." The soundtrack in the film's space scenes consists of the musical score and sounds astronauts would hear in their suits or in the space vehicles.
For most of Bullock's shots, she was placed inside a giant, mechanical rig. Getting into the rig took a significant amount of time, so Bullock chose to stay in it for up to 10 hours a day, communicating with others through a headset. Costume Designer Jany Temime said the spacesuits were fictitious – "no space suit opens up at the front – but we had to do that in order for her to get out. So I had to redesign it and readapt all the functions of the suit for front opening."
Cuarón said his biggest challenge was to make the set feel as inviting and non-claustrophobic as possible. The team attempted to do this by having a celebration each day when Bullock arrived. They nicknamed the rig "Sandy's cage" and gave it a lighted sign. Most of the film was shot digitally using Arri Alexa Classics cameras equipped with wide Arri Master Prime lenses. The final scene, which takes place on Earth, was shot on an Arri 765 camera using 65mm film to provide the sequence with a visual contrast to the rest of the film.
Shooting long scenes in a zero-g environment was a challenge. Eventually, the team decided to use computer-generated imagery for the spacewalk scenes and automotive robots to move Bullock's character for interior space station scenes. This meant that shots and blocking had to be planned well in advance for the robots to be programmed. It also made the production period much longer than expected. When the script was finalized, Cuarón assumed it would take about a year to complete the film, but it took four and a half years.
Cuarón wanted to do tracking shots, in part because the producers wanted to film it like an IMAX-style Discovery Channel documentary. Like his previous films, Emmanuel Lubezki did not use prior footage as the starting point of his work on Gravity. Instead, he carried out a search of images from NASA and Roscosmos. He and his team put together a large collection of photographs and picked what was best for the film. Lubezki said that they based the visuals on descriptions from astronauts, with some artistic license in depicting how the stars looked during the daytime in space. He wanted to incorporate the stars as much as possible to feel as deep as possible and avoid plain darkness and two dimensional feeling.
Cuarón asked Lubezki to start the film with a brightly lit Earth. This scene was challenging for the team to shoot because the light was constantly changing from one frame to the other with the earth and ISS moving, and the sun changing its position all simultaneously. It took many months to design it and years to shoot it. When the team designed the sequence, Lubezki had in mind one of his favorite cinematographers, Vittorio Storaro, and how he utilized lighting in his films.
Visual effects were supervised by Tim Webber at the London-based VFX company Framestore, which was responsible for creating most of the film's visual effects—except for 17 shots. Framestore was also heavily involved in the art direction and, along with The Third Floor, the previsualization. Tim Webber stated that 80 percent of the film consisted of CGI—compared to James Cameron's Avatar (2009), which was 60 percent CGI. To simulate the authenticity and reflection of unfiltered light in space, a manually controlled lighting system consisting of 1.8 million individually controlled LED lights was built. The 3D imagery was designed and supervised by Chris Parks. The majority of the 3D was created by stereo rendering the CGI at Framestore. The remaining footage was converted into 3D in post-production—principally at Prime Focus, London, with additional conversion work by Framestore. Prime Focus's supervisor was Richard Baker.
Steven Price composed the incidental music for Gravity. In early September 2013, a 23-minute preview of the soundtrack was released online. A soundtrack album was released digitally on September 17, 2013, and in physical formats on October 1, 2013, by WaterTower Music. Songs featured in the film include:
Gravity had its world premiere at the 70th Venice International Film Festival on August 28, 2013, and had its North American premiere three days later at the Telluride Film Festival. It was released in the US in 3D and IMAX 3D on October 4, 2013 and in the UK on November 8, 2013. The film's US release coincided with the beginning of World Space Week, which was observed from October 4 to 10. The film was originally scheduled to be released in the US on November 21, 2012, before being rescheduled for a 2013 release to allow the completion of extensive post-production work.
Gravity emerged as one of the most successful sci-fi films of all time and the biggest box office hit of both Sandra Bullock's and George Clooney's careers. It became the highest-grossing feature film in October history, topping the animated Puss in Boots, which took in $555 million globally in 2011. Bullock's previous highest-grossing film was Speed ($350.2 million) while Clooney's benchmark was Ocean's Eleven ($450.6 million).
