by Glenn Erickson May 04, 2024

This one played like gangbusters in the theater. The only negative flak we heard came from a) people that don’t like Sandra Bullock no matter what she’s in, and b) people that violently deny the premise that space garbage poses a potential threat. The thrills in this presumed 99 & 44/100% CGI space thriller just don’t stop happening: ace filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón piles on the jeopardy, but also scores some class-act storytelling surprises. This reissue is a two disc set, retaining the hours of original extras — all subtitled in over a dozen languages.

Blu-ray Reissue
Warner Bros. Entertainment
2013 / Color / 2:40 widescreen / 91 min. / Street Date May 14, 2024 / Available from / 14.99
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (voice), Phaldut Sharma (voice).
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Production Designer: Andy Nicholson
Art Director: Andy Scruton
Costume Design: Jany Temime
Film Editor: Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
Original Music: Steven Price
Written Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuaróon
Produced by Alfonso Cuarón, David Heyman
Directed by
Alfonso Cuarón

Mexican creative powerhouse Alfonso Cuarón singlehandedly revived the serious science fiction film with his 2006 adaptation of the P.D. James thriller Children of Men. Although nothing we see is utterly fantastic, Cuarón’s 2013 Gravity is still science fiction for the simple fact that it presents events in space that haven’t yet occurred — but quite easily could. Theatrically presented in 3-D, the show’s 91 minutes play out as an almost unbroken 91-minute digital special effect. The visuals are so sophisticated that we soon forget that we’re watching computer animation, with human faces and bodies pasted into the picture here and there. That’s not meant to be a slam — Gravity is a visually convincing construction guided by intelligence and good taste. 2001: A Space Odyssey will never lose its place as an awesome, original look at the mystery of space, but Gravity benefits from the unlimited plasticity of computer enhanced moviemaking. Unlike Kubrick’s future, this show takes place in the here and now, with mostly familiar space hardware — shuttlecraft, International and National space stations, escape pods.

Wait a minute … are those escape pods speculative items?  I’m not up on my space lore.

Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón’s screenplay appears to play out in real time. Working in orbit are astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and scientists Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Shariff (voice: Phaldut Sharma). Shariff’s repairs are completed but balky electronics are giving Ryan some trouble. Mission Control interrupts, telling them to abort the mission immediately. Elsewhere in orbit, a planned destruction of a Soviet satellite has triggered a chain reaction, knocking out a series of satellites and turning them into space shrapnel shooting at 1700 mph. Ryan is not an experienced astronaut, and has difficulty following Matt’s instructions. She is still tethered to a boom when a wave of debris hits, shredding their spaceship to bits. She’s hurled into space and left helpless until Matt retrieves her in his EVA rocket pack.

Their comrades killed, the two head off in the direction of a larger space station, just in sight on the horizon. With so many satellites destroyed, they cannot communicate with Mission Command. As the station’s astronauts have likely abandoned ship, they can only hope they’ll find a functioning escape pod. Technically, they haven’t enough fuel to reach the station and must hope that they can just snag it as they ‘fall’ by. Worse, the cloud of space shrapnel hasn’t gone away. It is still orbiting, at the same velocity. In 90 minutes it will circle the earth and hit them again.


If you haven’t seen Gravity and plan to, our recommendation is to stop reading right now.

A general rule of thumb, if one wants to experience a new show without spoilers, is that one must avoid promotional materials. We were fortunate to see it in 2013 without much foreknowledge. Director Cuarón uses his first ten minutes or so to convince us that he has every possible technical base covered. We see the Earth, and then the approach of our orbiting shuttle and the astronauts doing EVA work. Clooney’s Matt Kowalski does lazy circles around the ship in his rocket pack, enjoying what is scheduled to be his final trip into space. He pesters Mission Control with his old-timer stories. Shariff finishes his work and amuses himself doing somersaults and laughing. Only Bullock’s Ryan is having a tough time, with an electronic panel that refuses to function properly.

First comes a precautionary bulletin and then suddenly the order to get under cover, fast. What looks like a field of glittering diamonds closes on them almost immediately, and all hell breaks loose. Up until this point the movie is one single unbroken shot, with the camera slowly twisting and turning to catch the action and observe Ryan and Matt behind their helmet faceplates. To satisfy 3-D addicts, Ryan drops a bolt, which drifts out over the audience before Matt snags it with a fat-gloved hand. In the theaters, and on the old Blu-ray 3-D disc, the bolt appears to float in front of our noses.

From this point forward the movie narrows down to Ryan Stone’s first person, (almost) real-time ordeal. She freely admits that she’s not at all ready to deal with this disaster. She’s had only six months of training, and although it’s not stated directly we get the idea that the highly experienced Matt is there to serve as an orbiting babysitter.


