2013: A space odyssey

‘Gravity’ director Alfonso Cuarón spent nearly a decade figuring out how to send George Clooney and Sandra Bullock into space. Tom Huddleston meets him

2013: A space odyssey

Alfonso Cuarón directs George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.

It took Mexican writer-director Alfonso Cuarón seven years to complete his new sci-fi adventure ‘Gravity’ – but it was worth every second. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as a pair of astronauts adrift in orbit above Earth, the film pushes the boundaries of special effects and is the most staggeringly beautiful film of the year.

‘Gravity’ took years to make. Why?
‘When I finished the script I sent it to my director of photography and said, “It’s a small movie, two characters, so we’ll be in and out in a year.” A few hours into the first day of tests it was clear that wasn’t going to work. It took two and a half years just to develop the technology.’

Did you ever feel like giving up?
‘It was clear from the start that it was a ridiculous task, and lots of people were telling us it was impossible. But when you’re trying to crack it, you keep going. It’s not like we were just waiting around. I was animating, I was figuring out the shots, we started work on the 3D. It was not unlike a normal film, except we had to finish post-production before we began pre-production. Then we began post-production again!’

The film cost around $100m, yet it’s fairly experimental: just two people stuck in space. Were there any worries at the studio about how spare the story seemed?
‘I had to defend the concept from people who would say, “Why don’t we cut to Houston? Or a flashback?” People always make suggestions – some bad, some good. Just because you’re working with a studio doesn’t mean they have bad ideas. I have final cut. But it’s like being in the shower and trying to come up with a tune while 40 others are singing different tunes at the same time.’

Some have criticised ‘Gravity’ for not being scientifically accurate. How important was that?
‘We tried. The first thing I said to the special effects team was I wanted to get a call from Nasa threatening to sue us, wanting to know how we snuck cameras aboard a space mission! But this is not a documentary. We had a lot of advice from astronauts and physicists, so we’re conscious of everything that’s not accurate. We wrote a draft of the script which addressed all these concerns – and it was so boring! People are smart enough to know this is just a movie.’

Is it a good thing that space travel is becoming a private enterprise?
‘It’s exciting, but they’re only offering a short trip to experience a taste of microgravity and see Earth from above. Real space exploration is much more serious. This last decade has been amazing in terms of space exploration, but the achievements are not as bombastic as someone stepping on to another planet – instead it’s data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The more minds and money that are invested, the more possibilities there’ll be. I just hope that the real goal of exploration isn’t lost. It’s about knowledge.’

What will you do next?
‘All I know is the characters are going to walk on solid ground! I’ll never make another space movie.’

Gravity opens at selected cinemas around Tokyo on Dec 13.

Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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