Apollo 13: 15th Anniversary Edition

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Mar 26, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Ron Howard

Release Date(s)

1995 (April 13, 2010)

Studio(s)

Imagine/Universal (Universal)

Review

On April 11, 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert rocketed from the Earth on what would have been Mankind’s third mission to the Moon.  It’s hard to believe now, some thirty-five years later, that walking on the Moon was, by then, considered so routine that most of the world had lost interest.

That quickly changed fifty-five hours into the mission however, when an explosion onboard the spacecraft ended the astronaut’s dreams of going to the Moon, and nearly their lives as well.  For four tense days, thousands of NASA technicians struggled heroically to overcome virtually insurmountable odds, and the entire world collectively held its breath in the desperate hope that these three brave men would return safely home.

Based loosely on the book Lost Moon, written by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13 is an extraordinarily gripping and accurate depiction of the doomed flight, which although a failure by mission standards, is rightly considered by many to be NASA’s finest hour.  Directed masterfully by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 rings honest and true from beginning to end.  The script is well written by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert (Reinert also produced and directed For All Mankind, perhaps the best documentary you’ll ever see on the Apollo missions).  What amazes me most about this film, is the extraordinary attention paid to detail, and the way it keeps you on the edge of your seat, despite the fact that you know how it’s going to end.  The zero-gravity is not an effect – the filmmakers actually put the set in a NASA jet, capable simulating weightlessness by diving headlong at the ground for 30 seconds at a time.  The launch sequence is simply breathtaking, and gives me a chill every time.  Perhaps the greatest testament to the film, is the fact that many of the actual participants in this real-life drama, after seeing Apollo 13, felt as though they had relived the event.

Hanks (who is himself a huge fan of the space program) gives a poignant and perfectly understated performance, as mission commander Jim Lovell, a veteran astronaut on his last and greatest mission.  Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise and Kathleen Quinlan all deliver some of the best performances of their careers.  And Ed Harris is absolutely terrific as Gene Kranz, the stalwart Flight Director back in Mission Control, for whom “failure is not an option”.  There are even some great cameos to look for: B-movie mogul Roger Corman, Howard’s mother, father and brother Clint (as the EECOM), Herb Jefferson, Jr. (Boomer from the original Battlestar Galactica TV series) and both Jim and Marilyn Lovell.

Universal’s Blu-ray Disc offers a good, workman-like high-def transfer of the film.  It’s certainly not outstanding, and may in fact be the same master the studio used previously for their HD-DVD release, but it’s serviceable.  Color is a bit on the warm side by design, but is accurate to the theatrical experience.  Contrast and overall detail are very good as well.  There’s light to moderate print grain visible in the image, which helps retain a film-like character, but this is somewhat undermined by the fact that the whole image has a very slightly digital appearance to it.  It’s not a major issue, but it does hold the transfer back from receiving higher marks.  Audio is DTS-HD MA lossless and the surround mix is big, wide and natural sounding, with excellent clarity and abundant bass.  Dialogue is well presented and James Horner’s score sounds wonderful.

In terms of bonus content, nearly everything of consequence that was present on the previous DVD releases has carried over here.  The excellent, hour-long Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 documentary is included, and it remains terrific viewing, featuring interviews with virtually every key member of the cast and crew, as well as many of the astronauts and surviving NASA personnel who were involved in the original mission.  This was available on Universal’s original DVD release, as were the audio commentaries with director Ron Howard, and the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell, which are also included here.  From the more recent 2-disc Anniversary Edition DVD, the Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond and Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story documentaries are included as well.  Not included from the original DVD are the film’s theatrical trailer and production notes – only the trailer is really missed.  And from the 2-disc DVD release, the IMAX version of the film has been left out... but then the IMAX version is more than 20 minutes shorter and, in my opinion, not worth including anyway.  New for Blu-ray are the usual BD-Live options, pocketBLU compatibility and a pair of new U-Control options (The Apollo Era and Tech-Splanations) that offer history and technical trivia.

Apollo 13 remains a terrific film about the best things we do as humans (and Americans) – pushing back the frontiers, exploring the wonders of the Universe and pulling together in times of crisis to overcome adversity.  It’s gripping, entertaining and a great film to watch with the whole family.  The film is very highly recommended, and the Blu-ray is worth upgrading to if you can find a good sale price.

- Bill Hunt

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