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Apollo 13: 15th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

2 Apr, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 4/13/10
$26.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG’ for language and emotional intensity.
Stars Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt.

Apollo 13 is one of my all-time favorite films, and I heartily recommend it for any collection.

The 1995 film relates the true story of the 1970 Apollo 13 mission, during which an explosion crippled the spacecraft and threatened the lives of astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert. Through the hard work of thousands of dedicated mission controllers back home, and the prayers of their loved ones, the astronauts returned safely and NASA carried on with its lunar exploration program.

Apollo 13 both celebrates humanity’s spirit of adventure in visiting the moon and wonders when we may return there, a question all the more relevant today in light of recent NASA budget cuts eliminating the next lunar program.

Even after several viewings it is still as powerful as the first time you see it. Apollo 13 remains director Ron Howard’s masterpiece, perfectly paced and filled with wonderful details, quotable dialogue and terrific music by James Horner (who might have won an Oscar had his music for Braveheart not been nominated the same year to split the vote). Has there ever been a more effective release of tension into pure elation in cinema history than the sight of that capsule gliding to a safe landing?

One of the reasons the film is so good is the level of authenticity Howard brings to the filmmaking. The problems encountered during this mission are simply not scenarios even the best screenwriter would think to invent. But Howard took it a step further by actually filming scenes in weightlessness, with the aid of the military’s KC-135 aircraft.

With all due respect to Braveheart, this is the real best picture of 1995. Its unique combination of craftsmanship and heart has helped make Apollo 13 one of the most influential films of the past 20 years. In its immediate aftermath, Apollo 13 inspired a new wave of books from seemingly anyone who had anything to do with the space program (Apollo 13 itself was based on the book Lost Moon by Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger). Flight director Gene Krantz even titled his autobiography Failure Is Not an Option, from the famous quote that was invented for the movie.

Tom Hanks, who played Lovell, was inspired to commit the whole of the Apollo program to film with the outstanding HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, which works very well as a companion to Apollo 13.

For its debut on Blu-ray Disc, the film doesn’t appear to have been cleaned up much before the high-def transfer (it was remastered in HD for a 2005 DVD and was also released on HD DVD). The grain level is inconsistent, with the occasional speck of dirt, and some of the special effects look a little rough around the edges.

That being said, the final two-thirds of the film looks fantastic. Overall, the visuals still look outstanding, especially a launch scene that has become the industry standard. The image probably hasn’t looked this sharp since it was blown up for Imax in 2002. (The Imax version is not included on the Blu-ray, by the way, as it was for the 2005 DVD.)

Most of the extras are holdovers from earlier releases, but they’re all very good. From the original 1998 DVD comes the behind-the-scenes documentary “Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13,” which deftly intercuts between film scenes, actual mission footage and interviews to provide a good glimpse at the making of the film. Also from the 1998 version are two great commentaries, one from Howard, and another from the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell. These commentaries actually answered a few questions I had.

From the 2005 DVD comes “Lucky 13: The Astronaut’s Story,” a “Dateline NBC” news piece; and “Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond,” a nice 45-minute recap of nearly the entire space program from Mercury to the Space Shuttle.

The Blu-ray also adds two picture-in-picture modes: “The Apollo Era” provides information about world events from 1970, while “Tech-splanations” delves into science and technology with both text and video.   

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