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Gravity Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 15 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted February 18 2014 - 05:50 PM

Gravity Blu-ray Review

Alfonso Cuarón’s zero-gravity masterpiece thrilled viewers in theaters thanks, in part, to 3D and Dolby Atmos technologies, but how does the film hold up in the home viewing environment where 3D displays and 7.1 surround setups aren’t ubiquitous?


Cover Art


Studio: Warner Brothers

Distributed By: N/A

Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 1 Hr. 31 Min.

Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet

Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 02/25/2014

MSRP: $35.99




The Production Rating: 4.5/5

The Space Shuttle Explorer and its crew are about to get pummeled by debris from a botched Russian missile strike on one of its dead satellites. Astronauts Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are in the middle of a spacewalk when they get word they’ll be ripped to shreds if they don’t immediately return to the Shuttle. The cloud of shrapnel arrives before the pair can get back, however, destroying the spacecraft and killing the onboard crew, leaving Stone and Kowalski to fend for themselves, without transport, in the cold vacuum of space. While the veteran Kowalski takes each life threatening moment as it comes, revealing an incredible depth of training and experience, the enormity of the situation threatens to overwhelm Stone, a rookie to the space program and a medical engineer by trade. To survive she’ll need to call upon previously untapped resources, both mental and spiritual, but diminishing time and options may ultimately deny her the chance.

Nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Alfonso Cuarón’s white knuckle, zero gravity survival film has a good chance of winning Hollywood’s top prize come March 2nd. Its simple plot contrasts, in a rather spectacular way, with complex technical and psychological components – a groundbreaking depiction of a catastrophic event in a weightless environment, concurrent with the exploration of the human will and its capacity to deal with incredible stress and trauma. Cuarón and his production team deserve all manner of accolades for their work in recreating the former, a tour de force in cinematic wizardry that puts the viewer in the middle of the action and makes naysayers of 3D movies reconsider their views.

Getting it right technically and artistically only goes so far though. If not for Bullock’s convincing work as the beleaguered Dr. Stone, the film would only be getting half the attention it is. Reading through the list of actors that were previously considered for the role, Bullock seems the most suitable in terms of her maturity, her physical stature, and of course her ability to take us on Stone’s emotional journey from fear to despair to determination.

Clooney is also appropriately cast as the cool as a cucumber Kowalski, though at times the role seems to trade too heavily on his slick public persona, rarely getting away from the novelty of seeing the Ocean’s Eleven star toodling around in space. It’s the only element of the production that disturbs the requisite suspension of disbelief, but fortunately, the film grabs hold so quickly from the outset, there’s hardly any time to quibble about such a minor issue. The best course of action with Gravity is to take in the spectacular views, and then hold on tight and enjoy its wild ride.



Video Rating: 4.5/5  3D Rating: NA

Gravity is one of the few films I made a point of seeing in 3D when it came out in theaters. While I’m not personally sold on 3D viewing in the home, I have no qualms about it for theatrical releases, as long as it’s done well (i.e. with some forethought and planning). In that regard, the film did not disappoint as it offered an incredibly natural and logical execution of 3D effects, which had been conceptualized since the outset, though done primarily in post production. While viewing the film in plain old 2D provides a much less visceral experience, the film ultimately doesn’t depend on an extra dimension to make its case. The narrative, themes and character moments remain just as potent in its absence.

Framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer’s black levels, contrast and color are all faultless. Fine object detail is also impeccable, with star fields looking perfectly resolved and extreme close ups on the actors revealing every pore. Sometimes the extreme detail causes problems, as with the opening shots of Earth, which have small swarms of noise showing up in densely patterned geographic regions. As the film moves away from lingering, sweeping vistas it’s harder to spot these kinds of issues, however, the consistently rich and arresting visuals ultimately dominating one’s attention.



Audio Rating: 5/5

Since Gravity was presented theatrically in the Dolby Atmos surround format, some have already expressed their frustration that Warner Brothers didn’t include 7.1 audio for the release, but instead limited things to a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The decision does seem shortsighted, if not a bit stingy, since a 7.1 track would have pleased all parties.

