The moment Cuarón decides to end the one-shot, the impact it has on audiences is immediate. Finally allowed to take the deep breath that most had unconsciously been holding, we’re reoriented and ever-so-briefly able to get our bearings. There aren’t exactly many signposts or landmarks in space, so the film smartly cuts back to Earth with Stone tumbling in the foreground — away from the destroyed shuttle and from any hope of rescue.
But what often gets lost in the hype of the initial one-shot sequence is the fact that the film immediately transitions into another one centered exclusively on Stone. As Kowalski desperately pleads with her over the radio to report her position, Cuarón and Lubezki heighten her fear by locking the camera onto her helmet as she tumbles uncontrollably and at a stomach-churning rate. Where they mostly relied on spectacle to this point, we’re now thrust right into Stone’s helmet along with her in the most intimate of the movie’s perspectives. Now in the shadow of the Earth, most viewers were likely too caught up in the action to even notice the dramatically shifted lighting. What once felt like a comforting and mundane mission in broad daylight now takes on a much more sinister aura in the depths of space, tempered only by Kowalski’s arrival. After managing to find Stone and tether themselves together, they make their way back to the ruined shuttle to take stock of their situation.
Although “Gravity” still relies on an abundance of longer shots throughout the rest of its runtime, there’s no denying the power of these early ones to help set the tone. Part roller coaster, part IMAX documentary, and part survival tale, “Gravity” has its opening oner to thank for teeing up the rest of the thrills to come.