Sandra Bullock surprised fans in Hall H today, along with producer David Heyman and director Alfonso Cuarón, when introducing new footage from Gravity. And that footage is pretty breathtaking.
A substantial clip from the beginning of the film sees Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's astronauts working on the Hubble space telescope, with which the International Space Station has docked. She's working on a component of the telescope; he's shooting the shit with Houston (Ed Harris) about a Mardi Gras he once had.
Suddenly Houston broke in with a warning of imminent danger and everything goes into overdrive. The Russians apparently tried to blow up an obsolete satellite and now debris is racing through orbit, destroying everything in its path. Most of the communications satellites are already out; Houston is about to lose contact with the ISS and the pair need to stop their spacewalk immediately and evacuate. But as they disentangle and start to move inside, the debris hits and Bullock is left spinning through space, still attached to a robotic arm. The whole thing takes place in one take, with the camera spinning up and down along the space station and telescope following Clooney and Bullock.
Then we saw a quick-cut of different scenes, mostly from one sequence of massive destruction as wave after wave of debris hits the ISS and simply disintegrates it into yet more flying pieces of debris as Bullock cowers behind one piece of surviving wreckage and holds tight while a huge solar panel swipes past her nose.
So was it scary for Bullock to sign up for a film that depended so heavily on her? "It should have been scarier", she said, "but these guys were creating technology on the spot and they didn't know if it was going to work or not, and all these pieces were mathematically put together. There was no improvising because it was so mathematical and I didn't want to let them down. So that was scary and I didn't really think about the fact that it was just me and George carrying the movie."
Cuarón confirmed that they're the only faces seen during the movie, although there are other figures glimpsed working outside the International Space Station, and we heard Ed Harris speaking from Houston.
"Sandra was completely insulated in that cube," said Cuaron. "It took a while to get her into the rig. She would stay there between takes and just listen to music. It was very mathematical, but our focus was not the technology, but the emotional journey she had to take."
"What was amazing was this robot they invented, on the end of which was the camera. The camera would rotate around and motoring up and down a track at 20mph and then stopping on a dime, literally an inch from her nose. I imagine it was quite scary," said Heyman.
"What Alfonso forgot to mention was that cube, I had to crawl into it and I was locked in," said Bullock. "So if that robot did decide to continue into my face, there was no way to get away from it. No one told me that was how it was going to work. And I'm claustrophobic! Initially, Alfonso told me the only way to do zero-G was to do the vomit comet. Now I'm deathly afraid of flying but I thought I'd suck it up. It's an amazing life experience. I only heard two weeks before shooting that we weren't doing that, so I was so relieved I didn't care about anything else. I learned how to meditate up there. It was a matter of either ignoring pain or learning how to use it. We made a catalogue of sound, music, to get me ready for each scene."
"You don't know what you're doing, and that's the point of making these films!" smiled Cuarón.
"That's the great thing about working with him; he's a madman!" added Heyman. "He's a pain in the ass sometimes, but he never settles. He's always pushing the limits."
Gravity hits cinemas in October this year, and on the current evidence hits the Oscars in February.