“Who okayed this person to fly?”

Ryan is clearly not a full-fledged astronaut, the kind that can take extreme physical punishment, be spun like a top yet retain equilibrium, etc.. As can be easily understood, she is at first too shell-shocked to grab onto things, figure anything out for herself or calm herself down. Perhaps space crews are now composed of two groups: flight command people who can perform each other’s functions as well as repair most anything on the ship, and ‘specialists’ — semi-passengers given a good basic training but not expected to be self-sufficient.

By the time Ryan has regained her wits and is functioning halfway well, she still hasn’t overcome her butterfinger problem or nailed down her most pressing priorities. Other moments irritate because of our false expectation that people in space suits won’t make dumb mistakes — like using a pressurized fire extinguisher in Zero G without first bracing one’s self. The truth is that almost anyone in a tense situation will make mistakes — that’s why pilots and astronauts are trained to follow protocol even when one’s entire body is saying to do something else. We just so badly want Ryan Stone to get a handle on her situation. She finds an escape pod ready to go — but can see that it is snarled in its own prematurely deployed parachute. Somebody else already screwed that one up. Now what’s the first thing she needs to do?

We really enjoy technical problem-solving movies, knowing full well that the mainstream audience has less tolerance for stories about pilots or scientists or space men getting themselves out of technical jams:  Apollo 13,  The Flight of the Phoenix,  The Andromeda Strain,  No Highway in the Sky.  It’s the tension of a household plumbing problem writ large. Things don’t always have to end in bloody disaster: when a solution is found, we all feel good.


Many details will tickle fans of old-school space films. Gravity’s hail of deadly space shrapnel (“Twice as fast as a bullet!”) is an eye-opener after those vintage pictures in which spaceships easily weather meteor showers. They mostly bounced harmlessly off the hull, behaving as we would expect meteorites that look like tinfoil and popcorn. A noted exception is George Pal’s 1955  Conquest of Space, which dramatizes a micrometeorite hit just like the one in this movie. One space-walking astronaut is killed as if by a shot from a high-powered rifle. The effect is chilling — his helmet visor fogs up with a mist of red blood.

As Gravity takes hold of our imaginations, we can’t help second-guessing every choice Ryan Stone makes. We wonder why Matt and Ryan didn’t try to replenish their oxygen supplies, or perhaps see if a second full rocket pack survived in the wreckage of their first space station. The fact that Matt doesn’t look, probably means that those were not viable options. And we have to give Ryan her due — when things get dicey she does show some good space cadet moves. Faced with an escape pod computer written in Chinese, she follows Matt’s “What the hell” instructions, which amount to something like, “Oh, it’s just like the Russian one so just go for it.”

At one point Ryan uses that pressurized extinguisher to ditch one ship and maneuver her way to a second, as if she were jumping out of a speeding car. Surely the makers of Gravity knew they were repeating a strategy from the very first modern space travel movie  Destination Moon. In that 1950 release, an un-tethered astronaut is rescued by a fellow spaceman who improvises with the jet of a pressurized air bottle, just as does Ryan Stone in Gravity.


The IMDB lists upward of Eight Hundred individual Visual Effects credits.

The only events in the film that seemed overstated happened when Matt and Ryan opened pressurized hatches. With one of them hanging on to the handle, the hatch instantly swings open 90 degrees. It looks really rough. If not bashed unconscious, you’d think that somebody’s arm would be dislocated.

We really approve of Gravity — its superior filmmaking catches us up in the drama 100%.  We’re grateful that the desperate Ryan is never advised to “Use The Force” to solve her problems — no psuedo-philosophical Star Wars boosh-wah here. Gravity instead gives us the spectacle of one terrified woman finding her strength through basic self-reliance … and grit.

In a highly successful departure from the film’s realistic surface (not to be divulged here), Ryan is inspired by another personality to relax and get cozy with her survival problem, so as to allow a practical solution to present itself. The narrative detour is beautiful, unpretentious and moving. I can’t decide if Ms. Bullock’s acting does the heavy lifting or if it’s all in the writing. Ryan spends most of her ordeal in a highly vulnerable state, doing her best just to hold off an attack of hysteria. And we share her constant state of suspense.

The movie is so intense that viewers don’t realize how (relatively) short it is. The whole show clocks in at 91 minutes, but the last seven minutes are a credits sequence. And no, those 800 valiant visual effects experts aren’t given individual credit cards.



