Yes. It’s a truly spectacular film, in every sense of the word; a suspenseful, high-stakes-small mistakes thriller, a lyrical adrift-in-space drama that manages to simultaneously be both intimate and nearly infinite in scope, and more than anything, a stunning visual achievement.
But also, no. Gravity is one of those movies that people will insist you have to see in 3-D, because the added dimension really brings out something special to Alfonso Cuaron’s talent for visual storytelling (heaven knows scriptwriting is not his forte, judging by some of the hammy lines he has George Clooney, and to a lesser extent Sandra Bullock, delivering in this movie.) They said the same thing about Hugo and Avatar. On the opposite side, they derided the post-conversion sloppiness on Crash of the Titans, but that could potentially be a product of that film not being particularly good to begin with. I kind of wish I knew what they were talking about, but the thing is, I’ve never even come close to being transported into another dimension by 3-D movie. I remember reading something about this a couple years ago. A certain percentage of moviegoers apparently are unable to process three-dimensional pictures, and thus will get no added value from watching a movie with sunglasses on, unless a slightly more dimly lit version of regular projection is somehow your thing. I don’t know if this is the reason why 3-D has never worked for me, but it could be.
On the question of whether I have really watched Gravity, the simple answer of course is “yes”. There are regular 2-D screenings out there, so the filmmakers obviously intended for us to be able to engage with it that way as well. But whenever one of those “you have to see it in 3-D” movies come along, I can’t help but feeling that I’m missing out on something. The most frustrating thing about this is that I understand when a movie is deploying a 3-D effect, and yet I have no idea how that effect would potentially enhance my experience, since I seem to be unable to experience that. Whenever there is a particularly eye-catching zoom, an object being hurled against the audience, or a scene involving smoke or fog or anything like that, I know that I’m supposed to see something. I just don’t. That said, I am not alone feeling like this. Even people who are capable of getting more out of a 3-D picture have told me that the extent of its value and effect varies greatly from movie to movie. However, I do have one advantage over people who get the 3-D experience but don’t especially care for it: Since I’ve never really had that, I can at least imagine that if I was able to watch it like that, it would indeed deliver on the promise of a milestone in visual storytelling we’ve been promised since the advent of the technology. Judging from the general moviegoing public, it seems like that exciting prospect has faded somewhat, even though 3-D has been deployed in sunch varied fare as Avatar, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Pina just in the last four years.
As for the movie itself, I came to Gravity with expectations inflated by almost unprecented critical buzz. When a respected film scholar like Kristin Thompson announces a film to be better than 2001: A Space Odyssey, that’s a sign that I should try to pay attention. As I’ve already hinted at, I found several aspects of the movie’s story and script to be somewhat flawed, but for the purposes of the above discussion of the importance of 3-D, I am happy to report that, 3-D or no 3-D, the visuals are what makes Gravity unique. Had the cinematography failed to convey the enormity of space, the suspense movie aspect of two austronauts floating around knowing that even the smallest mistake could lead to their certain death would not have caught on with me the way it did. The scene where Sandra Bullock’s character is knocked off course by debris was disorienting and terrifying in a way that gave me a real sense of what it means to be alone and in orbit, even though almost everything about this movie is computer generated. Thus, it didn’t really matter in the end that I was not completely on board with Bullock’s clunkily written backstory. Gravity managed to leave me, a guy with no interest in anything having to do with space, sitting mouth agape at the wonder and suspense of the visual aspects and the sheer human stakes of this movie.
Would 3-D have improved on that? Maybe, but for now I’m fine with its only effect on me being that it makes my adventures in the dark a little darker still. I’ll choose a 3-D screening only when there is no available 2-D alternative.