Gravity (UK - BD)
Chris checks out the Blu-ray 3D release of Alfanso Cuarón's tense space thriller
Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) in command. But on a seemingly routine mission, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone—tethered to nothing but each other and spiralling out into the darkness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth… and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
Unfortunately we received our review copy of Gravity very late, so I haven't had as much time with it as I'd have liked. In order to cover the title as close to the release date as possible I've decided to skip directly to the technical appraisal.
Having seen the film theatrically earlier this year I can honestly say that no small-screen viewing is going to adequately capture the majesty of Gravity’s visuals. With that said, Warner Brothers' Blu-ray release is still a pretty great experience when viewed on a reasonably large HDTV. The 3D version of the film is presented at its original 2.40:1 ratio, encoded at 1080/24p via MVC.
Putting the scale aside, it’s a very similar experience to the theatrical screening I attended. Much of the screen is effectively black (aside from little white pinholes representing distant stars), which has the effect of emphasising what little colour there is. The sterile whites of the astronauts’ suits and the space shuttle sit in stark contrast to the endless void, while the gorgeous tracking shots of Earth showcase the blues, greens and browns of the planet’s surface. Elsewhere you’ll see lots of warm oranges in everything from the glare of the Sun to the orange solar panels of the ISS and the flames as various installations meet their fiery demise. Although somewhat dependant on the capabilities of one’s display, the blacks are wonderfully inky, without a hint of crush. There’s also plenty of detail in the image, particularly for a 3D presentation, which aren’t generally as sharp as good old fashioned 2D pictures. There’s also very little crosstalk, although again this is usually dependant on the display on which you’re viewing, so your mileage may vary. As for the 3D itself, well it’s not of the ‘things shoot out of the screen towards your face’ variety, but rather it is used for subtle depth. It’s very effective, sitting alongside films like Avatar and Life of Pi as one that truly makes use of the 3D format from a storytelling perspective, rather than as a means to inflate ticket prices. Finally, I saw no major issues with the encode; certainly nothing as egregious as has been suggested on some forums anyway.
Also included is a separate disc housing a 2D encode of the film at 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC). This presentation has the same basic characteristics as the 3D version, but obviously lacks the depth. The quality of the encode is up to the same high standards though, so while the 3D experience is probably the preferred one you shouldn’t feel too disappointed if you lack the necessary equipment. Simply put, Gravity looks fantastic in either format.
For some reason probably best known only to themselves, the decision makers at Warner have gone with a ‘plain old’ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound track, rather than the 7.1 track you might expect. I wasn’t bothered by this from a selfish point of view, because I’m only running 5.1 at home, but I can see why it might annoy the hell out of people with the necessary equipment. Even so, Gravity still has one hell of an impressive soundtrack.
The film’s sound design is takes the ‘less is more’ approach to sound in a vacuum, but it doesn’t go for total realism. There are effects, but the majority of these take the form of diegetic sound such as voices crackling over helmet radios, or the vibrations caused whenever the astronauts interact directly with their environments. As an example, during a sequence when Ryan is unscrewing a panel on the Hubble telescope you don’t hear the crystal clear sound of the drill, but rather he muffled sound of the vibrations travelling through her suit. If something occurs away from the astronauts, say for example the rogue satellite debris impacting on the space shuttle, it happens in complete silence. Well, I say complete silence, but that’s not entirely true. While there are no effects to speak of, during the scene in question (and others like it) the score is used for emotional impact. The end result is supremely effective, building slowly at the first hint of impending danger, kicking up a gear or two as the tension mounts, before finally exploding as all hell breaks loose.
The placement of effects in the soundstage is masterful, with each and every one of the channels used to create an unmatched sense of immersion. I was particularly impressed by the manner in which dialogue moves around relative to the characters’ positions. It’s the sort of thing that could sound gimmicky, but it never does. You could be forgiven for assuming that the outer space setting would preclude the inclusion of any noteworthy LFE, but this is not the case. Bass is an almost constant presence, underpinning a lot of the quieter moments with a gentle hum, but also providing solid oomph every time one of the characters is thrown against a solid structure. Scenes aboard the IIS, the Soyuz spacecraft and in Earth’s atmosphere are the recipients of more aggressive, traditional sound design than the rest of the picture, but are no less impressive.
As you’d expect, fidelity and dynamic range are excellent. About the only negative comment I have pertains to the dialogue, which is occasionally a little low relative to the other elements of the mix. The opening sequence is the biggest offender, and while I understand that the filmmakers probably intended for the dialogue to be indistinct due to the positioning of the characters in this scene (they’re a long way from the viewer’s point of view), I don’t remember having such difficulty with the dialogue when I saw it theatrically. Still, it’s a relatively minor gripe against what is easily the most atmospheric sound mix I’ve heard in recent memory. As good as Gravity looks, it sounds even better.
The 2D disc houses the bonus material, which clocks in at around three hours or so. Here’s a brief rundown of what you can expect to find on the disc:
- Gravity: Mission Control
- It Began with a Story
- Initial Challenges: Long Shots and Zero G
- Previsualizing Gravity
- The Hues of Space
- Physical Weightlessness
- Space Tech
- Sandra and George: A Pair in Space
- Final Animation
- Complete Silence
- Shot Breakdowns
- Behind The Visor
- Fire in the International Space Station
- Dr. Stone's Rebirth
- The Sound of Action in Space
- Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space
- Film Festivals
- Ultraviolet Digital Copy
‘Gravity: Mission Control’ is a feature-length, behind-the-scenes documentary comprised of nine sub-sections, which examines virtually every facet of the production. It’s not as cohesive or conversational as some documentaries, mainly because of its stop-start nature, but it is extremely informative. The are also five shot breakdowns, which take a look at the extensive CGI work used to generate the environments. The ‘Collision Point’ featurette (narrated by Ed Harris) examines the real-life problem of leaving tonnes of debris in orbit and the various plans to tackle the situation, while ‘Aningaaq’ is a short film shows the other side of the conversation between Ryan and an Inuit fisherman. Directed by Jonás Cuarón, it features an optional introduction from both him and his father, Alfonso. The ‘Film Festivals’ item is simply a list of the various festivals at which the film was screened. Finally, a code to redeem a copy of the film for your UV collection is also included.
Gravity is tense suspense/thriller and a technical tour de force to boot. The relatively simplistic setup makes for an accessible feature that can be taken purely at face value, but there is a surprising amount of depth in the form of repeating themes and visual metaphors. Personally I’m not entirely convinced that it will be revered as a genre classic in years to come, but there can be no denying its power to entertain or the sheer spectacle of it all.
Warner Brothers’ Blu-ray presentation is worthy of a film that just walked away with most of the major technical awards at this year’s Oscars, offering superb visuals in both 2D and 3D and a soundtrack that’s going to take some beating even this early in the year. The bonus material strikes a decent balance between information and entertainment, although I’m a little disappointed that the touted ‘silent space’ version of the feature never materialised. Even so, Gravity should be on every cinephile‘s ‘to watch’ list, and if you missed its theatrical run this Blu-ray is a very worthy substitute.
Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 3rd March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 German, Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese
Extras: Making of Documentary, Shot Breakdowns,
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alfanso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Length: 91 minutes
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