Blu-ray Review: Gravity (2013)

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Although it was the silence of space that originally soothed Sandra Bullock’s brainy doctor turned astronaut Ryan Stone during her first week-long mission to install a system meant for hospital use into the Hubble Telescope, after her crew’s explorer is hit by a large amount of fast traveling debris and she loses audible contact with Houston, silence is the last sound that she wants to hear.

Initially thrust into a free-fall, spinning desperately out of the line of sight of her team, although she’s soon secured to a tether attached to the experienced, fast-thinking veteran shuttle pilot Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), the two try to remain both practical and level-headed while evaluating the insurmountable obstacles and major unknowns they face, after learning they’re the only two crew members left alive in space.

With their rocket left irreparably damaged by the space-storm of debris and with no outside guidance to tell them which nearby space stations may be left standing and/or where they can find if not a return flight than at least shelter until a rescue mission can be staged, the two race against time, fate, and a severely dwindling oxygen supply to survive.

And as Ryan faces overwhelming odds time and again throughout Gravity, she begins to grow in her response to such a harrowing trial, moving throughout the course of the film from a damsel in distress to a woman who winds up having to rely on an inner strength she didn’t know she had to save herself.

A monumental achievement not only on a technical level (given the audacious cinematographic effects that make it difficult to believe this was actually shot on a green screen and not on some sort of top secret moviemaking mission to space), Gravity is also mesmerizing for how deftly it tells its deceptively simple story so incredibly well.

Offering a rare female-centric character arc that could have honestly just as easily been played by either gender (in the same vein as Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking space horror classic Alien), Gravity is heightened so much more by the performance of Sandra Bullock.

Reminding us once again why we fell in love with her in Speed with another emotionally riveting rollercoaster tale of high-stakes action-driven survival, when Stone gets into the driver’s seat once again to put her fate in her own hands, in addition to getting a sense of Speed déjà vu, it’s impossible not to watch it and realize how far Bullock’s come as an actress.

Completely charismatic in what is at times an almost silent film (in terms of dialogue), we see in Stone all of the hopes, fears, regrets and frustrations of a woman we might recognize in ourselves and it’s a truly moving turn that makes Gravity that much more life-affirming and empowering – particularly so for women.

Letting her guard down completely, Bullock shows us the flaws, humor, charm, sadness and strength of a woman who is in the midst of the five stages of grief both personally and professionally.

In addition to the emergency situation that keeps spiraling out of proportion in space, we learn shortly into the picture that Stone is also in the midst of the same process of grief on a personal level as she confesses to Kowalski that she’d lost a young child in an accident that – like matter hurdling through the atmosphere – had happened in the blink of an eye.

While we initially meet her as a woman simply going through the motions in her life, suddenly she’s forced to ask herself if she really wants to give up or keep going as an existential yet physical manifestation of her emotional journey

A brilliantly written, understated, metaphor-laden script that – like J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost invites you to attach your own meaning onto it – one very interesting example of the writers' creativity in carrying out the theme of rebirth is in Ryan’s confession that in America, she would spend any time she wasn’t working driving since that’s where she was when she got the tragic news.

And sure enough, from the small rover-type space pods to the jet-pack she’s tethered to, she’s driving once again in space – taking part in one such activity that had been described as a “Sunday drive” by Kowalski before she must actually attempt to take it upon herself to set a destination. Likewise, it’s also fascinating when she reveals her fear that in training she was never able to stop or safely land the small rover vehicles, crashing every time – as if to say she wasn’t ready to stop driving yet until she knew she must.

Her last name alone also speaks volumes as it’s a stumble on a rock (or a stone) that had killed her daughter and sure enough, it’s a rock-like storm of space debris that sets the events in motion, suggesting the level of guilt she’d had been experiencing internally before she must put herself back into motion.

While I can only imagine how unbelievable the film looks in 3D, Warner Brothers’ mind-blowingly gorgeous Blu-ray does not disappoint, especially for those with home theater rooms complete with a big screen television (of at least 40 plus inches) and heightened home theater sound bars or speaker systems to bring every bar of the score to every roar of an engine to life.

The type of film that benefits from post-cinema discussion with friends, Gravity is a highly recommended addition to your home library. And although it’s loaded with amazing special features that show you the massive amount of work that went into Cuaron’s four-year long opus, walking you through various sequences of the film from one department to the next (although unfortunately not the destruction of the International Space Station), one of the strongest assets in addition to an extra Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film is a short film by Jonas Cuaron.

Giving you the other side of Ryan Stone’s radio transmission by bringing you into Greenland to see what life is like for a fisherman who’s caught between joy and grief himself, it’s a beautiful addition that deepens the experience of the feature presentation. Furthermore, it adds extra meaning to one all-important scene where – once again in another evolution of character defined by plot – Stone discovered how much she needed others at last and was so glad to hear something other than the sound of silence as humanity translates regardless of language once Stone makes an effort to reach out and let herself be heard.

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