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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Gravity: Diamond Luxe Edition (Blu-ray)
Gravity: Diamond Luxe Edition (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // March 31, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Click here for audio accompaniment, because why not?

Winner of seven Academy Awards---including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects---Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity (2013) is a visually stunning thriller and every dollar of its $100M budget can be seen on-screen. Roughly 80% of this film's total running time includes CG effects; that's even more than James Cameron's Avatar, and it's mostly done in a much more subtle and effective way. This is a tense and nail-biting ride during the bulk of its breezy 91-minute lifespan, and the end result feels about as economical as big budget, A-list blockbusters get these days. The story at its center might be too narrow to warrant such a weighty title (har har), but the obvious strengths of Gravity more than make up for a few weaknesses along the way.

Our story focuses on Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), two astronauts trapped in low-earth orbit when their shuttle is demolished by speeding satellite debris. Low on oxygen, fuel, time, and the ability to grab onto just about everything on the first try, their last-ditch effort involves heading to the International and/or Chinese Space Stations to secure a ride home. Clock's ticking, though: the growing satellite debris comes back for another round of fun every 90 minutes, which leads to ridiculous amounts of tension as our situation grows desperate. Not surprisingly, the visual effects serve Gravity's story well, playing up the dizzying spirals and stomach-churning thrills associated with space-walking minus the ship. Also contributing to the action is Steven Price's score, which alternates between jagged low notes, subtle ambient trickery, and a few comforting breathers.

Disregard that last sentence if you opt for this new Diamond Luxe Edition's "Silent Space" mode, which removes just about all of that pesky Oscar-winning music. It's a neat experiment that changes a few moments dramatically...but depending on how many times you've seen the "official version" (which director Alfonso Cuaron seems to prefer in his filmed introduction to this mode), the differences can be pretty jarring. Gravity features less music than you think...but a handful of moments benefit from its absence, such as the "fetal position" scene (below) and Stone's post-landing walk. Others don't fare as well: the initial debris strike isn't nearly as terrifying this time around, and a few stray jumps between background noise and silence make other scenes feel unfinished…which they are, technically.

Either way, this "Silent Space" mode is a welcome experience for interested viewers, but Warner Bros. dropped the ball by only including a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix during this feature. Luckily, the blow is softened by new Atmos and TrueHD 7.1 audio options during the theatrical version, as well as three new extras and slick packaging.

Video & Audio Quality

This visual presentation of Gravity looks identical to Warner's 2014 Blu-ray, not that there's anything wrong with that. Presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p transfer delivers strong image detail, deep black levels, good color reproduction, and no flagrant digital problems. The film's subtle and not-so-subtle visual effects blend seamlessly with live-action footage, creating a convincing atmosphere that holds up perfectly well from start to finish.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.

The audio, on the other hand, has been given something of an upgrade* for this release, as Gravity now arrives with a full Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 mix...but, if you're among the 99.5% of movie watchers without an Atmos setup (myself included), it'll convert itself to plain ol' Dolby TrueHD 7.1. Both represent a presumably large or at least modest bump from the original disc, which served up a serviceable DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. As expected, the film makes terrific use of all available channels, specifically in regards to the pulsating score and two-way helmet transmissions. This is a looping, hypnotic presentation that somehow feels claustrophobic and expansive all at once...and almost by default, stands as one of the best film audio mixes that you're likely to hear. Optional English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH, and Italian SDH subtitles are included during the main feature and all applicable extras.

The interface is virtually identical to the 2014 Blu-ray, serving up smooth navigation and minimal pre-menu distractions. This two-disc release is housed in Warner Bros.' gatefold Diamond Luxe packaging, made of a durable and glossy material that snaps shut magnetically and uses no traditional disc hubs. It's attractive, slick, and meshes well with the menacing artwork chosen for this release...but the only bad side is that there's nowhere to stick the removable back cover slip, and the case itself doesn't include any content descriptions. Still, it looks cool and doesn't hog shelf space.

Bonus Features

Aside from the interesting but compromised "Silent Space" mode mentioned above, we also get a few new supplements that weren't on the original Blu-ray edition (although they feel like they were held back on purpose, honestly).

The best of the bunch is "Looking to the Stars: The Evolution of Space Films" (41:59), a clip-heavy exploration of famous and obscure space-themed films from the last century. Key participants include filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron, Ron Howard, and Joe Dante, as well as VFX gurus Douglas Trumbull, Dennis Muren, and John Dykstra, plus a handful of film historians and authors. They briefly discuss a dozen groundbreaking productions---mostly studio-owned ones, naturally---such as A Trip to the Moon, Woman in the Moon, Destination Moon, Conquest of Space, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Marooned, Star Wars, The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and of course, Gravity. Obviously, snubbing classics like Forbidden Planet, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, the Star Trek franchise (which actually gets insulted at one point), Alien, and Leprechaun 4 makes this feel more like a thinly-veiled promo reel than an objective trip through film history, but the participants' enthusiasm is genuine and you might just be persuaded to check out a few lost gems.

Less informative but still worth a look is "Gravity: The Human Experience" (11:05), which feels promotional and surface-level at times but still serves up a few golden nuggets. Current and former astronauts Dr. Dan T. Barry, Michael Massimino and Catherine Coleman offer the most compelling comments, detailing their own zero-gravity stories and praising the accuracy of Gravity's production design, while Cuaron and brother Jonas share a few odds and ends about the film's sound design and atmosphere. The comments from Clooney and Bullock are basically soundbites.

Last and least of the new extras is "Sandra's Birthday Wish" (3:20), a playful low-budget message from Bullock wishing the director a happy birthday. It's fun enough, I guess, but this probably should've been left in Cuaron's inbox. Like the other exclusive new bonus features, it's presented in 1080p and includes optional subtitles.

Everything else from the previous 2-D Blu-ray edition is also ported over, including nine "Mission Control" Featurettes, five Shot Breakdowns, Jonas Cuaron's short film Aningaaq, and the Ed Harris-narrated mini-doc Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space. Unfortunately, the trailer and TV spots still aren't included---and, of course, the lack of lossless audio on the "Silent Space" mode and a 3-D option is a missed opportunity---but this is still a fine mix of extras.

Despite its paper-thin plot and totally linear structure, Gravity remains an effective and often terrifying experience due to its strong visuals, potent atmosphere, and the reliable performances of its two leads. The occasional jump scares and lack of depth might hinder this film's staying power in the long run, but I'd imagine these visual effects will still hold up a decade or two from now. Warner Bros.' unexpected double-dip offers a few welcome additions to the already great 2014 Blu-ray, including an audio bump to Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 (or TrueHD 7.1, for most of us), three new supplements, and an optional "Silent Space" mode that omits the score. However, the lack of lossless audio on the latter---not to mention no 3-D option, which remains exclusive to the stand-alone release---makes this something of a missed opportunity, but this Diamond Luxe Edition remains the one to beat for new viewers. Firmly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work and runs a website or two. In his free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, hanging out with his hot wife, and writing in third person.

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