Preliminary reports predicted the film would open with takings of over $40 million in the US and Canada. The film earned $1.4 million from its Thursday night showings, and reached $17.5 million on Friday. Gravity topped the box office and broke the record held by Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) as the highest-earning October and autumn openings, grossing $55.8 million from 3,575 theaters. 80 percent of the film's opening weekend gross came from its 3D showings, which grossed $44.2 million from 3,150 theaters. $11.2 million—20 percent of the receipts—came from IMAX 3D showings, the highest percentage for a film opening of more than $50 million. The film stayed at number one at the box office during its second and third weekends. IMAX alone generated $34.7 million from 323 theaters, a record for IMAX opening in October.
Gravity earned $27.4 million in its opening weekend overseas from 27 countries with $2.8 million from roughly 4,763 screens. Warner Bros. said the 3D showing "exceeded all expectations" and generated 70% of the opening grosses. In China, its second largest market, the film opened on November 19, 2013 and faced competition with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire which opened on November 21, 2013. At the end of the weekend Gravity emerged victorious, generating $35.76 million in six days. It opened at number one in the United Kingdom, taking GB£6.23 million over the first weekend of release, and remained there for the second week. The film's high notable openings were in Russia and the CIS ($8.1 million), Germany ($3.8 million), Australia ($3.2 million), Italy ($2.6 million) and Spain ($2.3 million). The film's largest markets outside North America were China ($71.2 million), the United Kingdom ($47 million) and France ($38.2 million). By February 17, 2014, the film had grossed $700 million worldwide. Gravity grossed $274,092,705 in North America and $449,100,000 in other countries, making a worldwide gross of $723,192,705—making it the eighth-highest-grossing film of 2013. Calculating in all expenses, Deadline Hollywood estimated that the film made a profit of $209.2 million.
Gravity received critical acclaim. Critics praised the acting, direction, cinematography, visual effects, and use of 3D. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes records a 95% proportion of positive reviews based on 328 critics, and an average score of 9/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity is an eerie, tense sci-fi thriller that's masterfully directed and visually stunning." On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 96 based on 49 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim", making it the second-highest scoring widely released film of its year. In CinemaScore polls conducted during the opening weekend, cinema audiences gave Gravity an average grade of A- on an A+ to F scale. CinemaScore later issued an apology for the grade, saying they should have limited the poll to 3D showings instead of both 2D and 3D screenings (The Hollywood Reporter said the film was "playing like" an A+ film).
Matt Zoller Seitz, writing on RogerEbert.com, gave the film four out of four stars, calling it "a huge and technically dazzling film and that the film's panoramas of astronauts tumbling against starfields and floating through space station interiors are at once informative and lovely". Justin Chang, writing for Variety, said that the film "restores a sense of wonder, terror and possibility to the big screen that should inspire awe among critics and audiences worldwide". Richard Corliss of Time praised Cuarón for playing "daringly and dexterously with point-of-view: at one moment you're inside Ryan's helmet as she surveys the bleak silence, then in a subtle shift you're outside to gauge her reaction. The 3-D effects, added in post-production, provide their own extraterrestrial startle: a hailstorm of debris hurtles at you, as do a space traveler's thoughts at the realization of being truly alone in the universe."
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film five out of five stars, writing "a brilliant and inspired movie-cyclorama ... a glorious imaginary creation that engulfs you utterly." Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph also awarded the film five out of five stars.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four out of four stars, stating that the film was "more than a movie. It's some kind of miracle." A. O. Scott, writing for The New York Times, highlighted the use of 3-D which he said, "surpasses even what James Cameron accomplished in the flight sequences of Avatar". Scott also said that the film "in a little more than 90 minutes rewrites the rules of cinema as we have known them". Quentin Tarantino said it was one of his top ten films of 2013. Empire, Time, and Total Film ranked the film as the best of 2013.
