Gravity is only the second-ever film I’ve gone to see twice at the cinema on its initial run. The other one was… erm… Die Hard 2, but hey, back in 1990 you weren’t ever going to get a full widescreen video for some time, so the only way to experience all the action was on the big screen.
When it comes to Gravity, yes, widescreen is the default standard, but the experience with this film is quite like no other, as you’ll discover if you saw it in the cinema. The first time, I saw it in conventional 3D, but the second, I just had to make the trip to the Manchester IMAX to see it in the best way I ever will. I sat at the back and was blown away.
Watching it on the small screen… it’s still an incredible work of art. My TV is 50″ and I just had to watch it while standing up, thoroughout, eyes transfixed on the screen from start to finish. I don’t do that very often – in fact I’ve only done it for this, Life of Pi and Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, when it was broadcast on the now-defunct BBC HD Red Button.
Gravity deserves every one of its six BAFTAs and seven Oscars. These include Best Director but not Best Picture, the latter of which went to 12 Years A Slave in both cases. I haven’t seen that film yet, but those who make the decisions tend to give one of each to two different films when there’s a year where they can’t pick one over the other.
There’s a lack of the titular component in Gravity because it’s set in space.
That I knew. But what I didn’t know until I saw it was that it’s less a film and more an experience. Very few films that have 3D content actually use it in an engaging way, but this one has it in spades. I had a feeling it would be a visual feast because director Alfonso Cuarón‘s Children of Men was a wonder to behold. Amidst the dystopian future, the one thing which eventually struck you was that two scenes ran as a single take for around 20-25 minutes apiece. So you’re not only admiring the film for what it does, but also the way in which is constructed. And we weren’t just talking a couple of actors having a conversation, but large numbers of people onscreen at certain points. If one of them had giggled then you’d be back to square one. I’d love to know how many takes of each scene were required…
Anyway, coming back to the present day and a couple of actors having a conversation is exactly what you have here. However, early on, a lot of the conversation seems inconsequential. Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a one of those technical people who is required, in this case, to attach a new scanning device onto the Hubble telescope, while surprised by regular stargazer Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who enthuses about how much he loves the sunrise from up there, while she is just happy to have completed her first spacework.
Unfortunately, for them, Houston confirm (with a voice provided by Ed Harris) that a stack of space debris is on the way. Without going into too much detail about what happens next, things are not what you’d class as plain sailing and they have to abort their mission and head over to the nearby International Space Station, with Stone rather concerned that there’s a long distance to ‘jetpack’ from A to B while her oxygen supplies are depleting fast.
What you’ll have seen so far, and what follows is an incredible piece of filmmaking. It’s a work of art. It delivered in terms of the spectacle and also in suspense from start to finish, bar about 10 mins to introduce the characters which is fine. If you’ve seen the clip of Sandra Bullock being thrown about after the space debris comes to town, you’ll have seen a taster of what’s to come as that happens quite early on. A particular treat included the occasions when the camera focused on Sandra Bullock’s face, for example, then swung round without you realising, putting you inside her helmet to see everything as she saw it, one of which included the trip to the I.S.S. as they’re tethered together, Clooney in front, so the camera jerks about as per the path they take.
Gravity throws up some surprises along the way, but at 91 minutes is not too brief and not too long. In fact, it’s just right. I often think that around 105 minutes is an optimum length for a film, but had things been dragged out here, we’d only have had an extra 15 minutes of Bullock and Clooney stepping out into space for their mission and it wouldn’t have been necessary.
At first, I was concerned about one aspect of this film – it wasn’t completely filmed in 3D, according to realorfake3d.com – which means I’d normally go and see such a film in 2D, because if something’s worth seeing in 3D then it’s worth filming it that way, too. However, the fact is that the actors were filmed in 3D, but they didn’t actually make the film in space – it was filmed in a small studio at Shepperton. Sorry to break that to you.
I was also wondering that, since there’s no sound in space, there would be a lot of the film held in silence – the trailer had bangs and crashes added on, while the film adheres to the laws of physics – but there’s some wonderful incidental music on display in place of silence sometimes.
Oh, and I love the moment early on where Clooney delivers the advice “Set your watch for 90 minutes”. This is because it takes 90 minutes for a full rotation of the Earth, just after the debris has said hello, but I like to think it’s also because that, plus a few seconds, is basically the length of the film.
The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition and it brings the cinematic image of perfection to your home. It’s 3D, it’s flawless, the print is crisp and clear throughout with no issues and looks fantastic on my Panasonic 50″ Plasma TV.
The sound is in DTS HD 5.1 and, while there is no sound in space, the soundtrack from Steven Price couldn’t be any more engaging, and his BAFTA and Oscar statues are very well-deserved.
The extras are as follows and they’re all in HD:
- Gravity: Mission Control (1:46:36): A more-than-feature-length Behind The Scenes extra containing nine parts:
- It Began with a Story looks at the script and storyboards and how the entire film was put together the way Alfonso Cuarón wanted it, thus giving the desired result. There’s chat primarily throughout this whole extra from Alfonso Cuarón, his son Jonas Cuarón, producer David Heyman, special effects whiz Tim Webber from Framestore and Sandra Bullock.
- Initial Challenges: Long shots and zero G – trying to create the impression of going about in zero G, or micro G for astronauts who are floating about in the Earth’s orbit, along with the long takes. Children of Men is a good example of Cuarón’s work with 20-minute single takes that are quite splendid to witness. A lot of the crew also went up ‘vomit comet’, which is how astronauts learn that
- Previsualising Gravity: The build-up of the film in full basic CGI form before they begin, and how the actors hanging about on wires or using motion-capture wasn’t going to work, so they had to make the cameras move around the actors instead.
They also talk about the Lightbox, which was created especially for this film, and allows the actors to give their performance whilst also seeing what’s going on in the finished film, and also gives the necessary reflections on their face and body.
- The Hues of Space looks at the lighting, and which areas of the Earth would form the background to which scenes.
- Physical Weightlessness shows how they get that feeling perfected on camera.
- Space Tech shows how the film was made with the astronauts using current technology available rather than anything futuristic.
- Sandra and George: A pair in space looks at how they both worked together, although they’re already firm friends off-set so they made for a perfect pairing.
- Final Animation shows how they put the finishing touches to the movie. It must’ve taken a while, especially since the space shuttle was made up of 25 million polygons.
- Complete Silence looks at the film’s audio, or as Alfonso calls it “The Sound of Silence”.
- Shot Breakdowns (36:48): Five scenes and how the special effects are broken down shot-by-shot. The first one is about the suit helmet’s visor, which wasn’t there during filming as it wouldn’t reflect space…
I won’t go into detail about the other scenes because to name them will spoil parts of the film.
- Collision Point: The Race To Clean Up Space (22:28): A documentary, narrated by Ed Harris, about the amount of debris up in space, as a result of the 4500 missions that have taken place up there.
- Annigaaq: A short film by Jonas Cuarón (10:11): I won’t spoil the relevance of this, but it’s a must-see, it relates to a particular scene in the film and is very special indeed. I love it. The short film is introduced by Alfonso and Jonas.
- Film Festivals: A list of all the film festivals for which Gravity was an official selection.
The menu mixes some scenes from the film with a piece of the incidental music playing in the background. There are subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, plus French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish.
If you need multiple audio languages, then there’s English, French, German and Spanish, but this is only for the Theatrical version. For the Extended, it’s English only.
Sadly, when it comes to chapters, I remember Warner once going to town on these in the early days of DVD, even giving 44 for titles like Disclosure. Unfortunately, these days, it’s usually a mere 12. Gravity just gets 10.
There’s also a single trailer for a film before the main menu. I wish distributors would keep these for the extras menu only. As such, I’m not naming it here.
The 3D Blu-ray version of Gravity, which I’ve reviewed here, is presented in a gorgeous lenticular sleeve.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
Released: March 3rd 2014
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish.
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (ARRIRAW (2.8K))
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Producers: Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman
Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón and Jonás Cuarón
Music: Steven Price
Ryan Stone: Sandra Bullock
Matt Kowalski: George Clooney
Mission Control: Ed Harris
Aningaaq: Orto Ignatiussen
Shariff: Phaldut Sharma
Explorer Captain: Amy Warren
Russian Space Station Captain: Basher Savage
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.