Blu-ray Review Drama

Zero-G Blu-ray Review: Gravity

February 25, 2014Ben MK

  Share on Tumblr  
      Delicious Add to Delicious  

Hope floats

By Ben Mk

Space — decades ago it was considered to be the final frontier, but we've already been able to journey across its coldest depths at speeds faster than light, touch down in the farthest corners of the galaxy and glimpse the wonders of alien cities on distant worlds. All made possible with a ticket to the movies, that is. But just when it seems that the art of filmmaking has finally caught up with our collective imagination, along comes an experience like Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, which shows us space as we've never seen it before.

What goes up must come down — it's a simple, earthbound truth, but the logic (like everything else) holds precisely zero weight in space. Decades after mankind first began its quest to conquer that final frontier — and thousands of manned and unmanned space missions later — we find our planet surrounded by millions of pieces of orbiting debris, comprised of everything from the remnants of jettisoned rocket components to dead satellites. In Gravity, screenwriting duo Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón take this unsettling science fact and transform it into thrilling science fiction by considering an all too possible nightmare scenario: what if there was a collision among all of this space junk, and what if humans were caught in the middle of it?

STS-157 Mission Commander Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney) and Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) are two of the unfortunate souls who find themselves caught up in this terrifying turn of events. 600 kilometers above the surface of the Earth, they and the crew of the Shuttle Explorer are on a mission to install a new system into the Hubble Space Telescope when NASA Mission Control in Houston relays disturbing news — a missile strike targeting a Russian satellite has resulted a massive cloud of debris, and it's moving towards their position at 20,000 miles an hour. Within mere moments, both the shuttle and the Hubble are violently battered by a storm of high-speed space scrap, sending Stone hurtling off into the void, with Kowalski chasing after (and eventually finding) her. But their reunion is only the beginning of their fight for survival. Adrift and tethered to one another, equipped with only the spacesuits on their backs and a dwindling supply of oxygen, the pair of survivors must draw upon their inner strength and ingenuity if they hope to ever feel the ground beneath their feet again.

Every aspect of Gravity serves to highlight the minimalist aesthetic to which the elder Cuarón has hewed in crafting the film. The entire experience has been distilled to its most basic elements, from the exceptionally simple premise to the fact that Clooney and Bullock are the only two actors that see any significant screen time. A fitting analogy would be to call the film Cast Away in space, with Bullock and Clooney in place of Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball. That's not, in any way, an attempt at equating Clooney's screen presence to that of a piece of sports equipment; but it drives home the point that — of the two of them — this is really Bullock's show. Her character is front and center at all times — and given the long stretches in which she's the sole human presence on-screen, the emotional gravitas of the storytelling hinges on the strength of her performance. Of course, that performance is bolstered by the film's spectacular visuals, which are nothing short of mesmerizing from start to finish. Alternating between moments of eerie tranquility — in the beautifully composed, near-silent vistas of Earth, as seen from the astronauts' point of view — and moments of adrenaline-pumping panic and exhilaration — as high-speed debris pummels everything in its path, in operatic ballets of destruction — Gravity is unquestionably one of the most visually arresting films of 2013.

The Blu-ray transfer is the perfect showcase for the film's astounding visuals, which features cinematography by Cuarón's frequent collaborator, Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki. Nearly every frame of Gravity is the culmination of endless hours of painstaking CGI work, and the transfer reproduces every pixel with exquisite clarity. Picture contrast is rock-solid throughout, and the fine details on spacesuits and spacecraft are consistently razor sharp. Even the tiniest flecks of debris and the thousands of points of light that form the starfields are always readily identifiable against the inky black depths of the omnipresent, infinite void. Audio-wise, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack impresses with its ability to be fully engrossing, despite being two channels short of the film's original theatrical sound mix. The filmmakers' unique approach towards Gravity's sound composition — dispensing with traditional sound design in favor of conveying the action via composer Steven Price's score — is faithfully represented in the powerhouse audio track, which adeptly reproduces the directional fluidity and sonic impact of the theatrical presentation.

Gravity launches onto Blu-ray with a head-spinning array of supplements. In addition to a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy of the film, the disc includes nearly three hours of HD special features — almost twice the length of the film itself. The bulk of it can be found in the exceedingly thorough, nine-part making-of documentary, Gravity: Mission Control, which touches on everything that curious minds might hope to find out about the film — including the origins of its story, the ten months spent previsualizing it in its entirety and the ingenious methods and technologies devised to create its seamless illusion of zero gravity. Next up is Shot Breakdowns, a five-part behind-the-scenes examination of how some of the film's noteworthy effects — such as the entirely CG visors on the spacesuits and an intense, fiery sequence set aboard the International Space Station — were created. There's also an exclusive documentary, called Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space, featuring narration by Ed Harris (who's also the voice of Mission Control in the film), that explains the the real-life environmental crisis behind the story. Finally, writer Jonás Cuarón presents his short film, Aningaaq, which portrays an alternate perspective of a scene in which Stone communicates, via radio, with a man named Aningaaq. The exhaustive set of special features also includes a somewhat odd entry: a listing of all the film festivals that named Gravity an official film selection in 2013. But, hey, when a film has been the official selection of as many festivals as this one has, it's worth taking note of — isn't it?

Is Gravity deserving of the heaps of praise that have been piled upon it? Absolutely. It's a genre-defying work of art that's as much about the minutiae of the human experience as it is about our place in the grand design of the universe. But above all else, it's a story of hope, survival and rebirth. The Blu-ray release features a stunning A/V presentation that's as close to the theatrical experience as one can possibly hope to get, and the special features leave no stone unturned for those eager to dive deep into the arduous process that was the making of the film, making Gravity on Blu-ray an absolute must-own title.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★★½

You May Also Like