Part of the reason cinephiles love to carry on about director Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men is because the dystopian sci-fi thriller features some of the most complicated sequence shots and elaborate long takes ever created, primarily through practical means (as opposed to during post-production). It's long been known that the filmmaker aims to outdo himself with his next project: a 3D sci-fi thriller titled Gravity, which takes place almost entirely within the confines of a crippled spaceship - piloted by the lone survivor of a destructive asteroid collision (Sandra Bullock).
Gravity executive producer Chris DeFaria recently spoke about the project at the 5D | FLUX conference at USC - where he revealed that Cuarón's 3D flick is going to be (from a filmmaking perspective) even more ambitious (insane?) than previously expected.
According to DeFaria, Gravity opens with a continuous 17-minute shot that sets the stage for the protagonist's (Bullock) desperate attempt to stay alive and return to Earth after the aforementioned asteroid shower wipes out her fellow astronauts - save for a co-pilot (George Clooney), who was away at the time. More so, the film as a whole runs for about two hours and has only 156 shots total (ie. around 46 seconds/shot, on average), including several that run "six, eight, 10 minutes long."
What DeFaria is talking about with Gravity goes beyond even the filmmaking approach utilized by the recently-released Silent House, wherein several extended takes/shots were digitally woven together to create the illusion of a movie shot in a single take. Cuarón’s new project is meant to replicate that same "real-time" feel as Silent House, but will do so in a manner as meticulously structured (from a shot composition perspective) as the visuals in an animated movie - or, rather, a CGI-heavy, live-action film like TRON: Legacy.
Frankly, that task probably would've proven impossible with a film like Children of Men, wherein an entire rundown futuristic world is explored from the perspective of a single man (Clive Owen). However, seeing how the vast majority of Gravity is essentially a single-setting/character piece, that plan suddenly sounds a bit more feasible. Still, if anyone but Cuarón was behind this project, we'd say the odds were against them pulling it off.
As DeFaria told attendees at the 5D | FLUX talk, Cuarón - along with Gravity cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) and production designer Andy Nicholson (Alice in Wonderland) - had to plan out "not just shot design but lighting, direction, every prop, every single doorway, every single distance so that when we shot somebody’s eyes, they were converging at the right distance point... We didn’t create the virtual world and let the live action drive what was ultimately going to be the shot. We actually created the shot and then made the live action work within it.”
Basically, there was virtually no room for error when it came to Bullock hitting her marks during the shooting of Gravity. That alone should add a sense of urgency to every physical action and movement the Oscar-winning actress makes in the film - which could in turn heighten the sense of immediacy and realism throughout the picture's "race against time" narrative (similar to the effect of the sequence shots in Children of Men).
As for what readers should take away from all this: in case you needed any additional convincing (trust us, we didn't) Gravity is shaping up to be both a fascinating experiment in filmmaking and an overall incredible cinematic thrill ride. Suffice it to say, you should at least give serious thought to checking this one out when it hits the big screen.
Gravity will begin a theatrical release around the U.S. on November 21st, 2012.