HOLLYWOOD – Academy members may have already submitted their ballots to determine this year’s Oscar nominations, but determining the industry’s guild winners is coming down to the wire. That was just one reason why Warner Bros. hosted an IMAX screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” with an impressive Q&A afterward at the Chinese Theater Thursday night for all of the major guilds. And if it ends up rubbing off on some Academy members in attendance down the road, that won’t hurt either.
The surprise moderator for the evening was none other than Jon Favreau, and anyone who has been to Comic-Con over the past five years knows that Favreau is a, no pun intended, marvel in front of a live audience. He didn’t disappoint here. The stars of the night, however, were Sandra Bullock and Alfonso Cuarón, but colleagues David Heyman (producer), Andy Nicholson (production design), Mark Sanger (co-editor) and Skip Lievsay (re-recording sound mixer) were also on hand.
It should be noted the film got huge applause as the credits rolled (no doubt the second or third viewing for many in attendance), and you would have expected it based on the line of guild members that stretched around the block trying to get in. More intriguing was the standing ovation that Bullock received upon her introduction. Yes, it goes without saying SAG members are not usually conservative when it come to standing o’s, but when you’re talking about a sold-out house of over 900 people? That’s significant. And, moreover, Bullock was a recurring theme of the 40-minute post-screening conversation.
Favreau did his due diligence making sure each member of the panel got a chance to speak and topics such as the film’s sound design, Cuarón’s charming humility, the film’s groundbreaking lightbox shooting process and the screenplay all received significant playing time. What even the picture’s SAG Award and Golden Globe (and yes, soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated) actress likely didn’t expect was the effusive praise both Cuarón and Heyman bestowed upon her.
If you weren’t aware already, a majority of the time you see Bullock in “Gravity’s” space station sequences it is actually her. It is not a CG version of her floating through space. Favreau, who joked about his own appearance in a space suit in “Deep Impact,” was clearly in awe over how that was achieved without the use of wires being so obvious to the viewer. Part of it was due to production innovation, part of it was some wonderful puppeteers borrowed from the West End, but the key moments were physically performed and controlled by Bullock herself. The now iconic image of Ryan (Bullock) taking a moment to rest in the International Space Station as she folds herself into fetal position was just Bullock balancing herself on a bike seat. That’s some Cirque du Soleil stuff there and because so much of the world was created around her, every moment of her performance was timed to an unrealistic degree. (Cuarón joked he actually had to ask her not to shake her toe during one take.)
“You had X amount of time,” Bullock said. “You could not work out of that frame because they knew where a piece of debris was or a hand hold was. Your whole face and emotion had to be raw, but your body was doing it in that…time frame.”
Cuarón noted, “She knew that whole scene in pre-viz was going to be one minute long. She knew that at [14 seconds] her hand had to be in that very position. She had to perform in one minute. Not 1:10.”
One of the reasons it all works and Bullock has been lauded for what is ostensibly the performance of her career is that the audience is completely unaware of such limitations.
“One of the many miracles of the performance is that that is invisible,” Heyman said. “You don’t see that. Every moment for me in the film she infuses a truth and honesty and reality and limitations in every way. In a box, alone, not being able to move for long amounts of time. None of it shows…in the performance.”
Cuarón followed up, noting that “six months before [she was] just working out her body. Then going through every single beat of the script. Having such a clarity. When we were rolling camera it was as though none of that existed. It was really remarkable.”
Praise from Heyman and Cuarón for Bullock is obviously nothing new. Especially after the trio have promoted the critically acclaimed blockbuster across the globe. In front of this audience, however, it had a purpose. No one doubts that Cate Blanchett is the frontrunner to sweep the remaining Best Actress honors for the rest of the season, but should she be? The more you consider, Bullock’s work may be the greater achievement. Could this evening in front of hundreds of SAG voters spark an upset? Likely not, but if so, it was one tiny piece of the awards season puzzle that might have made a difference.
One last thought: It’s unclear whether “Gravity” will be re-released in more IMAX or 3D theaters after Thursday’s Academy Awards nominations are announced (it will get a re-release in other theaters on Jan. 17), but it was an absolute wonder to catch it one more time on such a gorgeous screen. The owners of the new TCL Chinese Theaters are clearly more innovative than their predecessors. While they are no doubt looking to succeed financially with current films in release, programming modern classics such as “Gravity” in rotating repertory runs throughout the year (even as a Midnight movie) could be a big hit with LA’s cinephile audience.
“Gravity” is currently still in release nationwide.