There might not be anything  bleaker than the idea of death in outer space. Alfonso Cuarón decided to make a film that hinges on the fear of exactly that, and about the human ability to struggle for survival in that most inhospitable of realms. Based on premise alone, Gravity is terrifying. But let’s say just a bit more.

Cuarón has set a high standard for himself, having already made such excellent films as Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men, and in many ways, Gravity lives up to that standard. The visuals are beyond belief. There is simply a level of imagery that has never been achieved in cinema before. Likewise, I found that this was the first time that it felt like the 3-D format made sense (and added to the film experience). The mix of photography and CGI is just amazing. The soundtrack was also excellent, even if we might not call it cutting edge–prominent use of Shepard tones is perfect for the tension in the film, if not original. And the acting is fairly solid. Both George Clooney and Sandra Bullock do something of their standard performances, but they fit well in this script.

The only real downer about this movie comes in the sentimental parts, where the emotions are fairly crude, the themes are overbearing and obvious, and in general it feels like Cuarón didn’t trust his audience to understand more nuanced fare. Emotionally, this has nothing of the finesse you have in his earlier work.

But if you can get past the sledgehammer thematics, the action and the visuals are worth it. Space, beauty, stress, action, weightlessness, and then so much weight… Now I only hope Cuarón keeps it coming, and that he has a long and fruitful career.