[img]http://www.blu-raystats.com/img_cvr/Gravity_883929244577_500.jpg[/img]Releasing/Participating Studio(s): Warner Bros.
Disc/Transfer Information: Region Free; 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 (Original Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1)
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (21.82 Mbps)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz, 16-bit)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Let me preface this review by saying I was as stoked as anyone to see Gravity as soon as the initial trailers prefaced some other titles I was reviewing as a coming attraction; the premise seemed not only terrifying but ripe to be explored perfectly by the right kind of filmmaker: A scientist working in space is forced out into the vastness of the stars after an accident of some kind destroys the mission she’s on – along with the other NASA astronauts and scientists – forcing her to stay alive and somehow make it on her own with nothing but the security of her spacesuit to protect her from the reaches of gravity and other heavenly obstacles. The trailers for this film were spectacular and expertly done, gripping us by the throats (as viewers) and tossing us into the pure panic, chaos and breath-sapping terror this scientist (Sandra Bullock) would have to face in the cold infinite wasteland of outer space – alone and with no space craft of any kind to return to Earth. What we got, in the final product as a film put forth by Alfonso Cuaron and Warner Brothers, was nothing of the kind – while taut, nail-biting and downright frightening in certain places (especially the sequences involving Bullock’s character running out of oxygen in her space suit which were particularly unsettling), Gravity wasn’t nearly the terror/space vehicle I hoped it would be. In fact, it pretty much bored me and my wife after about a half hour into it. What went wrong? What was the problem? Better yet – why was this consistently called “The Best Movie of the Year?” by so many?
I’m still trying to figure that last one out. As for the rest, the primary problem, as I saw it, was considering all the publicity hoopla this film garnered, there really wasn’t much going on – sure, Bullock’s character is stranded alone in the graveyard of space, forced to find her way onto two desolate, damaged space stations in a desperate attempt to get back on Earth. But the lack of cast here (I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I actually spotted Ed Harris, who is on the official cast roster, anywhere -- or his voice) and the fact that George Clooney’s character isn’t in this for very long (a cheap trick utilized by some filmmakers headlining certain actors in a role and then mysteriously killing them off before the second act even arrives a la Steven Seagal in Executive Decision) coupled with the fact that this seemed to be a mere solo vehicle for Bullock left a bad taste in my mouth. And, quite honestly, at a running time just a tick under 90 minutes (not counting the end credits sequence), the whole thing felt unnecessarily brief and “shallow,” making me wonder why Cuaron couldn’t even include some kind of buildup backstory to explain the characters or how they got into their ordeal miles above the Earth. I mean, the film was only an hour and a half, so why couldn’t it have been stretched to include some on-Earth sequences involving the scientists, astronauts, etc. before they go on their mission? The film felt abrupt and empty to me in this way. The entire film –save for the last couple of end minutes when Bullock’s character makes her way to civilization somewhere on the planet after crash-landing in a Chinese space station escape craft – takes place in space, which gets a bit suffocating and claustrophobic in nature and atmosphere after awhile (which I suppose was the point here), rendering Gravity the kind of motion picture you really wouldn’t reach for to watch over and over again.
Without explaining anything with regard to why seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) or Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) are orbiting Earth and floating just outside a NASA shuttle, Gravity goes right for the throat in the opening sequence by first including some on-screen titles detailing the dangers of “life in space” and the fact that it’s so quiet because there’s no way for sound to travel to then slowly focusing on the NASA astronauts and the scientist on their current mission. As Bullock’s Stone character fumbles about with some electrical panels as part of her “studies” up there and Clooney’s Kowalsky character zooms around in circles using his powered space suit to drift playfully about the exterior of the shuttle this way and that, suddenly NASA makes a surprise announcement that a Russian satellite, as blown up by the Russians themselves with a missile, has thrown copious amounts of debris into space and they’re hurtling their way. Before they can even reel themselves into the shuttle, the emergency becomes insanely real as the debris arrives in a wave, smashing the shuttle into bits and killing everyone except for Stone and Kowalsky (a sequence eerily similar to the opening scene of Armageddon during the meteor shower). Stone, without much space experience, is whipped around on the chair platform she was working on during the debris field attack, causing her to go into a total panic as she’s ripped free from the platform and begins tumbling out into space. Kowalsky, meanwhile, desperately attempts to keep her focused by communicating with her through the space suits and tries to steer his suit towards her position, the lack of gravity forcing both of them to tumble about without any real course to steer by.
