Science fiction thriller awes audiences in IMAX 3-D

“Gravity” hit theaters last weekend, raking in $55.6 million, the largest ever haul for an October-opening-weekend release. The movie, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, easily bested competitors “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” and “Runner Runner.”

Astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are servicing the Hubble Space Telescope in low-Earth orbit. Kowalski is an aging veteran of the space program; Stone is on her first mission. Kowalski and Stone are spacewalking and chattering over the radio, swapping stories while working on the telescope. If it wasn’t for the breathtaking view of the the space shuttle against the Earth, the radio chatter would sound like any other day at the office.

Paradoxically, their surrounding is disturbingly quiet. There’s no background noise. The title sequence reminds the audience that there is no air to carry sound in space, reminiscent of the “Alien” tag line, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” All the sounds of the astronauts’ work are muffled, because we’re hearing them through their suits.

Suddenly the crew receives a report from Houston that a Russian satellite has exploded, sending a cascading shower of debris, traveling thousands of miles per hour, in their direction.

Abort mission.

Before Kowalski and Stone can get back to safety, the debris silently riddles the shuttle and telescope. The debris punches holes clean through both craft, killing the remaining crew and sending car-sized chunks of spacecraft careening. Kowalski and Stone are left stranded in space with no radio to communicate with Houston.

The two know that the shower of debris is going to circle the Earth and hit them again, so they attempt to maneuver to the International Space Station in hopes of finding an intact escape vehicle.

Hollywood rarely produces a science-fiction action movie that does justice to the science it presents. Only the most nitpicky of astrophysicists will be pulled out of the movie because of its unrealistic portrayal of physics (e.g. Neil deGrasse Tyson). Even Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 said “Gravity” was excellent.

There are no paranormal or extraterrestrial elements in “Gravity,” just the haunting reality of Stone and Kowalski being stranded in space, low on oxygen, hours away from burning up in the atmosphere and minutes from being turned to swiss cheese by space debris.

The camera makes no attempt to give the audience a stable reference point orienting the camera to get the best composition rather than setting any part of the scene as “down.” The disorientation is purposeful, but not sickening. The camera zooms in and out, seamlessly flowing from one character to another in long uncut scenes.

“Gravity” is sure to remind viewers of films like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Apollo 13.”

The imagery beats the audience over the head with symbolism, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

The characters’ peril are expertly portrayed. I was never once sure that either Kowalski or Stone were going to survive. They were both equally disposable in the eyes of the space debris. You’ll have to see the movie to find out if they live to see the end credits. Either way, “Gravity” was a wild ride, sure to inspire awe in the unforgiving, yet beautiful environment of space. If your wallet will allow, see “Gravity” in IMAX 3-D.