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Gravity (Blu-ray Review)

When I first saw Gravity, it was extremely difficult to walk into a movie like this when there was so much hype and garnered praise surrounding it.  I mean, it has to be good, right?  Well, that’s the exact sentiment and question I carried with me when I went into my initial 3-D IMAX theatrical screening of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity.  It just had to be epic!  And so what?!  Even if it sucked, how could you possibly refuse a screening of this magnitude?  It’s an outer space feature presented in 3-D IMAX!  You can’t refuse that!  No sane person can.  It at least has to look breathtaking and gorgeous.  With all the positive praise and acclaim this picture had been receiving, I was willing to gamble on the fact that my screening was going to be filled with something very stellar.  And to think…this all began with my first introduction to the flick last July at Comic-Con in beautiful San Diego at the “EW – The Visionaries” panel (see my coverage here).  So before I start talking about Gravity in detail I would like to lead in with this quote from James Cameron and let it brew while we travel farther in (or out if we are talking in space terms).  “I think it’s the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done, and it’s the movie I’ve been hungry to see for an awful long time.”  So having seen this already, the main question on my mind now is how does it hold up a second time…on the Blu-ray format?

Film 

Now while there’s no denying the film’s beauty (although that’s always in the eye of the beholder) and breathtaking scale, there’s also no short changing the fact that it has taken an “awful” long time for Gravity to finally take flight on the big screen.  As Cuaron admitted at the Comic-Con panel I was at this past July, the feature has taken 4.5 years to make.  That makes it a 7-year gap since Cuaron’s last project, Children of Men, was seen on the silver screen.  I wish I could take that long of a break in life, but I digress.  Haha.  The script, co-written with his son Jonas, was first in development at Universal before being acquired by Warner Bros. in 2010.  It has also seen its share of star attachments including the likes of actresses Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Natalie Portman and even Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr., before locking in the small cast of Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris.  Thank God too because I’m not sure I would want to see Natalie whine for 90 minutes, as I already saw her do that in three Star Wars prequels, and as for Angelina Jolie…no thanks…I’ll pass.

It was at Comic-Con where I learned first hand just how much work went into creating the visual splendor that is Gravity.  Originally scheduled for a release last November, the film was pushed back in order to complete the extensive post-productions effect work.  And if you heard Alfonso talk about the contraptions they built and the challenging ways they conceived to show the realistic effects of achieving zero gravity on the big screen, then you’ll also know why it took so long to produce (and you will also find out firsthand in the Extras section below too).  You just can’t keep sending people on 6-second rocket rides to capture footage.  And yes, I have to go on record when I say, I’ve never seen anything look this spectacular before in my life when I initially saw it theatrically.  In my opinion, the only way to see this movie first is on the biggest IMAX screen you can possibly go to and in 3-D of course.  Seeing those nuts, bolts and screws flying at you is like having hot pancakes and maple syrup on a late Sunday morning.  Now coming from a 3-D hater, you know I’m serious when I recommend it here.  Alfonso had me at hello the moment I sat in my recliner to watch Children of Men on HD DVD back in 2007, but he has my jaw dropped wide open and to the floor in regards to his latest work.  Now of course, the time to see this one theatrically has come and gone (unless you can make it to one of the Oscars marathons), but fret not because it’s debut on the HD format of choice, Blu-ray, is right around the corner.  Ladies and gentlemen…this is G-R-A-V-T-Y.

In my opinion, this one should have been called “Intensity.”  Seriously, where’s the “gravity” in this one?  Unless we are talking about the “graveness” of the situation that Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) finds herself in after a chain reaction of debris from a satellite crashes into the space shuttle Explorer, which also houses veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) and a few others in their space mission.  Just about everything is obliterated and Stone finds herself literally lost and tumbling into space with a limited air supply and I guess I’ll use it again…in a very “grave” situation.  Now riddle me this.  What would be worse, being pinned down and stuck in a pitch black cave between two rocks and those Descent-like creatures vying for you or floating endlessly in space until you run out of oxygen and suffocate on carbon dioxide?  I think I would pick the latter one only because you are freer and have one hell of a view.  How about you?