Nevertheless, I have no doubt Gravity will be added to every home theater nut’s collection of demo material, for its “subtly aggressive” use of the array to complement long tracking and character POV shots. Dialogue can seamlessly travel a full 360 degrees or pop from one channel to another depending on the scene, which may sound gimmicky in writing but is anything but in the execution. The rather unusual choice to have the score follow the action, acting as a proxy for sound effects in the noiseless vacuum of space, also works incredibly well, giving key sequences the necessary explosive cues while maintaining the film’s eerie, muted landscape. LFE follows a similar trend, implemented at points unexpected, but logical upon reflection, and sounding clean and robust each time.

Come Oscar night, it will be no surprise when the film collects the awards for Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. Though the track included on the Blu-ray may be technically inferior to what was available in theaters, the 5.1 experience should hold up admirably for the home viewing environment.



Special Features Rating: 4/5

The highlight of the extras are the “Mission Control” featurettes and the shot breakdowns, but the information feels incomplete without a critical piece about the theatrical presentation. Additional video elements and alternative viewing formats round out the package, but something tells me there’s more material in the studio archives awaiting a special edition.

Gravity: Mission Control (1:46:36, HD): Divided into nine parts, the making-of covers the film’s development, production, and post-production, paying particular attention to the pioneering cinematography and special effects work (that even involved puppeteers!). Strangely, there’s no mention of the 3D production / conversion process, which made me wonder if it was simply left out for this 2D release, but the 3D edition has the same nine chapters. Considering how thoughtfully and intentionally 3D was used, the lack of information is a glaring omission in an otherwise fascinating behind-the-scenes look.
  • It Began with a Story (16:21)
  • Initial Challenges: Long Shots and Zero G (10:12)
  • Previsualizing Gravity (11:38)
  • The Hues of Space (10:41)
  • Physical Weightlessness (7:48)
  • Space Tech (13:02)
  • Sandra and George: A Pair in Space (9:37)
  • Final Animation (15:01)
  • Complete Silence (12:13)
Shot Breakdowns (36:48, HD): A closer look at key sequences provides further details about the production’s technical triumphs (and challenges).
  • Behind the Visor (6:50)
  • Fire in the International Space Station (5:42)
  • Dr. Stone’s Rebirth (7:54)
  • The Sound of Action in Space (7:55)
  • Splashdown (8:27)
Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space (22:28, HD): Narrated by Ed Harris, the documentary describes the growing problem of space debris left from decades of man-made satellites sent into, and subsequently abandoned in, Earth’s orbit.

Aningaaq – A Short Film by Jonás Cuarón (6:53, HD): Presented with an optional introduction by Cuarón (3:18), who co-wrote Gravity’s screenplay with his father, the short film presents a critical moment in the feature from the perspective of an off-screen character.

DVD Copy

UltraViolet: Redeem by February 25, 2016.



Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Warner Home Video launches a stellar Blu-ray presentation for Alfonso Cuarón’s gripping, zero gravity survival film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. The special features offer a fascinating (if somewhat incomplete) look into the technical aspects of the production, but collectors shouldn’t be surprised by a future special edition with additional material, especially if the film grabs the Oscar for Best Picture. Still, it’s a worthwhile purchase come release day, especially for those who missed the film in theaters or are looking to revisit the experience in their homes.


Reviewed By: Cameron Yee


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#2 of 15 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted February 18 2014 - 09:29 PM

This hits some of the same points I made, but only better. :)

 


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#3 of 15 OFFLINE   Kevin EK

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Posted February 19 2014 - 03:49 PM

Thanks for the review Cameron.    This was my favorite movie of 2013.

 

Just wondering about the two other extras listed in the promotional materials:

 

One sounds like an Easter egg:  "Sandra's Surprise".  Really not sure what that means...

 

But the other one is something that Alfonso Cuaron mentioned at a Q&A I attended.  He said the Blu-ray would include an option to watch the movie without music.   Apparently, the initial design for the movie was NOT to have a score, but they realized at some point that they really did need it.  Cuaron said that he was going to include the scoreless version so viewers could make the decision for themselves.  I have a feeling this will be like the Thermian language track on Galaxy Quest, but it's still a really interesting notion.



