Jonah Cuarón, son of filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón, originally asked his father for notes on a script he was developing titled Desierto (Spanish for “desert”), but the duo ended up collaborating on the project instead and then shifted the setting to the cold vacuum of outer space. They decided to incorporate elements of a domino effect-style worst case scenario theorized by the NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978 (called the Kessler Syndrome), where objects in low-Earth orbit collide and produce more debris, causing additional collisions that produce more space debris (and so forth, ad infinitum).
The final movie product is Gravity, a 3D survival thriller featuring Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts working aboard a space station when a storm of satellite debris cripples their vessel and leaves them adrift in space, with a limited amount of time (read: oxygen supplies) remaining until a safe return to Earth is no longer feasible. Patrons at the 2013 Venice Film Festival have showered praise on the film ahead of its theatrical run, and thus WB has premiered an international trailer to help keep the positive buzz going for its $100 million investment.
Structurally, the latest Gravity trailer is an amalgamation of the teaser trailer and previous U.S. trailers, combining fast cuts of Bullock and Clooney’s desperate struggle to stay together and survive upon being stranded in space – taking cues from the realism of 2001: A Space Odyssey so there’s nothing but eery silence in space and Steven Price’s fear-inducing score (sound effects were added for the trailer) – with glimpses at but a few of the multiple sophisticated sequence shots (a.k.a. extended takes) that the elder Cuarón and his trusted cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men) spent 3-4 years pre-visualizing, planning out and actually shooting in order to properly realize their original vision.
Everything from the renegade shrapnel in space, which Alfonso Cuarón told Variety is “a metaphor for adversity,” to the way that Bullock’s character breathes in the film (see: her rapid pattern in the new trailer), functions as a metaphor for the apathy and isolation that many people experience in our modern society, which accounts for the split in early critical reactions. Namely, the divide is between people who argue that Gravity is purely a technical breakthrough in 3D filmmaking and others that interpret the movie as a smart character study wrapped up a pulse-pounding thrill ride.
James Cameron, who changed the 3D moviemaking game with Avatar back in 2009, has seen Gravity and had nothing but admiration to express towards the movie’s visual style, atmosphere and storytelling components alike:
“I was stunned, absolutely floored. 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… What is [most] interesting is the human dimension. Alfonso and Sandra working together to create an absolutely seamless portrayal of a woman fighting for her life in zero gravity.”
The latest Gravity trailer is also the first preview to highlight Bullock’s motivation for staying alive (besides her survival instinct), as it reveals that her character has a daughter and, by suggestion, a messy, yet important, personal life back on Earth that helps keep her going. Some of the film’s early reviews seem to disagree with Cameron about this particular factor of the “human dimension,” arguing that it’s an unnecessary plot device and cheapens Bullock’s arc in the story. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s a general complaint that moviegoers have about Cuarón’s white-knuckle space ride, or if fewer people take issue with that.
Perhaps the more pressing question concerns how Gravity will perform at the box office, given that its director and stars all have respectable critical reputations but their track records tend to vary when it comes to selling tickets. After all, despite how so many critics and film buffs love Cuarón’s work, his non-Harry Potter movies have never been a large draw in theaters (Children of Men didn’t even match its $76 million budget worldwide). Similarly, for every financial hit that’s been anchored by Bullock and Clooney (The Blind Side, The Descendants), there seems to be a project that far fewer people have actually seen (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Ides of March).
Do you think the exciting trailers and positive early word of mouth for Gravity will be enough to get butts in the seats and make the space flick a satisfactory box office success? Let us know in the comments section!
BONUS: For those who didn’t jump skip to the comments section after watching the new trailer, here’s a preview of the Gravity soundtrack:
Gravity opens in 2D and selected 3D/IMAX theaters on October 4th, 2013.