As the two finally come together and tether themselves with a cord, Stone and the veteran astronaut attempt to make their way towards the International Space Station off in the distance circling Earth’s surface. But there are some daunting challenges – first, Stone’s suit is running out of oxygen, quickly, and Kowalsky has estimated that yet another debris field wave is due to hit in the next 90 minutes, which will again throw them out of any kind of logical orbit if they even survive the wave itself. As Stone begins to panic again due to her lack of breathable oxygen – which is slowly and steadily turning into toxic carbon monoxide – Kowalsky continues trying to keep her focused on her life back on Earth (which isn’t that great given that she’s lost her only child) and other tactics to help her conserve her space suit’s air supply. As the two make their way around Earth’s atmosphere towards the ISS, another debris field hits them, crippling the station even more and sending Kowalsky rocketing into space (this is after Stone attempts to save him by holding on to the cord connecting them). Now, Stone is totally on her own with nothing but Kowalsky’s voice to talk her through getting onto the space station and surviving whatever comes next. This was curious to me, but I didn’t understand why Kowalsky had to “float into space” at this point; was it because his suit didn’t have any more power to maneuver with the jets? Why couldn’t Stone have merely pulled him in by the tether cord so the two of them could go on together? This was a bit hazy to me.
Of course, Stone’s ridiculously bad day continues to get worse when the International Space Station is rendered unstable from a fire that breaks out from within it – once she gets onboard, strips her space suit off to reveal Bullock’s toned, taut figure in ridiculously tight bicycle shorts and a tank top and makes her way throughout the abandoned station – forcing her to make her way to, now, a Chinese space station that’s also been horrifically damaged by the debris fields (all of this got tiring and a bit daunting to watch after awhile; I mean, we get it: No one is coming to rescue this chick and she has to fend for herself, but to jump from space station to space station and continuously make her way out of nearly impossible conditions as space stations and satellites are getting viciously destroyed all around her?). Somehow, someway Stone manages to avoid being terminally hit by any of the rampaging pieces of debris still showering down around her regularly (another curious oddity to me) while figuring out how to detach an escape craft from the Chinese station in an attempt to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere even though it appears the craft has no heat shield to protect it from the re-entry burn. In between, Stone begins to hallucinate aboard the Chinese “vessel” as brain asphyxia and other issues start to kick in from the exhaustion and everything else she’s been through (including a duel with a giant parachute, part of the Chinese station, that was damaged by the debris field and which had her escape ship tangled up), leading to her hearing what she thinks are Chinese voices perhaps back on Earth or on another space craft as well as a visual hallucination of Kowalsky who “joins” her in the escape craft and tells her how she needs to get out of this mess.
Taking it as a kind of “spiritual sign” by the deceased Kowalsky – after she snaps out of her hallucination and noticed he was never in the seat next to her – Stone prepares the craft for re-entry as the pieces of the Chinese station that are left and her craft begin to hurdle downwards towards Earth’s atmosphere (why this is occurring isn’t explained, either). What follows from this point on was a real mystery and a letdown from my perspective, but I’ll let all of you who have not yet seen Gravity decide for yourselves. Here’s what I do know: It seemed odd to have, when the end credits sequence arrived, merely two actors’ names on the screen as the main (if not all) players in a film, and George Clooney wasn’t given nearly enough screen time. Further, Bullock looked different – yet still physically amazing – here what with her new short haircut and a somewhat older, distinguished appearance. My wife thought she looked terrible – I thought she looked pretty good.
[img]http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/2013/10/gravity_still_a_l.jpg[/img]VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
Warner has hit another one out of the park on its Blu-ray release of this most eagerly-anticipated title in terms of video quality – from the opening frames depicting the almost razor-sharp edges of Earth’s atmosphere as the space shuttle comes into focus to the depth of the blacks in space, this was a rock-solid transfer. The 2.40:1 image really stood out in the moments depicting Earth’s cloud cover patterns as seen from above its surface and all the imagery of our incredible planetary body; these were rendered in high definition clarity we’ve all come to expect of the format at this point.
