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?
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
Run Time: 1 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/25/2014
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.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
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.
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.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
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.
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.
Audio Rating: 5/5
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.
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.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
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)
- 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)
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.
UltraViolet: Redeem by February 25, 2016.
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.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
Support HTF when you buy this title: