Release Date(s)1995 (October 17, 2017)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Based loosely on the book Lost Moon, written by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13 is a gripping and accurate retelling of the troubled 1970 Moon flight, which, although a failure by mission standards, is rightly considered by many to be NASA’s finest hour. Directed deftly by Ron Howard, the film rings true with authenticity from beginning to end. Its script was written by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert (who also produced and directed For All Mankind, perhaps the best documentary ever made on the Apollo missions). The cast delivers terrific performances across the board, including Tom Hanks as Lovell (the mission’s commander), Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and the late Bill Paxton as fellow mission astronauts, Kathleen Quinlan as Lovell’s wife Marilyn, and Ed Harris in one of his best roles as the mission’s gruff flight director Gene Kranz. Equally impressive here is the extraordinary attention paid to getting all the little details of spaceflight right. The microgravity depicted in this film is not a visual effect – the filmmakers actually put the set in a NASA jet, capable simulating weightlessness by diving headlong at the ground for short periods. The practice is relatively common these days, but it’s worth remembering that this was the very first feature film to do it. The launch and entry sequences are simply breathtaking. Apollo 13 manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, even though you likely already know how the story ends. Perhaps the greatest testament to this film is the fact that many of the real-life NASA participants, after seeing Apollo 13, felt as though they’d relived the events.
Universal has released Apollo 13 multiple times on Blu-ray, most notably in 15th and 20th Anniversary editions (in 2011 and 2015, respectively – click on the links for our reviews). The good news is that, for the latter addition, a proper 4K film scan was completed of the original 35 mm negative. That scan serves as the basis for the studio’s new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release too. Apollo 13 was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio and that’s how it’s presented here, mastered from that 4K scan and with the benefit of a new HDR10 color grade. The detail improvement over the regular Blu-ray is subtle at first but becomes more and more obvious as you watch. Textures are more refined, especially those of skin and fabric. Note the improved detail in the faces of the astronauts’ wives as they view the launch. During the TV broadcast scene, take a look at the fine pattern on the CAPCOM’s turtleneck and the green stripes on the cup that the controller next to him is drinking from. Grain is light to moderate, varying from scene to scene, but is never distracting. It’s worth noting that while real practical models were employed for many of the film’s visual effects shots, some digital effects were created too and those are of lower resolution. So the detail you see can very a little but. The HDR shines in many subtle details, making colors look richer and the lighting environment more true-to-life. You see it in the deep, dark blacks of space, the bright greens of display LEDs, the blue-lit gimbal readout, the metallic red fittings on space suits, the deep blue of the NASA patch on Lovell’s jacket, the way instrument panel lights reflect and shine off the crew’s launch helmets, and the reflections on the Kapton foil on the Lunar Module’s descent stage. You see it in way the bright sunlight in space shines through the Command Module windows to illuminate the crew’s white beta cloth flight suits. Of course, the “constellation Urine” has never looked quite so sparkly and golden. All of these things significantly enhance your viewing, making the 4K the definitive visual experience of this film.
Audio-wise, the new 4K Ultra HD release includes primary English audio in a new DTS:X object-based mix (7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio compatible), with additional language options in French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese 5.1 DTS. The previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix was already impressive with a big, wide, and immersive soundstage, excellent clarity, and abundant bass. Dialogue was clean and audible, and the James Horner score – one of his most iconic – was well represented. All of this is true of the new mix too, but now the panning is a bit more nuanced and precise, while the overhead channels smooth out the immersion and provide a nice ceiling on the sound environment. As you’d expect, they really lend themselves to the film’s launch and re-entry sequences, giving those moments an extra measure of power and impact. There’s a sound effect in this film that’s subtle, but that I’ve always really liked, where the camera pans up the Saturn V stack just before launch and you hear the fuel pumps vibrating. Suffice it to say that this is even more impressive now in DTS:X. This isn’t the kind of audio mix that will rattle the paint off your walls from start to finish (though it’s impressive when it does), but it shines in so many little details, little moments, little sound cues. Note that subtitle options include English SDH, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese.
The 4K disc includes only two bonus features, both of them audio-based:
- Feature commentary with director Ron Howard
- Feature commentary with Jim and Marilyn Lovell
Both of these are carried over from the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release. The package also includes that same BD disc (also mastered from the 4K scan), which offers the two commentary tracks as well as the following additional extras (most in SD, carried over from the original DVD release):
- Apollo 13: Twenty Years Later (HD – 11:40)
- Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 (SD – 58:05)
- Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond (SD – 48:25)
- Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story (SD – 12:12)
- U-Control: The Apollo Era (feature-length)
- U-Control: Tech-splanations (feature-length)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 2:34)
That is essentially everything that’s been created for this film, in terms of bonus features, to date. Naturally, you also get a Digital HD copy code on a paper insert.
Twenty-two years after its theatrical release, Apollo 13 is still the single best dramatic film about NASA's exploration of space. Only The Right Stuff and Ridley Scott’s The Martian are in the same league. If you’re a fan of this film, let me just make a couple recommendations: Check out Al Reinert’s For All Mankind documentary (reviewed here), available on Blu-ray in a fine edition from the Criterion Collection. And there’s a great book too: Andrew Chaikin’s A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Both are well worth your time. Speaking personally, I absolutely love Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and I’m pleased to say that it’s never looked and sounded better than it does here. The 4K disc is worth the upgrade; I will certainly never watch this film in any other way. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt