ZAMM.COM: 'Gravity' Gold

By Martin Grove,

'Gravity' gold: There are two kinds of gold in Hollywood and Gravity's on track to attract them both.

The PG-13-rated 3D sci-fi thriller, opening wide Friday, is tracking in double digits, which should translate into box office gold. At the same time, Gravity's got an awards buzz from playing well at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, putting it on the advance radar screen for Oscar gold.

In some ways, Gravity brings to mind the commercial and awards success last year of Ben Affleck's political thriller Argo, which opened Oct. 12, 2012 to $19.5 million and did $136 million in domestic theaters. It also was nominated for seven Oscars, winning Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing.

Affleck was snubbed by the Academy's directors branch and didn't get a directing nom. Had he made it into the race, he most likely would have won.

Argo played very well at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and was the first runner up in the festival's People's Choice Award competition, which Silver Linings Playbook won. Before playing at TIFF, Argo had a surprise screening at Colorado's Telluride Film Festival. Telluride's a major magnet for movie fans and a great way to get an early awards buzz underway, which is exactly what happened with Argo.

Gravity had its world premiere as the high profile opening night out-of-competition selection Aug. 28 at the 70th annual Venice International Film Festival. It had its North American premiere in early September at TIFF where the People's Choice Award went to Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave and the runner ups were Stephen Fears' Philomena and Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners. Argo and Gravity also share George Clooney, who was a producer of Argo and stars in Gravity.

Gravity won't share the problem Argo ran into with the Academy's directors branch since its director, Alfonso Curaron, is no outsider. He's a past Oscar nominee for directing Children of Men and is a well established director with major credits like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Y Tu Mama Tambien. Affleck, unfortunately, was seen by too many directors' branch members as being an actor-turned-director rather than a real director.

Also working in Gravity's favor for awards consideration is that while it's clearly a big commercial movie with strong box office potential, it's also a unique drama because only two actors are seen on screen. It's particularly good that they're both Oscar winners -- Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) and George Clooney (Syriana). Better yet, they're both very well liked. That's important because no matter what anyone says, popularity matters when it comes to winning Oscars.

While Clooney and Bullock may well wind up in the best actor and actress races, Gravity can't get any supporting actor or actress nods because nobody else appears in the movie.

Gravity's tracking in enviable double digits as an overall first choice. It's doing best with over-25 males and next best with over-25 females, but it's also got double digit scores with under-25 men and under-25 women. That should translate into the kind of broad appeal that generates big ticket sales.

In the film, medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) when disaster strikes during a routine spacewalk and their shuttle is destroyed. Left tethered only to each other, their one chance of going home seems to be heading further out into space.

Gravity was written by Alfonso Cuaron & (his son) Jonas Cuaron in their first official collaboration.

"I was inspired by Jonas's ideas for the movie," Alfonso explains. "I was very intrigued by his sense of pace in a life-or-death situation that dealt primarily with a single character’s point of view. But, at the same time, placing the story in space immediately made it more expansive and offered immense metaphorical possibilities.

"The concept of space was interesting to us both," says Jonas Cuaron. "It is a setting where there is no easy way to survive, thousands of miles from what we call home, so it was perfect for a movie about surmounting adversities and having to find your way back. We also wanted it to be a realistic story, which required us to do extensive research to become familiar with space exploration in order to depict a plausible scenario."

Looking back at production, Cuaron observes, "I have to say that I was a bit naïve; I thought making the film would be a lot simpler. Yes, I knew it would require a certain amount of tricks, but it was not until we started trying conventional techniques that I realized in order to do the film the way I wanted to do it, we were going to have to create something entirely new. "

To get there Cuaron depended on cinematographer Emmanuel Chivo Lubezki (Children of Men); and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber (The Dark Knight). "

"From the get-go, Chivo, Tim and I decided we wanted everything to look like we took our camera into space, Cuaron points out. That would have been my dream, but, of course, that’s not feasible.

"The filmmakers didn't want to create the kind of Hollywood sci-fi fantasy world moviegoers have seen many times before. Their goal was to depict the stark realities of being marooned in the harsh environment of space. To do that they wound up creating systems to generate the illusion of being in space in ways that were convincing as well as visceral. When Webber proposed creating a setting that was entirely virtual," Cuaron recalls, "I was initially skeptical. I wanted to achieve as much practically as possible. But after testing different technologies, it was clear that Tim was right. That approach led to a hybrid of live-action, computer animation and CGI with sets, backgrounds and even some costumes being rendered digitally."

And according to Jonas, the concept was always to do this movie in 3D. "We wanted people to be truly immersed in the imagery as well as the narrative."

"We didn’t want it to be 3D for the sake of things flying in your face," adds Alfonso. "We tried to be subtle…to let you feel like you're inside the journey."

The movie's behind-the-scenes experts were the key to making that happen, including multiple Oscar nominated director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men); production designer Andy Nicholson (art directorfor Alice in Wonderland); editors Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger (VFX editor for Children of Men); and costume designer Jany Temime (the Harry Potter films). The visual effects were from Oscar nominated visual effects supervisor Tim Webber (The Dark Knight) and the film's music was composed by Steven Price (Attack the Block).

Bottom line: Gravity's pull should be felt at the box office and in the Oscar race.

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