So all in all, Gravity tells the familiar tale of the primal instinct of survival, how far would one go and how much would they endure to save their own life…and also of rebirth, but we will get to that in a moment.  It’s the adrenaline rush way in which it’s told here that makes it unique.  I mentioned the word intensity above.  Wow!  It’s much more than that.  It’s gripping.  It’s thrilling.  And it’s one hell of a rocket ride (barring the sexual connotation of that phrase).  In fact, not to sound too corny, but it gives new meaning to the words “star wars.”  Stone fights one hell of a continuous battle and endures what is seemingly the impossible at times just to cling to an ounce of hope that she can not only live to see another day, but also make it back home as well.  Notice I did not say anything more about Clooney’s character.  Don’t worry, no spoilers here, but rest assured…he’s a major player here.  I tread very lightly as I don’t want to ruin this for anyone who has not witness the “spectacle” of Gravity.  I want you to go see it and feel the excitement.  I was so worried it was going to be bleak and pointless like 2003‘s Open Waters, but it was not.  Not at all!  If I can praise Gravity on only one thing in addition to its non-stop tension, I would comment on its runtime.  It’s perfect.  Not too long and overdrawn like the familiar waters of Cast Away, and not too short either.  It’s  appropriately sized around the 90-minute mark and it may just leave you wanting a second helping or even a third or fourth.  That’s when you know you have a good thing.  It’s addictive my friends.

Gravity could have easily been a summer blockbuster.  Hell, it should have been.  It has more action, explosions and catastrophes than most of the big tentpole blockbusters I’ve seen last year.  While it’s no surprise at all that you’re in for one hell of a visual treat, let’s talk about the actors.  Luckily, we only have to talk about two of them, Clooney and Bullock.  What can you say, Clooney plays the same charming, rogue and egotistical man in all his films.  Nothing has changed here.  Bullock on the other hand, minus the hairdo, continues to prove why she’s one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood.  This is her Cast Away and her time to shine in the spotlight, and I for one wasn’t disappointed with the ride she took me on.  She took what she had to work with here and exceeded my expectations in every category.  This wasn’t an easy role to play.  It took a lot of emotion, dedication and physicality to play the role of Ryan Stone, and in my opinion she knocks it out of the park.

Now I mentioned the word rebirth up above.  Initially, when I first saw Gravity theatrically I was blown away by the scale, shock and awe of it.   If you see it your first time on IMAX 3D, it’s a lot to take in.  And if you go back to my theatrical review, you will also see that I only gave it a film score of a 4.5 because I felt a little emotionally detached from Bullock’s onscreen character.   Thankfully that has all been rectified the second time around for me as the Blu-ray format made it the perfect medium for me to soak it all in thematically now that the theatrical shock and awe of it all is a thing of the past.   And once I stripped away the many layers and examined the story of Gravity, being able to table it separate from the spectacular onscreen special effects and pizazz, I was able to appreciate the arc of Ryan Stone and admittedly so, Gravity thus meant more to me the second time around.   If there’s a will to survive, you can.  The theme wasn’t lost on me this time and my level of appreciation for this film has shot through the roof as I now have five viewings of it under my belt.   Who among us can say that?  And while we wait to see whether or not Gravity will take home that coveted movie of the year award, there’s nothing stopping you from soaking up what sun there is in this non-stop action thrill ride on the Blu-ray format.   Rich with character and ripe with action, Gravity is the summer blockbuster we all needed last year, and the demo worthy Blu-ray Disc your player needs now.  Feed it so!

Gravity 2

Video 

Although it only clocks in at a mere 91 minutes of runtime, Warner Bros. makes sure to take good care of you with one of the best Blu-ray presentations of the year so far.  I just hope I can do the encode justice with my descriptions below.  It may not be IMAX, but it’s the next best thing.  You ready to board this shuttle?

  • Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
  • Clarity/Detail: Detail was all abound here from the view of Earth’s oceanic blues to the vegetative greens and mountainous terrains to the finite details in all the instruments utilized, crafts seen and props floating around.  From the countless individual stars to the majestic exteriors of the vessels floating through the vastness of space, this is detail you could only capture on Blu-ray, not no puny Digital HD presentation.  Everything is clear here, even through the visors, which we will talk about in so much more detail down below in the Extras section, from the pores on the actors’ faces and countless smudges and many fingerprints.
  • Depth: This is what eye-popping dreams are made of here on the Blu-ray format.  This is that three-dimensional pop you have been craving and looking for in all of your Blu-ray presentations.  From the sheer vastness of outer space to the depth employed even in the tiny crevices of the various space crafts, this presentation is flawless in each and every way.
  • Black Levels: The Blu-ray presentation of Gravity contains some of the deepest and inkiest blacks achievable on the 7-year old format.  I don’t think you can find any flaws via contrast here.
  • Color Reproduction: The visual quality of this presentation is like a ballet in space to me, majestic and beautiful for all to soak and bask in and of course, appreciate.  From the sun peeking out from the outer reaches of space to the blue hues from our planet Earth, you’ll get no complaints from me here, none at all.
  • Flesh Tones: The skin tones all look natural and earthly (no pun intended) throughout.
  • Noise/Artifacts: I am happy to report that there is not a single white speck, noise, artifact, crush or distraction (besides the flying satellite debris) anywhere to be found in the print here.  Kudos Warner Bros.!

Audio 

So like in the Video section above, you’d be hard pressed to name a finer A/V presentation on Blu-ray this year than Gravity.  Kiss may have put Wal-Mart album out years ago called Sonic Boom before, but I’m here to tell you ladies and gentlemen, this surround sound presentation is the real thing…a real “sonic boom.”  Ready to go on this wild, thrusting rocket ride (not a pun in regards to Kiss or the “act”) with me?

  • Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH/Spanish/French
  • Dynamics: I honestly thought my surround system was going to blow up within the first few frames of this presentation.  Wow!  That old THX surround set up presentation has NOTHING on this one.  The dynamics between the soft, loud and even vast distance in space within this presentation is literally amazing and like in the video section above, is nothing short of reference.  The spatial and dimensionality of this track, not to mention the impact of debris and clashing of bodies throughout never loosens its grips on you here.  And wow!  That score.  It literally gives you chills.  It will get under your nerves and cause anxiety.  Imagine Hans Zimmer Joker themes on steroids and that’s the razor like tension this score produces.  I actually had to turn this track down twice.  It’s that sonically powerful.
  • Low Frequency Extension: From bouncing off space vessels to the satellite debris crashing into you, your subwoofer will get an exhilarating workout from this one.  The first explosion rocked my house and nearly scared the crap out my dog, Isis, who never returned to the living room after that.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: Wow!  I really don’t even know what to say in this section that I have not said already above.  Rest assured, your rear speakers will be working equally as hard as your front ones.  This is the most immersed you can be other than sitting in the IMAX presentation of this bad boy.  Like the Wolf to the Three Little Pigs, the audio here will huff, puff and blow your house down.
  • Dialogue Reproduction: Interestingly enough, the dialog fluctuates throughout, but in a good way as it reacts and changes dynamically to produce varying levels of distance between characters and certain onscreen events.

Gravity 1

Extras 

If the reference audio and video presentations detailed above don’t do it for you, then maybe these Blu-ray special features might.  Anyone that reads my reviews knows that I generally care little whether or not a Blu-ray disc has wealth of extras.  After all, I buy the Blu-ray for the movie, not for any extras that may or may not be present in its package.  However, that mindset all changes today with what we have here below.  Are you fascinated by space travel, what it’s like to survive doing so and what’s out there in the vast blackness like me?  How about pushing the boundaries in filmmaking?  If you answered yes to the both of those, then you’re in good company.  While sadly Gravity does not contain any director commentary or anything audio commentary related for that matter, what it does offer is a wealth of knowledge.  You get to go behind the scenes from pre-production to post as we witness the birth of technology that was not viable before, robots and most of all the teamwork to churn out this “heavenly” product.  Complete with an Ultraviolet Digital HD redemption code and hours of Blu-ray extras and featurettes, feast your eyes on a review below that proves I ACTUALLY watched these and I’m delivering the goods.  Enjoy!

  • Gravity: Mission Control (HD, 1:46:36) – The first section of behind-the-scenes featurettes contains 9 different segments that we’ll address individually down below.  You can choose to play them separately or all at once via the Play All option.  I think like myself, you’ll be amazed to see how much of this film is completely done digital and the technology employed to make this.
    • It Began With A Story (HD, 16:21) – We are told that the film we see today is word for word and scene for scene how the original script was written by Alfonso and Jonas.  George Clooney and Sandra Bullock discuss what drew them to the project.  Alfonso talks about the tension, suspense and primal experience of the film and the emotional journey it will take the audience on.  In other words…one hell of a roller coaster ride, right?!  The script grew from the image of an astronaut drifting aimlessly in space.  Themes such as adversity were developed first and then a road map was built.  This is interesting stuff here folks.  Watch it!
    • Initial Challenges: Long Shots and Zero G (HD, 10:12) – Alfonso jokes at how he once said that Gravity would be a very simple film to make, and that was four and a half years ago.  LOL.  This one addresses how they were going to achieve zero gravity realistically unlike it has ever been done in a narrative film.  They also discuss the lingering camera shots and how it’s not cheating like fast cuts and the long shots versus the closeups, which they did their best to balance.  It was really cool to check out NASA’s plane that achieves zero gravity for about 20 seconds during its free fall.  And we all know 20 seconds was not going to work for the shots in Gravity.  We also get a little learning lesson on the explanation of micro gravity and how it affects the body and floating before going over to animation to see how some of the long continuous shots were achieved.
    • Previsualizing Gravity (HD, 11;38) – We start out by watching test subjects on wires as well as adorned in mo-caps.  Then…eureka!  The idea of CG was brought up.  The idea of a pre-viz would be pivotal for Alfonso to set up his camera moves and the choreography of the cameras with the characters.  Interestingly enough, every single shot of the film was laid out via a pre-viz or in other words pre-programmed.  Lighting was also taken into consideration in the pre-viz trials too.  Even robots were used for accuracy, speed and complexity of movement!  This stuff is amazing!  It generates smooth shots that could never be done before.
    • The Hues of Space (HD, 10:41) – Here we talk about lighting and how a large percentage of Gravity is pre-lit within the computer.  Virtual lighting gives you complete control.  The placement of continents on the Earth from the distance was also always in consideration. At the altitude in which Gravity takes place it takes only 90-minutes to rotate around the Earth and so within the movie they make two rotations around the globe.  How interesting is this stuff?  Hell yeah!  We even get to see Sandra laugh when she sees a gold lit sign that reads Sandra’s Cage.  LOL.
    • Physical Weightlessness (HD, 7:48) – The biggest challenge of the film was achieving the lack of “gravity.”  They talk about how different scenes used different techniques, there was not only one.  Training was intense for Sandra as she spent 6 days a week in the gym for this very physical role.  She says that every single body part is used to achieve zero gravity.  We get to see many of the different kind of rigs employed throughout the film.  Once again…this is amazing content!
    • Space Tech (HD, 13:02) – The movie’s intent was to keep it current and grounded in reality of today’s technology.  They talk about the employment of virtual sets first rather than physical ones in traditional kinds of films.  It’s amazing how all the props, for lack of a better term, were all virtualized and how the process of prop placing was done because it’s not like you can really touch them if you know what I mean.  We also get to see the space suits up close as well as the helmets.  Incredibly enough, Sandra was shown how to really execute the space craft controls to achieve that credibility factor.  I like that!
    • Sandra and George: A Pair In Space (HD, 9:37) – Sandra and George do goof off a lot, huh?  This is kind of heartwarming watching the behind-the-scenes chemistry between the pair.  It’s interesting to hear about Sandra’s vision of the role and how she wanted to look in it.  You have to like that about her, at least I do.  It’s also amazing to see everything that’s CG around them as well as their suits.  You can tell Sandra was happy to work with George.  She even describes him as the circus is coming to town when she saw on the schedule he would arrive in two weeks.  They both have a wicked sense of humor and play off each other.  I guess you can say this one is almost like a blooper reel too.  LOL.  We even get to see the last day of filming!  Alfonso jumps right in…into the water tank!
    • Final Animation (HD, 15:01) – I keep using the word amazing, but I can’t help it.  We now return to the editing room where we see how every performance is compared to the pre-viz to make sure it matches completely.  The animation they use has to be completely organic with the faces along with the movement of cloth, etc.  They also go over the CG lighting employed throughout the film and the layers that go into a composite.  How do I get a job doing this?!  Even the stars in the background (120,000 of them) are mostly accurate as to where they would actually be.  Five hundred terabytes were used for rendering.  Can you say holy sh1t?!  It took three months to re-render the opening shot!
    • Complete Silence (HD, 12:13) – Did you know that in space there is nothing to carry sound, no air pressure?  They explore how they will have sound in certain scenes and decided they would do it through touch, whatever Sandra’s character touched through the vibrations.  They were recorded through contact mics and vibration microphones.  The anxiety you get from the film are due to the breaths and heartbeats.  It’s pretty ingenious, huh?  The film’s composer, Steven Price, also chimes in on how to create the score in a fully immersive surround experience.  The music needs to be going around with the onscreen action.  I think they pulled that off brilliantly, don’t you?  You get a sense of an impact through music without ever really hearing a bang.  And wait until you see how this score was created.  One word comes to mind for me.  Can you guess what it is?  Yep.  That’s right!  Amazing!
  • Shot Breakdowns (HD, 36:48) – This is the second section of behind-the-scenes featurettes that contains 5 different segments that we’ll address individually down below.  You can choose to play them separately or all at once via the Play All option.  These are basically a break down of key shots and elements in the film and what all went into making it possible.
    • Behind the Visor (HD, 6:50) – This one examines the visor in the helmet and how difficult it was to make it real.  They could not shoot with a real visor because it would be reflecting the film studio.  They obviously shot without a visor, but they did end up putting fingerprints on it, smudges, etc. to make the final rendered visor to have enough reflections to make it look realistic, but still see the faces of our actors.
    • Fire in the International Space Station (HD, 5:42) – This one takes a closer look at Sandra on both the 2-wire and 12-wire rig and the shots utilized to achieve the fire scene within the space station.  No small detail gets by Sandra as she even recalls the pre-viz and instructs the crew on how she thinks it should go.  I have gained a lot of respect for her after watching all these special features.
    • Dr. Stone’s Rebirth (HD, 7:54) – This is that pivotal shot where it almost says reversing life, albeit Sandra’s strapped into a bicycle seat.  No joke!  I call it her fetus position, but tomatoes toe-ma-toes, right?  This is probably one of the most iconic shots of the film here.  No doubt!
    • The Sound of Action in Space (HD, 7:55) – The most difficult part of the scoring process was the action cues because of the fact that as we talked about above, there’s no sound in space.  And because of that, there’s no reason for certain music to exist so you need to convey action scenes, for example, in different ways and in different textures.  There’s no doubt about it.  I love what they have done here.
    • Splashdown (HD, 8:24) – And here’s where our journey/ride comes to a stop, Sandra’s final descent down to our beloved planet.  It’s “amazing” how they used this balloon to take high resolution pictures from the stratosphere.  Hot damn!  Absolutely amazing!  I’ve learned a lot from these special features.  You want to see how they made the final scenes?  If so, then you’ve come to the right place here!  I enjoyed this one very much seeing the difficulties Sandra had breathing under water, not that she did, but how they combatted those problems of needing air.  And wow…the ending scene really is the rebirth of life.
  • Collision Point: The Race To Clean Up Space (HD, 22:28) – This is a documentary that’s narrated by actor Ed Harris that focuses on the multitude of pieces of man-made debris that currently orbits the Earth.  The moral of the story is if humans don’t act to clean up the space around our planet, something similar to the events that happened in the film “could” potentially happen, and catastrophic events “could” knock out our GPS and communication satellites.  Can you imagine a world with useless Android phones all over the place?  LOL.  Of course you can!  We live in it.  Sorry.  I won’t do that again.  There’s even an interview with Don Kessler, the man whose theory supposedly  inspired the filmmakers to make the movie.  Quite interesting, huh?  Check it out!
  • Aningaaq (HD, 10:11) – This is a  short film by Jonas Cuaron that you can select to Play or Play With Introduction.  It’s nothing more than ten-minute short that chronicles the radio conversation from the fisherman’s point of view that Bullock’s character indadvertedly contacts while aboard the one escape capsule.
  • Film Festivals – Quite simply, this is a list of all the film festivals in which Gravity was an official selection.
  • DVD (SD) – Here you have a standard definition copy of the film perfect for those long drives to keep the kiddies busy in the mini van.  Don’t worry, parents.  Sandra only said the F-word once.
  • Digital HD (HD) – The redemption code found inside the Blu-ray case gives you an Ultra Violet Digital Copy that will be available for streaming and download to watch anywhere in high definition and standard definition on your favorite devices from select digital retailers including Amazon, CinemaNow, Flixster, PlayStation, Target Ticket, Vudu, Xbox and others.

