What is 127 Hours about? It focuses on a man stuck in a rock formation with a boulder pinning his arm to the wall, and in the middle of nowhere. There has to be more than that though, something to separate Danny Boyle’s take on the “single location” drama, and that’s regret.
Undoubtedly, being forced to look death in the eye changes a person. They look life dead on, and then they look at what they’ve done. Aron Ralston (James Franco) regrets everything. He didn’t answer the phone when his mother called. He didn’t tell co-workers where he was going. He broke up with his girlfriend over nothing. He didn’t leave a note telling concerned parties where he was headed. He even hates that timing across the universe forced a meteorite to end up right he is stuck millenniums ago.
It’s stirring material because looking back, Ralston blames himself, a realization he finds unsettling. His chipper personality tries to make sense of it, turning a recorded message into something resembling a kooky game show, one of many indicators of a dwindling mindset.
Footage of a trapped Ralston is mixed in with flashbacks, memories, and visions. He sees himself make an escape due to a thunderstorm, only to be rejected when seeking help. His childhood flashes before his eyes, and his parents instill a sense of calmness. Boyle keeps things visually interesting as well, finding the means to shoot from the inside of water bottles or even straws, a unique and important viewpoint as the water supply dwindles.
Ralston’s story was well publicized before entering the arena of film, viewers going in already knowing the inevitable. When the time comes to make an escape from this potentially rocky tomb, the smallest knife must suffice to slice off his damaged appendage, a scene that is unrelenting in its depiction of pain. It’s not about the blood, but the agony. Bones snapping and nerves tearing have rarely been depicted in such a way; the Saw series only wishes it had this much effectiveness. Then again, it’s not something you’d want to sit through sequel after sequel either, which is exactly the type of film 127 Hours should be.
127 Hours was filmed digitally, supposedly at 2K. The results are on screen, the Utah location shoot presented with some stunningly crisp rock facings. Detail is evident via the aerials or long shots, ridges and other features clearly visible within the constraints of 1080p.
Fox’s AVC encode is flawless, handling a variety of sources, not just the main pieces of footage. The various flashbacks take on a dizzying array of styles, at time blowing out the contrast, fogging up the image, or even moving into VHS territory for home movies. Ralston recorded himself during much of the ordeal on a small Canon video cam, and that’s replicated here complete with noise and other anomalies those small consumer cams are known for.
Black levels, while not overly outstanding, are sufficient enough. Cold, nighttime views as Ralston struggles to stay warm are presented with enough depth to satisfy, if not the deepest or richest available. More impressively, the limited light has no ill effects on the definition, those shots with a general focus host to clarity and fine detail. Much of the movie is shot in close-up, and aside from some inconsistencies with regards to noise or a chosen style, 127 Hours generally looks firm.
Colors carry a natural vibrancy, the earth-toned rocks a vivid orange/brown, while the sky maintains a stable, bright blue. Flesh tones remain accurate, color slowly seeping from Ralston’s face as he becomes increasingly close to death. It’s an effect that is impossible to miss here.
One would suspect the audio to be mundane and lackluster for such an experience, but it’s not. This is an active, even aggressive mix at times. The rock walls offer plenty of opportunity for loud, bright echoes, especially early as Ralston screams for help. Just prior, his trip into the rock-laden region is filled with stereo mixing as his bike and/or car pass through the appropriate channel. The split is wide, and even if the effect is quick, it’s impossible to miss.
A variety of music creates Ralston’s experience, each track pushed through with magnificent clarity. The low-end works overtime during the credits, and the thunderstorm that rolls in about 52:17 equals its subwoofer abuse. The rushing water that ensues from the downpour sweeps through each channel effectively, a completely immersive moment. There are no attempts to dilute the fidelity in the flashbacks, keeping this DTS-HD effort pristine.
Fox does not provide screeners in time for street date, so this review is based on a rental exclusive which are sans extras.