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Comic-Con Immersed in Movies: 'Gravity' Could Be This Year's 'Life of Pi,' A Commercial Art Film in Glorious 3-D (UPDATED VIDEOS)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood July 24, 2013 at 11:47AM

It looks like Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" (October 4) could be this year's "Life of Pi," a thrilling roller-coaster ride in space and a mystical meditation on the cosmos and rebirth, and a major VFX Oscar contender.
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Sandra Bullock in 'Gravity'
Sandra Bullock in 'Gravity'

It looks like Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" (October 4) could be this year's "Life of Pi," a thrilling roller-coaster ride in space and a mystical meditation on the cosmos and rebirth. (It opens the Venice Film Festival this August and plays the Toronto Festival in September.) UPDATE: Watch the dizzying, two-minute, single-take "Detached" shot below of Sandra Bullock hurling into space and follow-up "Drifting" and "I've Got You" trailers.

Of course, we'll have to wait and see if the art-house/sci-fi adventure lives up to its hype, but, at the very least, it's likely to be a major VFX Oscar contender for its technical virtuosity. 

As Cuaron described at Comic-Con, it's "an IMAX documentary that goes wrong." He also said that "the whole film was a miscalculation," in that it took 4 1/2 years to bring to the screen. Thus the filmmakers were forced to create new robotic technology (replacing motion control) to get the camera close enough to photograph Bullock, who was fastened in a custom-built 9 x 9-foot cube surrounded by LED lights to simulate zero gravity. Not only that, but Framestore in London did a bit of crafty reverse engineering by animating the little faces of Bullock and co-star George Clooney into their helmets.

In other words, rather than creating a virtual world and letting the live action drive what was ultimately shot, they animated the shot and then made the live action work within it.

Although it was impossible to shoot "Gravity" natively in 3-D because of the cramped cube, the conversion began 3 1/2 years ago and was designed to be a uniquely immersive experience, utilizing a series of continuous takes (the opening shot that wowed the crowd is 17 minutes long) and depth of field to convey both inner and outer space. Cuaron said James Cameron was so impressed that he's now a conversion convert.

"It was this idea of one single human floating in space, completely alone," Cuaron explained in Hall H, "and the idea of doing that character in a suspenseful action film with minimal elements and trusting the cinematic medium, that I was going to put the audience in space with our characters, enduring what the characters are enduring."

It's the ultimate in what Hitchcock called "pure cinema," alternating POV and playing with time and space that's both vast and intimate and making us one with Bullock on her life-altering journey. Cuaron was particularly inspired by Steven Spielberg's early "Duel" TV movie and the cult favorite, "Vanishing Point."

"I hope people come out of this [with a feeling of] having been taken completely out of their bodies," Bullock added. "Wanting to go out and do something amazing with their life, if they're not already doing it. There's so many beautiful story lines in this film, you come out of it feeling that you're given one more chance to sort of be born again to do exactly what it is you're supposed to do in this lifetime, and that having been in the end of this horrific, beautiful, frightening experience."

I can't wait to see this, but whether audiences will want to experience it to the tune of a budget that started at $80 million is the question. 

This article is related to: Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron, Sandra Bullock, Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.