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Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: The vertigo of Gravity

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Movie blogger Dominic Corry explains why Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is a mind-boggling masterpiece that puts 2013's other blockbusters to shame.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in 'Gravity'. Photo / AP
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in 'Gravity'. Photo / AP

In a modern movie-going landscape where speculation and anticipation make up 90% of the experience, it's extremely rare that a film turns out to be everything you hope it will be.

On Sunday evening, I attended the media screening of the much buzzed-about; much-hyped space thriller Gravity at Auckland's newly refurbished IMAX cinema.

And boy does it live up to the hype; buzz; fervour - whatever you want to call it. Gravity delivers BIG TIME.

In the unlikely case that you're not aware of the movie (which opens this Thursday in New Zealand): it stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts in Earth's orbit who get stranded in space when some hurtling debris destroys their shuttle.

It is directed by Mexican auteur Alfonso Cuarón, the man behind Y Tu Mamá También (2001); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Children of Men (2006).

That last film played a large role in my anticipation of Gravity, and not just because it was a serious action thriller with a strong emotional drive. Children of Men famously features a bravura action sequence during which the camera maintains a single shot for almost four minutes without cutting.

It's one of the coolest action scenes in cinema history, and when word emerged that Cuarón would be employing similar techniques in Gravity, film fans the world over rubbed their hands together in delight. Gravity isn't all long tracking-shots, but they make up the majority of the film, and enhance the tension to no end.

One of cinema's biggest proponents of the extremely long tracking shot is Brian De Palma, who I wrote about last week.

Long tracking shots are a cool idea, but can be very difficult to pull-off without calling attention to the filmmaking. Hitchcock was a fan too; as was Robert Altman; but De Palma's voyeuristic style always best suited the technique in my mind - until Children of Men came along, that is.

Brian De Palma was also behind a widely-derided (but secretly awesome) film which now stands as a noteworthy antecedent to Gravity - 2000's Mission To Mars.

There's a full-on sequence near the beginning of the film which involves a space walk and a desperate attempt to grab on to a satellite. When details about Gravity started emerging, I hoped that it would be a movie-length version of this scene. And it is. In the best possible way.

While I've discussed my disdain for 3D cinema many times in this space, I have to admit that the technique worked splendidly in Gravity. As that one shot in Prometheus where the titular spaceship appeared as a tiny dot in the corner of the screen demonstrated, the geography of space lends itself fantastically to 3D filmmaking.

The dexterity with which Cuarón enhances his fluid camera work with 3D in Gravity never stops being wholly immersive.

However. As much as the long-tracking shots and 3D technical brilliance wowed me, I loved Gravity principally due to its extreme vertiginousness.

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I always enjoy it when movies tap into my fear of heights - Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit both did this well, as does the upcoming Edmund Hilary docudrama Beyond the Edge (opening October 24th), which I also caught recently at a media screening.

But I never felt like I was going to actually fall forward into the screen until I watched Gravity. The vertigo induced by the film caused a physical reaction in me - I was constantly grasping onto to my seat arms, and pushing myself back in my chair.

Events on screen felt like they were drawing me towards them - Earth looms below the action like a benevolent sphere of doom - I never stopped being aware how far down it was. And it felt great. So I highly recommend you check out Gravity in the IMAX theatre if you can. Or if you're in a regular theatre, sit somewhere near the front.

While discussing the film following Sunday night's screening, a fellow film critic observed that Gravity's non-stop awesomeness made him realise how much he had strained to find the cool moments in all the other event movies released this year.

There's no better way to put it - most blockbuster movies have big moments, but the entirety of Gravity is one big moment. It literally never lets up. I had a ball, and you will too.

Amped for Gravity? Do you like vertiginous movies? Which ones? Comment Below!

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