Why Gravity won't look like any other sci-fi movie you've ever seen

Contributed by
Dec 17, 2012

It's been clear for a while that Alfonso Cuaron's got something big planned for Gravity, his much-anticipated sci-fi follow-up to 2006's Children of Men, and everything we hear about it seems to confirm the film's ambition. This is a different kind of sci-fi movie, and according to the executive producer, Cuaron's aiming to set himself apart even at the most basic level, with every single shot.

Speaking at a conference at the University of Southern California, executive producer Chris DeFaria (who's served as the VFX lead on films like Sucker Punch and I Am Legend) said Cuaron adopted a visual style of very, very long takes for Gravity. How long? Well, DeFaria said there are only 156 shots in the entire two-hour film. If you do the math, that means quite a few of these shots would have to be over 30 seconds long at least (which is an eternity compared to many of the shots in your average action film), and DeFaria notes that some of them could run anywhere from six to 10 minutes without a single cut.

But if you think six minutes is a long time for a single continuous take, wait until you hear about the opening. It's been rumored for a while that the film would start with a monstrously long opening shot, and now DeFaria has revealed just how monstrously long it will be: 17 minutes. That's right. When you go see Gravity this fall, you'll be watching the film for nearly 20 minutes before a single cut takes place. In the age of Michael Bay fighting-robot extravaganzas and J.J. Abrams lens flares, that's unheard of.

This style, which Cuaron also used to a lesser degree in Children of Men, is thanks in part to lots of very, very intricate planning. In fact, Cuaron originally wanted to use CGI for every single shot, so he engineered every image in the film very precisely with the intention of simply placing the actors' faces in the middle of an animated environment:

"Instead of trying to create real people and what they're doing, let's turn it around and create almost an entirely animated film and then backwards engineer the people into that film," DeFaria said. "As a matter of fact, let's not even engineer the people into the film, let's engineer their faces. So you've got these little faces inside these little helmets. But there was a big hiccup that we came to I didn't realize until later, which was that we began building it as an animated film and Alfonso had an idea that he wanted the shots to be incredibly long, and I said, 'How long?' And he said he wanted the first shot to be really long. And I said, 'You mean, 40 seconds?' 'No, 17 minutes.'"

Wow, it sounds like Cuaron is really pushing himself for this film, and as a result he's got some huge hype to live up to. Some are already wondering if Gravity could be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey. We won't know until we see it, but even if it's not, it's still one hell of an intriguing film.

Gravity stars Sandra Bullock as the lone survivor of a space mission trying to get home to Earth. It opens everywhere Nov. 21.

(via The Film Stage)