#4 of 15 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted February 19 2014 - 07:49 PM

"Sandra's Surprise," if it is what I think it is, got incorporated into the "Sandra and George" featurette.

 

The scoreless version apparently didn't make the cut for this release. Yet another reason to think there's going to be an "extra weighty edition" down the road.


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#5 of 15 OFFLINE   SD_Brian

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Posted February 19 2014 - 10:42 PM

I hope the "extra weighty edition" comes in a great big numbered box with a keepsake plastic replica of space debris and a set of coasters that look like authentic NASA spacesuit patches...but an identical release of the movie itself. :-)



#6 of 15 OFFLINE   Mark Booth

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Posted February 20 2014 - 02:45 PM

Word has it that 'Gravity' is stuffed into a BD25 with a relatively low video bit rate.  Can you confirm that, Cameron?

 

Of course, with all of the blackness of space, there isn't as much of a need for a high video bit rate.

 

Mark



#7 of 15 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted February 20 2014 - 02:51 PM

My understanding is the single layer BD was used for the 3D version / presentation, though I don't have that edition to confirm.

 

For the 2D, the main feature and video extras are on a dual layer BD.


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#8 of 15 OFFLINE   Mark Booth

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Posted February 20 2014 - 03:26 PM

Thanks, Cameron.  I just looked over the 'Gravity' topic in another forum and, yes, apparently, it's the 3D version disc that's a BD25.  The 2D version disc is on a BD50.

 

Mark



#9 of 15 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted February 21 2014 - 10:10 PM

Deleted. Too petulant sounding.


"You bring a horse for me?" "Looks like......looks like we're shy of one horse." "No.......You brought two too many."

#10 of 15 OFFLINE   Tino

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Posted February 25 2014 - 03:30 AM

Regarding the "scoreless version" , while it would be interesting, I can't imagine the film without Steven Price's magnificent score. I've said it before but IMO it's the best film score since Jaws in the sense of how it enhances the terror on screen. Besides Best Picure, it's the one Oscar I really hope it gets. It will probably get all the others except for actress. Can't wait to spin this later today In 3D.
It's gonna be a hell of a ride. I'm ready. .

#11 of 15 OFFLINE   haineshisway

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Posted March 05 2014 - 07:10 PM

What IS the problem with an eighty-something minute film being on a BD-25.  Does no one understand that there would be no point in putting it on a BD-50 unless there were a humungous number of extras?  That information comes right from one of the leading authoring houses.  

 

I also don't really understand a 4.5 rating for this transfer - if this isn't five stars what exactly is?  



#12 of 15 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted March 05 2014 - 07:16 PM

I wrote about my issues with the video quality in the review.

#13 of 15 OFFLINE   haineshisway

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Posted March 05 2014 - 09:11 PM

I read it.  I didn't see it in evidence. :)  I saw an absolutely stunning transfer.  Talking about 2-D, however, not 3-D.  



#14 of 15 OFFLINE   Tino

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Posted March 07 2014 - 05:46 PM

What IS the problem with an eighty-something minute film being on a BD-25.  Does no one understand that there would be no point in putting it on a BD-50 unless there were a humungous number of extras?  That information comes right from one of the leading authoring houses.  
 
I also don't really understand a 4.5 rating for this transfer - if this isn't five stars what exactly is?


Even though the 3D version is on a BD 25, and the bit rate is reduced, I couldn't tell a difference between it and the higher bit rate 2D version. Has anyone noticed a difference in quality?
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#15 of 15 OFFLINE   John Maher_289910

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Posted March 08 2014 - 08:14 AM

I don't get what's so spectacular about this film?  But then, I don't get what's so spectacular about most Best Picture nominees, throughout the years.  I thought it was an interesting 91 minutes (or whatever it is), and the 3D (I only saw it on Blu-ray) depth of  bodies, space debris, even Bullock's head within the helmet, all adds to the sense of peril.  Still, it's a rather weak narrative.  Bullock is fine in her role, but certainly nothing extraordinary.  I can't imagine the film being as satisfying, in 2D







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