Of course, being that the entire run time of Gravity takes place in outer space – except for, as I said earlier, the final closing scene – there really wasn’t much to judge on in terms of contrast separation, color gradations, stylistic technique renderings, et al; the blacks of space remained constant and rich throughout while skin tones and facial details looked about as best they could as viewed through the characters’ space helmets. In this way, Gravity was a difficult one to judge in the video transfer area; all in all, it did what it was supposed to do in adding to the almost surreal terror-laden circumstances the characters find themselves in, mainly Bullock’s Dr. Stone. The scenes depicting her in the abandoned space stations and space crafts were eerily cold, stark and dreary as she floated around the gravity-less corridors searching for life or an escape, the Blu-ray transfer exhibiting the correct color tone in these shots.
Likewise, shadow detailing in these space station sequences were accurate from my perspective with perhaps a bit of black crush but nothing to administer a poor rating for the picture quality here. Given the subject material for the majority of Gravity’s run time, the Blu-ray transfer from Warner was effective and solid. When the action shifts to brightly-lit Earth locales in the closing frame of the film, the transfer gets a brief chance to open up and strut its stuff with rich, golden, sun-kissed hues, bright foliage greens and ripe detail in mud and earth as Stone crawls her way from a body of water to the edge of a muddy shore.
[img] http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/underwire/2013/10/original-1.jpg[/img]AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
This was a difficult one to analyze, given the overtly complex and, at times, downright odd sound design here (this isn’t your everyday, garden variety action soundtrack) – though it Is accepted that there is no sound whatsoever in outer space, it’s suggested during a number of key sequences in Gravity that there are indeed pounds, echoes, bangs and all sorts of stuff goin’ on up there amongst the space rubble and chaos. The English DTS-HD Master Audio track by Warner here is a mixed bag – when the sequences involved astronauts and Bullock’s scientist character flying about, crashing into one another and whatever pieces of the NASA space shuttle were left, the track responded with astounding wallops of bass and huge bang effects from the front channels. With minimalist score, the track was otherwise hushed and desolate, feeding the illusion that Clooney and Bullock were both indeed floating out of our atmosphere (of course, there had to be some sound work here otherwise we’d have a silent film).
Beyond the LFE strikes from time to time as characters floated this way and that about space, bumping and crashing into things and each other as they desperately attempted to stabilize their course, the track exhibited some wild surround and panning usage – some of it downright startling at times. As the astronauts communicated with each other via their spacesuits, their voices through the intercom systems followed logical directional lines all over the soundstage – you could make out George Clooney’s voice move from, say, the front right channel over your head to the right surround, and then suddenly hear it move over you again where it ended up in the front somewhere. There was some really creative sound work buried in this mix. The same effect applied to Bullock’s voice as it made its way about the room based on where the characters were “floating” in space on screen.
There were some moments I questioned in terms of directionality, such as when certain characters are talking to others off in the distance of space, and it seemed as though the choice of speaker placement was a bit odd. Also, the opening sequence of the film, in which the vastness of space surrounding Earth is on full display and the space shuttle is slowly coming into focus, was accompanied by a somewhat hushed, difficult-to-understand dialogue delivery stream and technique, no doubt made even more difficult by the fact that the engineers were going for a realistic portrait of life and communication in space. The actors, whether it was Clooney or Bullock or some of the backgrounders, were speaking to one another via their space suit communication devices in a nearly silent fashion, practically unintelligible until the scene finally comes into full stable focus and we see what’s going on. This was undoubtedly, as I said, for realistic effect – but I just wanted to point it out.
Again, I really wanted to like this one. For all its hype and hoopla, to say nothing of the gushing of positive accolades it received from the public and the critic circuit, Gravity, no real pun intended, fell flat to me. The story gets tiring after awhile, just watching a couple of people – and then just one – float about in space, attempting to land on something – anything – in order to somehow get back to Earth. The brevity of the narrative begs the question of why the filmmakers couldn’t introduce some kind of Earth-bound backstory here to explain how the characters got to where they were; I believe it would have lent a welcome element to the structure and would have broken up the monotony of the seemingly endless space sequences. I don’t really see this providing any real replay value with its rather depressing overtones and hints of desperatism for survival – i.e. the gasping for oxygen in the suits, the helplessness of drifting aimlessly through space – so I can’t recommend this as a buy. It is a good rental for the curious.
But what say you about it?
There were a bunch of R-rated titles that came and went that I couldn’t review for you guys – Wolf of Wall Street, You’re Next, Best Man’s Holiday – and I’m sorry about that.