Some critics have compared Gravity with other notable films set in space. Lindsey Weber of Vulture.com said the choice of Ed Harris for the voice of Mission Control is a reference to Apollo 13. Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter suggests the way "a weightless Stone goes floating about in nothing but her underwear" references Alien (1979). Other critics made connections with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). James Cameron praised the film and stated, "I think it's the best space photography ever done, I think it's the best space film ever done, and it's the movie I've been hungry to see for an awful long time". Empire Online, Ask Men and The Huffington Post also considered Gravity to be one of the best space films ever made, though The Huffington Post later included Gravity on their list of "8 Movies from the Last 15 Years That Are Super Overrated".
Gravity was ranked second on Metacritic's Film Critic Top Ten List scorecard for 2013: it appeared on 93 critic's lists, 22 of whom named it their best film of the year.
Gravity received ten nominations at the 86th Academy Awards; together with American Hustle it received the greatest number of nominations for the 2014 ceremony, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Bullock, and Best Production Design. The film won the most of the night with seven Academy Awards: for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. The film is second only to Cabaret (1972) to receive the most Academy Awards in its year without winning Best Picture, and to date is the most awarded film since 2008's Slumdog Millionaire.
Gravity received eleven nominations at the 67th British Academy Film Awards, more than any other film of 2013. Its nominations included Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress in a Leading Role. Cuarón was the most-nominated person at the awards; he was nominated for five awards, including his nominations as producer for Best Film awards and editor. Despite not winning Best Film, Gravity won six awards, the greatest number of awards in 2013. It won the awards for Outstanding British Film, Best Direction, Best Original Music, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Visual Effects.
Gravity was released on digital download on February 11, 2014, and was released on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D on February 25, 2014, in the United States and on March 3, 2014, in the United Kingdom. As of March 16, 2014, Gravity has sold 908,756 DVDs along with 957,355 Blu-ray discs for $16,465,600 and $22,183,843, respectively, for a total of $38,649,443. Gravity was also offered for free in HD on Google Play and Nexus devices from late October 2014 to early November 2014.
A "special edition" Blu-ray was released on March 31, 2015. The release includes a "Silent Space Version" of the film which omits the score composed by Steven Price.
Cuarón has stated that Gravity is not always scientifically accurate and that some liberties were needed to sustain the story. "This is not a documentary," Cuarón said. "It is a piece of fiction." The film has been praised for the realism of its premises and its overall adherence to physical principles, despite several inaccuracies and exaggerations. According to NASA Astronaut Michael J. Massimino, who took part in Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Missions STS-109 and STS-125, "nothing was out of place, nothing was missing. There was a one-of-a-kind wirecutter we used on one of my spacewalks and sure enough they had that wirecutter in the movie."
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin called the visual effects "remarkable", and said, "I was so extravagantly impressed by the portrayal of the reality of zero gravity. Going through the space station was done just the way that I've seen people do it in reality. The spinning is going to happen—maybe not quite that vigorous—but certainly we've been fortunate that people haven't been in those situations yet. I think it reminds us that there really are hazards in the space business, especially in activities outside the spacecraft." Former NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman said, "The pace and story was definitely engaging and I think it was the best use of the 3-D IMAX medium to date. Rather than using the medium as a gimmick, Gravity uses it to depict a real environment that is completely alien to most people. But the question that most people want me to answer is, how realistic was it? The very fact that the question is being asked so earnestly is a testament to the verisimilitude of the movie. When a bad science fiction movie comes out, no one bothers to ask me if it reminded me of the real thing."
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronomer and skeptic Phil Plait, and veteran NASA astronaut and spacewalker Scott E. Parazynski have offered comments about some of the most "glaring" inaccuracies. The Dissolve characterized these complaints as "absurd", problems "only an astrophysicist would find".
Examples of differences from reality include:
Despite the inaccuracies in Gravity, Tyson, Plait and Parazynski said they enjoyed watching the film. Aldrin said he hoped that the film would stimulate the public to find an interest in space again, after decades of diminishing investments into advancements in the field.