In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream "Atmos!"

You remember Gravity, right? Outer space, pulverized space ships, Sandra Bullock floating weightlessly, heavy breathing—pretty good film from both a technical and narrative standpoint. You might already have a copy on Blu-ray. But I'd like to give you two reasons to consider buying it again. A new "Diamond Luxe Edition" Blu-ray due in February promises to be very interesting for both film aficionados and home-theater enthusiasts. Doubly interesting if you are both.

The first reason for buying this new Blu-ray: It will feature an Atmos soundtrack. Gravity sounded fabulous in Atmos-equipped theaters and it was a shame that home viewers couldn't hear it that way. Now with this release, you can potentially hear the Atmos mix (or at least a version of it) at home. I boldly predict that this Gravity Blu-ray will become a reference disc for Atmos playback at home. Hmm, I guess I should actually listen to the Blu-ray mix first, but if it's anything close to the theatrical mix, my prediction is safe.

Dolby is providing the authoring tools that studios need to produce Atmos soundtracks on Blu-ray. Paramount and Warner are on board. And Atmos discs are starting to arrive. (Transformers: Age of Extinction was the first, in September.) As you know, manufacturers such as Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Yamaha are stepping up with hardware. I am itching to install my own Atmos; my only hesitation is whether I should wait and buy hardware that also supports the object-based mixing system that DTS may (or may not) introduce.

The second reason to buy this Blu-ray: Its new non-sound soundtrack offering. Director Alfonso Cuaron worked for years to get Gravity to the big screen, and his effort is evident in the detail in the finished film. Technical quibbles aside, it does a terrific job of marooning the viewer in outer space and expertly conveys what a hostile place it is. One of the most important rules strictly obeyed by the film is the absence of sound in the vacuum of space. Although early trailers incorrectly featured sounds of explosions as the Shuttle is destroyed, that and similar events are correctly silent in the movie itself. With the sound effects part of the movie soundtrack trilogy gone, what's left is the dialogue and of course, the orchestral score.

The problem, of course, is that there are no symphony orchestras in outer space. Viewers understand that element of the soundtrack is a fiction, and given the importance of music in film, it could be argued that it is an indispensable conceit. I can pretty much guarantee that the last time you were pushed to the edge of your seat, or felt yourself getting a little weepy during a movie, it was probably the music that did it. Pull down the faders on most movie music, and the experience falls flat.

It's interesting that while earthbound movies (even "silent" movies) need an accompanying musical score to feel "right," movies about outer space seem to be more free of that constraint. Consider the electronic-music score of Forbidden Planet, and the effectiveness of the counter-intuitive classical-music score of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the case of Gravity, Steven Price's score provides emotional support, filling the sonic space that movie-goers expect to be filled, and also cleverly doubling for the missing sound effects. Among Gravity's seven Oscars, the music won for Best Original Score. That makes it ironic that one of the most intriguing things about this new Blu-ray release is its Silent Space soundtrack in which the score is nixed. You'll hear the voices of the actors (mainly though their com links), various vibrational sounds transmitted through their space suits, and nothing else. (I'm sure the disc will also have a soundtrack option with the original score.)

The Silent Space soundtrack was supposed to be on the original Blu-ray, but did not appear, perhaps because of time or cost limitations. I can't wait to hear it; the absence of music would normally be a deal-breaker for most movies, but the emptiness of the sonic space might be perfectly expressive of the emptiness of outer space. The Silent Space soundtrack of Gravity, in Atmos, could be the most intriguing thing you've never heard in your home theater.

mjkobb's picture

I would be interested to see the movie with the "silent space" soundtrack, from a curiosity standpoint.

But I'll never buy it, because it's a terrible, terrible movie. For a movie with such an enormous budget and the resources to do things right technically, the completely bogus treatment of simple physics is unforgivable. It was so distracting that it ruined the movie. Never mind the more esoteric aspects of orbital mechanics that it also gets wrong -- the pivotal scene with Bullock and Clooney and the tether just made no sense at all. I actually had a non-technical friend lean over to me and say, "Why the heck would that happen??"

Add to this the buffoonish and unrealistic clowning behavior by the astronauts at the beginning of the movie, the outrageously stilted dialog with ground control (featuring Ed Harris, who clearly knows how deliver a believable mission control performance, as he did in Apollo 13), and you have a train wreck of a movie that was totally undeserving of the Oscar attention that it got. It has a few minutes of eye candy, and a couple of technically impressive special effects shots, and that's all it has to offer.

Old Ben's picture

Like mjkobb, I am curious about this but doubt I would want to own it. Unlike mjkobb, I loved the movie and own the first blu ray release. Even after several viewings, this movie still has me on the edge of my seat. The physics aren't perfect, but who cares? It's a fictional movie; it isn't a documentary.

I have reservations about the "silent" soundtrack because I think the soundtrack provides a lot of the emotional tension in the scenes that are otherwise silent. I think a lack of soundtrack would make it too easy to watch the movie in a much more detached manner, taking away a lot of the tension in the movie.

As a side note, I occasionally hear some of the tracks from Gravity on Pandora. I was a little surprised how powerfully connected the soundtrack is to the movie. Listening to it instantly pulled me back in to the scenes in the movie. Especially the music toward the end when Sandra Bullock is re-entering the atmosphere.

javanp's picture

... no purchase. Unless of course I can strip the audio track and combine it with the 3d video from the other blu-ray

badboy07's picture

This movie was horrible. Why would I want to hear more or less of any of it? The bit with Clooney flying around as the medical doctor was repairing electronics made me want to hurl. Then the space station hopping really iced the cake. Oy vey, this flik stunk.