Warner Bros. Entertainment’s Blu-ray of Gravity is a reissue of a fine BD from 11 years ago. It’s a beauty that plays extremely well on a big home video screen. As a first-person “this is happening NOW” ordeal, we roll with the punches and soon forget to notice things like whether a soundtrack cue is playing. It took us several viewings to appreciate some of the film’s finer production achievements. As in Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón conquers one technical problem after another.

3-D Blu-ray fans will probably want to stick with their original Warners 3-D version, which isn’t being reissued (and can be  very pricey). The impact and beauty of the film are in no way impaired by the flat presentation. There’s very little to say beyond stating that the show holds up well in a home theater situation. The visuals and audio are exemplary.

The movie comes with a full range of languages and subtitle tracks. Hearing-impaired viewers will be happy, as all the extras are subtitled just as thoroughly. I’ve included a list below. If that’s not enough the feature can be played ‘a cappella,’ without a music score … suggesting that the experience is quite different.

Warners’ full course of original extras has been been retained. This is a two-Blu-ray set, with all of the special features on a second disc. Some of the featurettes are on the fluffy side but all will be of interest to some viewers. A long piece about the history of space movies is not the best — its script drifts about in generalizations and the film clips from older movies are too limited. Even as a superficial piece, it promotes the idea that everything before the CGI years is disposable, or at best ‘quaint.’


A series of nine making-of Mission Control featurettes cover everything about the development and production of the movie, which had to be completely pre-visualized, like an animated feature. We can see what was constructed and what was not. The convincing Zero-G effects were achieved by means that must have been exhausting for the actors. Purists should appreciate the rationale applied to what is heard and what is not heard in the silent vacuum of space — if a character would perceive a vibration due to some impact or noise, then we hear it — altered by transmission through metal or plastic.

A Shot Breakdown feature analyzes five specific shots, showing their development through various stages to the final effect. Aningaaq is a short film by Jon´s Cuarón showing the other side of Ryan Stone’s one successful radio contact with another human being — who turns out to be a fisherman in Greenland. It’s the movie’s attempt to stress that we’re all connected on this planet — Ryan’s space problem won’t effect that fisherman, but other scientists’ studies of Global Warming definitely will.

The Blu-ray for Alfonso Cuarón’s previous Children of Men contains a serious advocacy documentary about possible doomsday scenarios. The most illuminating — and alarming — extra on this disc is Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space. Our Earth orbits are crowded with working satellites and non-functioning space junk. Although under-reported in American media, scores of countries are now very active in space, adding to the volume of orbiting metal. Although unstated in any advertising or promotion, Gravity publicizes the very real possibility that a random collision in space could create a situation identical to that in the movie. Communication satellites, television distribution, and cell phone transmission could be vulnerable. Although plans exist to safely get rid of dead space satellites, nobody is volunteering to pay.

We’re all for ambitious plans for more space exploration — new discoveries that could, you know,  unlock the secrets of the Universe. But it looks as if some orbital housecleaning is in order, if we don’t want Space to fall into the same ‘infrastructure’ mess as our cities.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent Audio Choices: English, English descriptive narration, French France, French Quebec, German, Spanish Castillian, Spanish Latin, Italian, Portuguese
Docu featurettes:
Looking to the Stars: The Evolution of Space Films
Gravity: the Human Experience
Sandra’s Birthday Wish
Collision Point: The Race to Clean up Space narrated by Ed Harris
Short Film Aningaaq by Jonás Cuaróon
Behind the Scenes – 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
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES
Feature Subtitles: English for deaf and hard of hearing, French, German für Hörgeschädigte, Spanish Castillian, Spanish Latin, Italian, Portuguese
Extras Subtitles: English for deaf and hard of hearing, French, German, Spanish Castillian, Spanish Latin, Italian, Mandarin (?), Cantonese (?), Portuguese Portuguese, Portuguese Brazilian, Czech, Magyar, Polish, and one more.
Packaging: Two Blu-rays in Keep case
April 29, 2024

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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The reason I was disappointed by the movie? They dispatched Clooney too soon. The only character left is Bullock, and there’s no way a major studio, big budget movie is going to kill her off. Since I already knew her fate, the suspense was non-existent. It’s pretty to look at, but that’s about it.


Some more objections: It was essentially a “Twilight Zone” episode dragged out to feature length. Felt every unneeded minute. And yes, as Jay noted, the end was entirely a foregone conclusion.

But what really bugs me the most is that the chowderheads at the Academy awarded Best Cinematography to a movie that was almost entirely CGI except for the actors’ faces and the earthbound shots. According to a presentation at the Academy a couple of years later, Lubezki was barely around; he’d just occasionally stick his head in and ask, “How’s everything going?”

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