However a second viewing on Blu-ray in a much more intimate setting, with the screen and speakers closer and the audio separation more precise, elevated the film into a much higher orbit.
When I first saw Gravity (Filmstalker review) I had a few problems with it, one was the issue of the astronaut with seemingly no experience and next to no training suddenly being in space aboard the Space Shuttle and working on the Hubble Telescope, not only that but she was a medical officer to boot.
I struggled with this scenario but I struggled more with the fact that she seemed to forget her basic training such as breathe correctly and grab hold of something when flying past it, something I see as a human reflex more than training.
I also felt the strong male character supporting the weak female one was a little poor, I took umbrage at that but yet I understood the plot requirements for it and it helped the story, and to be fair the character is an enjoyable although brief one.
Still, despite all this I originally reviewed the film with four stars, and as you’ll know on Filmstalker that’s out of five, so it’s a good rating. What’s interesting is that now I’ve watched it at home, and in 2D after technical problems meant I’ve had to order a replacement part and forgo the 3D, I’ve decided to increase that review score and add the film to the Filmstalker Recommends.
You might wonder why that is, well that comes up in the review, but it’s not just because of viewing the film in 2D, it’s actually because of what comes with the Blu-ray.
Watching the Blu-ray at home, in 2D and on a big high-definition screen is amazing. I don’t know if there is more detail in each of the shots of Earth and space or if the level of detail was lost by the 3D process and glasses in the cinema, but what I do know is that these shots look amazing. Stunning is the word. They looked better than some of the real NASA footage we see from space. During these sequences I was mesmerised.
This level of detail carries through all the shots of space including the externals of the space stations which completely capture your imagination, there isn’t a second or a millimetre that doesn’t seem real, even when we see actors interacting with them. So often in films the CG models can look perfect but when you see a character working with them, whether that be a CG, model or real person, something about the shot suddenly breaks your belief in the reality of the moment. This does not happen with Gravity, not for a single second.
Second time around I have to admit that the issues I originally had with the film were lessened, or perhaps they were overpowered by other elements of the film – the visuals, the appreciation of the driving story and the relentless pace, and the audio.
I'll go into the audio in a little more detail later on but suffice to say that Gravity really does show off the audio capabilities of a home cinema, sweeping the sound around the viewer and moving as much as the camera does. The audio really does stand out as one of the strongest elements of the film.
For me the weaker elements are still there though, the female astronaut who seems to have no training what so ever and the male astronaut who is the calm and knowledgeable retiring astronaut, and a new area that annoyed me a little, the speech before reentry - I don't know about you but at that point we see her I would be worrying about getting everything organised for the landing. Of course some of these cliches do contribute something to the overall story, they don't just stand out as boldly as they did on the cinematic viewing but here I felt the other elements of the film have stepped up to attract my attention more, and not just in the visual and the audio departments but also in the story.
It's strange to say this without a real explanation but I felt more connected to the character during this viewing than I did in the cinema. Again perhaps that was down to losing the barrier of the 3D or maybe it was the more intimate surroundings of my home cinema that allowed me so much closer to the character. After all there are a lot of intimate and alone moments with the character and being in a more cocooned and space like environment myself could have facilitated those feelings. Whatever the reason I did feel much more connected to Doctor Stone than I had done before.
The story is as exciting as I remembered it with tension and suspense running high along with an uncertainty of what could possibly happen next. I loved the way that it all seemed hopeless and insurmountable at one point but that the character fought inch by inch for their survival and return.
That reminds me, the imagery, not just the visuals but the actual imagery in the film and the script is superb. I didn't really credit that enough in the first viewing but here I recognise so much more and applaud it for the way it tells these stories and engages the audience. Of course there's something else that with retrospect I would say are a strong reason to get this Blu-ray, and that's the extras. They provide a wealth of information and not just in the normal way of one or two featurettes without that much to say, feeling like small marketing videos than anything else. Here the extras are relevant and filled with interesting information that really did change my perception of the film, even after the second viewing, and for the better.
The visuals for Gravity are stunning and when you get the exteriors onto your big television you'll be blown away. The details and the colouring are wondrous in these shots and you only have to watch the opening scene , any of the shots of Earth or the exterior of the space stations will just amaze you. Everything from the tone to the lighting is fantastic and looks so realistic. A surprise then to hear that it's almost entirely CG.