Summary 

I think I did my job up above, albeit efficiently too.  Just like the million of stars in the night sky, I think I gave you a million and one reasons why you NEED to own Gravity on the Blu-ray format.  But on the odd chance you forgot them all let me highlight 5 MAIN reasons why you HAVE to own this on Blu-ray before I blast off and tackle another review in a galaxy far away.

1. The story!

2. Reference Video!

3. Demo Audio!

4. Hours of “informative” extras!

5. Because I said so!

Own Gravity on Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and 2-disc DVD Special Edition February 25th by pre-ordering here.

 

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Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

5 Responses to “Gravity (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Very well done Brian!

  2. Kori Kemerer

    I know you and I just watched this the other night, but after reading your review I am going to have to pop it in the PS4 tonight for another go round. Awesome job!!

  3. thompson69

    Thanks for the great review! I guess I won’t be able to replicate IMAX experience at my home theatre, but I just have to own that movie regardless. By the way, I got my 3D Bluray for only $19 at Walmart.com.

  4. Gerard Iribe

    Yessir, this was a great film. Alfonso Cuaron can do no wrong! Props to his kid for co-writing the script, too!

  5. Brandon Peters

    Finally got to this. This is a fantastic review. You’ve truly complimented the film and covered this release better than any review on the interwebs. Fantastic job!