If Alfonso Cuaron's hypnotic, exhilarating space thriller "Gravity" isn't thematically as potent as "Children Of Men," his allegory about an infertile world, it is nonetheless a mesmerizing experience from start to finish, an extraordinary visual triumph. The film deploys 3-D in prodigious fashion, turns the carnage of disintegrating space shuttles and hurtling satellite debris into a beautiful if perilous ballet (scored magnificently by Steven Price), and benefits in differing ways from the turns of its two star performers, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
"Gravity"'s superlative craft, ambition and intelligence have propelled the picture into awards-season discussion, with Bullock furnishing a film that was crafted predominantly on hard drives the human touch it needs to reach earthbound audiences.
Self-contained and disembodied from the outset, "Gravity" exerts an instant narrative pull: a space shuttle, 375 miles above earth, floats into view with three astronauts performing various tasks against the backdrop of black space and the blue planet below. Mission commander is Matt Kowalsky (Clooney), a wisecracking veteran whose primary job seems to be bantering with mission control ("Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission"), marveling at the view and spinning around the shuttle with his jetpack.
Queasy first-timer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), meanwhile, is hard at work applying an undefined technology she's invented onto the Hubble Telescope. Stone can barely keep her lunch down and, we later discover, is mired in a depressive state having lost a four-year-old daughter. We never see the face of a third astronaut, although we do see what's left of it after this relative idyll is shattered when a missile sets off a domino effect of colliding satellites, creating a field of metallic debris traveling at 50,000 miles per hour and turning their orbit into a lethal shredding zone every 90 minutes.