The filmmakers behind the season's biggest commercial and critical hit, "Gravity" -- director Alfonso Cuaron; his son, Jonas, with whom he wrote the screenplay; and producer David Heyman -- are in Los Angeles this week, the beginning of what is likely to be a long, awards season victory lap for their work on the acclaimed 3D space adventure.
The Cuarons and Heyman were feted at a cozy reception Wednesday night at West Hollywood's Petit Ermitage hotel (imagine a boutique version of the Chateau Marmont, but with fewer tattoos) and Thursday night they'll join the film's star, Sandra Bullock, and Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan for a Q&A following an Envelope Screening Series showing.
The senior Cuaron clearly enjoys making the rounds at events like these, telling me that as long as someone clues him in on the dress code, he's good to go. Mostly, he says he's still trying to process the commercial success of "Gravity," which, at $220 million and counting in North America, is approaching the total of his biggest domestic hit, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
"It is most shocking," Cuaron says. "We saw that the reaction at Toronto and Venice was magnificent, but you never know if that's just part of the film festival cocoon. But I believe the reviews from those festivals helped educate and inform the public as to what the movie was trying to do, so when it opened in theaters, they were ready to jump right in with Sandra's character."
That character, in case you've yet to be pulled in by "Gravity," is Dr. Ryan Stone, an astronaut who has run all the way to outer space to escape the memory of a personal tragedy. While on a spacewalk to repair the Hubble Telescope, disaster strikes and Stone and another astronaut, George Clooney's Matt Kowalski, find themselves adrift.
The film's visual prowess has rightly been celebrated, but the Cuarons believe moviegoers are responding most strongly to the story's theme of rebirth. "They're connecting to the characters on a gutteral, emotional level," Jonas says. "It could have taken place in New York without the 3-D." When I respond that I'm glad it didn't, he laughs. "Me, too. It was a lot more fun to write that way."
"Gravity" is Alfonso Cuaron's first film since 2006's dystopian political thriller, "Children of Men," a movie that critics also celebrated but audiences roundly ignored, taking in less than $70 million worldwide. Cuaron says he has puzzled over the movie's box-office failure for years.
" 'Gravity' has an immediacy to it, where 'Children of Men' was more cerebral," Cuaron says. "It works better almost as an essay or a series of theories about the state of the world."
"It could have been the timing too," he continues. "We came out at the same time as all these other great movies -- 'The Departed,' 'Pan's Labyrinth,' 'Babel.' That's the case this year too. There are a lot of great movies, but they're managing to co-exist, which is good news for us as filmmakers. We have a lot to be thankful for."