July 25, 2013
— Sandra Bullock is not ready yet to be an astronaut, at least not in real life.
And based on the clips that debuted this week of her as a spacewalker in "Gravity," Warner Brother's upcoming sci-fi movie directed by Alfonso Cuarón and co-starring George Clooney, it would be hard to fault her.
"My feet feel really good on the ground," Bullock told the entertainment news television program Extra. "Someone asked me [if I wanted to fly in space] and said 'If your son wanted you to go?' and I said, 'If he asked me to go, if he was already an adult, I would go if I knew he would be fine if I perished.'"
In "Gravity," Bullock's character, first-time astronaut Ryan Stone, faces the real possibility of perishing.
Russian satellite debris tears apart Stone's space shuttle as she and veteran commander Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) are outside servicing the Hubble Space Telescope. Stone is sent tumbling into space with Kowalsky, who is outfitted with a prototype jetpack, following after her.
In a series of suspenseful clips that were first previewed for the audience at Comic-Con in San Diego last weekend and then released online, Stone's and Kowalsky's situation grows increasingly worse. The teasers, which are referred to as "events" on the movie's official website, are the first new look at the film since a trailer debuted in May.
The first clip, entitled "Detached," begins just as Mission Control radios the astronauts to abort their work due to the incoming debris. Moments later, the shuttle is destroyed, as is Hubble, and Stone is thrown "off structure," flailing off into outer space while still attached to the shuttle's now broken-off robotic arm.
In "Drifting," the second clip, Stone is separated from the arm but is still tumbling head over heels. The view is from inside Stone's helmet as she tries to assess her situation. Her attempts to make radio contact with her fellow shuttle crewmates and Houston Mission Control go unanswered.
"Don't Let Go." A still from "Gravity" shows Sandra Bullock and George Clooney holding on by just a tether. (Warner Brothers)
Finally, in "I Got You," Stone and Kowalsky are reunited, tethered together, and have somehow made it over to the vicinity of the International Space Station (ISS). Using the last fuel in his jetpack, Kowalsky propels them toward the orbiting laboratory in the hopes that one or both of them can grab hold of the outpost. The stranded spacewalkers' tether snaps in the process, leading to Stone desperately grasping to reconnect with her commander.
Were it not for the well-known actors, the clips might pass for NASA footage. The shuttle "Explorer," Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station, as well as the astronauts' spacesuits and the view of Earth from orbit are all realistically rendered.
But it's not just the sights that convey a sense of realism, it's the sounds — or lack thereof.
"In the trailer, they wanted to make it exciting so they put, for instance, explosions," Cuarón said during a Comic-Con panel discussion that also included Bullock. "As we know, there is no sound in space. [In] the film, we don't do that."
Initially, Cuarón wanted to film in actual weightlessness, using a plane flying parabolas much in the same way that NASA astronauts train for their missions and the 1995 film "Apollo 13" shot its zero-g scenes. Ultimately though, he opted for a custom-built rig, which suspended Bullock in a 9-by-9-foot (2.7-by-2.7-meter) cube while a large robot arm equipped with the camera pivoted and spun at high speed around her.
Sandra Bullock's Dr. Ryan Stone shown floating inside a space station from the Alfonso Cuarón film "Gravity." (Warner Brothers)
"Sandra was completely insulated in that cube," explained Cuarón. "It took a while for her to get in the rig, so Sandra chose that in between the takes she would stay there."
"They had me strung up from the 12 wires for eight to nine hours a day," Bullock said at the Comic-Con panel. "They would just leave me hanging up there."
Cuarón said the rig was just a means to an end.
"Our focus was not the technology," Cuarón said, "It was her performance, the emotional journey and how that was going to be translated [in the film]."
"Gravity" premieres at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on Aug. 28. The 3D movie's North American debut will follow in early September at the Toronto Film Festival before it opens wide in theaters on Oct. 4.