This post may contain spoilers and large images that may compromise slower internet connections. Read at your own discretion.
A couple weeks ago, some friends and I got to watch Alfonso Cuarón’s most recent cinematic brainchild in 4DX. This motion picture technology, which further enhances the element of depth perception generously provided by 3D film, now includes environmental augmentations, like moving chairs, plus an array of vapours, bubbles, lighting sequences, smoke, and other effects that manifest on cue. The experience itself was mild in comparison to the adrenaline-fueling synopsis, but “Gravity” couldn’t have been viewed any other way.
Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) is supervised by veteran astronaut Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney, but can only be described as the outer space version of “E.R”‘s Dr. Doug Ross) during a mission aboard the fictional Space Shuttle Explorer. While Dr. Stone manages the delicate balance between her nausea and completing her assigned task, Kowalski demonstrates his extensive experience through his mobility about the vehicle. The two exchange friendly banter with Mission Control (played by Ed Harris), with Shariff Dasari (played by Paul Sharma) providing intermittent entertainment from a distance.
Everything seems to go well until Mission Control issues a warning about incoming space debris from an inoperative satellite that had been shattered by a Russian missile. The incident, which caused a chain reaction of opportunistic wrecking, ends up in their direct line of contact, causing the team scrambling to abort the mission. Despite their team organisation and sense of urgency, communication with Mission Control is lost. They continue with blind transmissions until the astronauts find themselves in the business end of dangerous objects. The collision results in irreparable damage to the shuttle and ultimately, the deaths of the crew members in outer space level. With only her limited experience with the International Space Station and additional advice picked up from her now-deceased cohort to guide her, first-timer and sole survivor Dr. Stone would need to find her way back into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Since its premiere at the 70th Venice International Film Festival, — and the subsequent good-humoured fact check by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — “Gravity” received much acclaim for its use of screenwriting, acting, direction, production design, cinematography, special effects, and the use of 3D technology. It may even be safe to call the standards put forth in Cuarón’s directorial effort “game-changing”. Not bad for a film that only had two fully credited cast members.
The science fiction thriller and drama, though heavy-looking in its skin, also incorporates spiritual themes. Some of the philosophical and metaphysical nuggets teetered toward cheesy, yet, “Gravity” remembers to put its magnificent visuals in the forefront by not over-intellectualising. Oddly enough, one of my favourite moments in the film is one of the heavy ones: when Dr. Stone takes the fetal position to rest inside the International Space Station.
Her place in the composition is a stark contrast to what she sees just moments prior, which is the loss of her fellow crew members. Even before that, she exposes herself to emotional vulnerability in front of her fallen lead, Kowalski, by opening up about her life at home in Lake Zurich, Illinois, and the accidental death of her young daughter. In a manner of minutes, all possible forms of security have been torn from her grasp, including any form of guidance. A close brush with oxygen deprivation forces Dr. Stone to take a rest within the artificial satellite. Just in front of the round entrance hatch, she reverts to complete helplessness, fully depending on the warm and nurturing environment akin to a womb. The slow revolution of her body willingly submits to the physical forces taking place, and for just a few minutes, allows herself to gain the resolve to start over.
(My other favourite scene is when Shariff sings part of a famous Bollywood song in a volume that hilariously overtakes the country music so loved by Texan native Kowalski. Bollywood. In outer space. Brilliant… which raises the following question: what’s up with American astronauts and the sudden desire to listen to country after leaving the surface of the Earth? Is the sudden nostalgia similar to the way some Indonesians secretly miss dangdut when away from the archipelago?)
I do not regret watching “Gravity” in plastic glasses and a shifting chair. Altogether, the orchestrated vapours, mild movement, and sprays of water courtesy of 4DX technology more or less justified the IDR 130000 price tag. However, even though I would personally have only caught “Gravity” in the format I chose, the technology still pales in comparison to the strength of the story.
But, it should not go without saying that 4DX has given films a new dimension — pun intended. After the success of “Gravity”, those that will follow in its footsteps are promised to be far more elaborate and excellent, and those deserving of a high-tech re-make have the potential to be experienced in an entirely different way. Perhaps, the industry can start with “Inception”?