DTS-HD MA 7.1
With DTS-HD Master Audio and eight speakers in the room the movement of the audio track was a spectacular addition to the film and something I hadn’t truly appreciated while in the cinema. When you are sitting in a smaller room with every speaker precisely set-up for your seating location the audio lifts itself up to become one of the key aspects of the film sitting alongside with the cinematography.
The audio sweeps around with the action and is constantly moving, matching and contrasting the camera to deliver a completely separate dimension to the film that isn’t a third. It isn't a small statement when I say that this is one of the better audio tracks I've listened to on a film. Here the dynamic and vibrant score and effects track adds a lot of depth and emotional layering to the film.
If I am to be honest it was really the extras that elevated this film for me. I know that sounds strange considering the main feature hasn't been altered from the original, and technically I should have liked the film just as much or less, but not more, but that was the case. What these extras did was to explain about how large and complex the film actually is, particularly the effects shots, and there's where it hits home just how much of this film is actually achieved through the effects. It's fascinating to watch and understand the work that went into developing the filming techniques such as the light box or the rigs to rotate the camera, lighting and actor all independently, and just how much effort went into recreating space and weightlessness.
I think that it's fair to say the extras on this disc are amongst the most comprehensive and engaging I've seen. Actually I think it's better to say it's the success hit rate of these extras that really makes them stand out so well for there's only one extra that I was a little bored with and felt was the standard featurette, the rest were packed with information and had me wanting for more.
Behind the Scenes
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
All these extras are fantastic. Packed full of fascinating insights into the making of the film and the technologies behind it, the things that were made specifically for this filming and the work involved in merging in the CG so realistically. I can't stress enough how interesting these are and how much it changes your perception, and understanding, of the film. It isn't the case that you watch the extras and it feels like a separate experience, which is most often the case, here watching them really does feed back to the experience of the film and it definitely makes you want to watch the film again.
Shot Breakdowns - Behind the Visor; Fire in the International Space Station; Dr. Stone's Rebirth; The Sound of Action in Space; Splashdown
Another great set of extras that reveal all manner of details from the script to the stage to the screen. What's interesting is how much we learn about the story through some of the insights offered by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón discussing the imagery and the why and how of the story.
Documentary: Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space
A fascinating short documentary that reveals some of the problems of space junk and the effort that is required to clean up the orbits around Earth.
Aningaaq - Short Film by Jonás Cuarón
A short film that had me confused to begin with but understanding suddenly hits when you hear the voice and realise that this is an untold section of the film. I'd have loved to have seen a section where you could play this along with the actual scene for comparison.
A screen showing the accolades received from film festivals on the way to release.
Gravity is a fantastic film which on second viewing on a home cinema Blu-ray system has elevated itself over the cinema 3D screening. The experience of the audio and visuals in a much more intimate and controlled area makes you realise just how amazing both these aspects of the film are, particularly the audio which sweeps around you with the constantly moving camera and really does act as a major aspect of the film. I felt much closer to the character and far more engaged in her journey out with the cinema and on Blu-ray the audio and visuals are stunningly detailed and vibrant.
I also felt that the ideas and imagery behind the story were much more accessible and through the experience of the extras I learned much more about the intentions of some of the themes and scenes such as rebirth and evolution.
While there are some minor niggles with the story, which felt much larger in the cinematic setting, it is an exciting and engaging one that will surprise you at a number of points. Taking you from the darkness of despair to the realisation of how amazing our lives on this planet can be. I know that can sound clichéd but you really do feel the emotion of the character's decision to fight and that final, wonderfully conceived and shot scene.
One more thing to add regarding the film itself and that's just how strong Sandra Bullock is in the film, and while I found the character a little too weak for half of the film, she really holds me during the later emotional moments.
Finally the extras require a mention because they add a great deal to the film on the Blu-ray offering. They give a greater understanding of just how amazing the achievements in filming Gravity were. The film looked and sounded so great and the effects were so believable, you do end up taking them for granted. Watch the extras and you'll not only be amazed again at the film but you'll also learn things about the story you may not have realised at first.