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Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/25/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/21/2014
When 12" LPs gave way to cassettes and then CDs, album cover art really too a hit because the canvas (if you will) had gotten so much smaller. It can be argued that something similar happened to movies. For decades, movies were made with movie theaters in mind and filmmakers pictured the big screen when designing their films. But, the home video revolution in the 80s changed that way of thinking for some, as they knew that many more people would see their movie at home on a television than in a theater. However, some directors still want to paint with a big brush and make their films a visual experience. Alfonso Cuaron decided to paint on the biggest canvas with his space-bound thriller Gravity.
As Gravity opens, we are introduced to the crew of the space shuttle Explorer, who are hard at work outside of the ship as it orbits the Earth. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is working on a communications panel, while Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) patrols the area using a jet-pack. They receive word that a Russian satellite has been destroyed and that debris is heading their way. Before they can prepare and get back inside of the shuttle, the debris reaches them, killing their colleagues, damaging the explorer, and sending Stone hurling into space. Despite the fact that Kowalski retrieves her, the two realize that they are all alone in space with nowhere to go and the debris coming back again.
Far too often -- I would say at least 90% of the time -- I'm baffled by the Best Director nominations at the various awards events, as those recognized rarely demonstrate any sort of visual flair. It's the director's job to tell the story through pictures, and in many cases, the filmmakers nominated have done little more than set up a camera and let the actors go. This is not the case with Alfonso Cuaron, as he's become known for creating impressive visuals, and to that end, Gravity is a cinematic feast. The bulk of the film is set in space and Cuaron lets his camera roam the environment, going in for close-ups of the characters, pulling back out to show the vastness of the area in which they are occupying, and then going in tight again. The film was clearly shot using a lot green screen and CG, and this just allows Cuaron more control to make everything look exactly has he wants. It may have been an illusion, but I seem to remember most of the first act playing out as one long scene with no obvious cuts.
I did not see Gravity in the theater, but it's safe to assume that the visuals played a big part in why the film has brought in over $265 million at the U.S. box office alone. Numbers like that usually indicated repeat business and good word of mouth, and as it played in both 3D and IMAX formats, as well as 2D, I can only imagine that some audience members saw the movie more than once, probably dragging friends along, in order to take in the experience one more time.
Those same people may be disappointed to find that watching Gravity at home, even in 3D, doesn't have the same impact. But, first things first, let's give credit where credit is due. This is a great looking movie and the visual effects are top notch. There were some moments where I felt as if I was looking at a CG spacesuit with an actor's face pasted inside, but otherwise, the effects are seamless. George Clooney is perfectly cast as the astronaut who has been to space so many times that a spacewalk is simply routine. And anytime a movie which has been nominated for 10 Oscars runs only 91 minutes, trust me, I am on board.
However, the wrinkles also show through when one isn't sitting in a darkened theater, completely enraptured by the movie. I liked that the film jumped right into the dilemma at hand, but the explanation as to why the satellite exploded is glossed over a little too quickly. The moment in the first act when Ryan goes spinning out into space should be harrowing, but we know if she's not rescued, it's going to be a really short movie. Also, Cuaron goes to the "Oh no, are they going to be able to hold onto something?" well once too often. Once Ryan and Kowalski begin their quest for survival, two things become obvious. First of all, despite all of the hype and the well-known actors, Gravity is a fairly straight-forward action-adventure film, and ultimately, it's the kind of thing which would be at home on late-night cable if not for the big budget and grandiosity. Secondly, one gets the feeling that Cuaron and his son Jonas, who co-wrote the film, made a list of bad things which could happen on a space mission and went through the film checking them off one-by-one. (With the one at the ending simply being ridiculous overkill.) Even those with a rudimentary understanding of science will question some of the events in the film and one can't help but wonder why a medical doctor is repairing a communications link. The one detail we get about Ryan's backstory is manipulative and should have either been expanded upon or deleted. As with many of her performances, I felt that Bullock was holding back here and instead of seeing Ryan Stone, I was simply seeing Sandra Bullock. In the end, the movie should have at least credited a story idea to Ray Bradbury's 1951 short story Kaleidoscope. Based on everything which I'd heard about Gravity, I had expected it to be a great movie, so I was disappointed to find that it's pretty good at best.
Gravity is should have been called "This Ain't My Day!" on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 21 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the source materials. I honestly can't imagine this image looking any better. The crispness gives way to a very detailed picture which features nice depth. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. Most of the movie is very monochromatic, but the picture is very stable, offering no distracting problems. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The sound design and the creativity in the mix really shine through here, as we treated to sounds coming from every speaker, many of which are meant to represent what Stone can hear inside of her helmet. The sounds coming from the rear are very detailed and often nicely isolated in one speaker. The stereo effects stand out, as they help to illustrate things moving across the screen. The subwoofer is often involved with the many collisions. This set also features a Blu-ray 3D where the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc offers a MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23/16 Mbps. I was very disappointed in the 3D offered here. Now, the interior scenes look fantastic, as the weightless objects floating in the foreground are nicely separate from the background. (Just wait until you see the floating tears sequence!) But the outer space shots look flat, as there's no background to create a sense of depth. The vastness of space offers no scale and thus everything looks like it's on the same plane.
The Gravity Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Gravity: Mission Control" (107 minutes) is a nine-part series of featurettes which focus on several different facets of the film's creation. The piece contain extensive comments from Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron, as well as the producers, other members of the creative team, Clooney, and Bullock. We also get an abundance of on-set footage, showing how the actors were shot, using huge projection screen to create an actual background for them, as opposed to green screen. We also learn a great deal about the visual effects and how they were tied into the live action pieces. In addition, we see how the fake weightlessness was achieved. Costume design, production design, the score and how the whole package was put together is shown. Cuaron and Co. walk us through the specifics of fives different parts of the film's look in "Shot Breakdowns" (37 minutes). "Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space" (23 minutes) is a documentary, narrated by Ed Harris, which looks at the debris which orbits Earth. "Aningaaq" (7 minutes) is a short film by Jonas Cuaron, which can be viewed with an introduction.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long