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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - April, 2010

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"Apollo 13" (Blu-ray) - Reviewed by Chris Eberle

movie-april-2010-apollo-13

Synopsis

This is the true story of the Apollo 13 mission where an explosion on the service module caused an abort of the astronauts’ landing on the Moon.  The subsequent rescue was a resounding success for NASA and the space program.  Just as landing on the Moon had started to lose its luster with the American people, the Apollo 13 accident had the entire world glued to their TVs as they watched three brave and resourceful astronauts, and an equally amazing mission control staff, improvise procedures to bring the men safely home in their damaged craft.

The events depicted are well known and documented.  56 hours into the flight of Apollo 13, an oxygen tank explodes crippling the spacecraft.  The Moon landing is scrapped and a rescue plan is immediately improvised.  The crew will power down the command module and use the lunar lander as a lifeboat until they can return to Earth.  Through the heroic efforts of mission control and the three astronauts, they manage to bring their spacecraft safely back to Earth and through the violent re-entry procedure.  After their pickup by the USS Iwo Jima, their mission is heralded as NASA’s “successful failure.”

 

Specifications

  • Universal Pictures
  • 1995, Color, Rated PG, 2 Hrs 20 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • 1080p
  • Codec:  not specified
  • English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
  • Starring:  Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris
  • Directed by Ron Howard
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: Mild

Commentary

This has always been one of my favorite films and I was thrilled to see it finally released on Blu-ray disc.  Archival footage of original news broadcasts is successfully mixed with superb acting and amazingly realistic sets depicting the spacecraft interiors and mission control room.  You can really feel the intensity of everyone involved from the brave and exhausted astronauts to the nicotine and caffeine-fueled mission control staffers.  The principal actors turn in near-flawless performances.  Tom Hanks expertly portrays Jim Lovell’s natural leadership and calm demeanor as he commands the mission.  Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz also does an amazing job.  It’s easy to compare them to the real people as you can see interviews with them in a number of documentaries.  I had just watched Discovery’s When We Left Earth recently and I enjoyed Apollo 13 even more as a result.  If you’re a fan of history and the space program, this Blu-ray is a must-own.  I give it my highest recommendation.

Technical

Image quality was a bit disappointing.  Once again, the edge enhancement monster has reared its head.  The ringing in some scenes was very obvious and wholly unnecessary.  The added sharpness had the side-effect of increasing film grain visibility.  I noticed it from the first minute onward.  Even though the original was shot on 35mm, it looked like 16mm most of the time.  Color was richly saturated though flesh tones were sometimes too red.  Contrast was excellent with deep blacks and bright whites and no crushing of detail.

Audio was decent for a movie of this era.  Surrounds were not used much but there were some strong bass effects.  The musical score is one of my favorites; composed by James Horner.  My compliments go out to the trumpet soloist who plays a haunting and distant melody at the film’s opening.  Dialog was clear and placed right at the screen where it belongs.  The different vocal timbres of the spacecraft interior, a meeting room or the large mission control center were quite clear.

One fascinating fact I learned while researching this movie:  the scenes in space were shot in a reduced gravity aircraft.  The sets, actors and props were actually weightless.  The scenes were filmed in 25-second bursts and the modified KC-135 completed 612 loops for a total of 3 hours and 54 minutes of zero-gravity.

Extras

Bonus features include a making-of documentary, a recap of the last 50 years of the space program, a recounting of the mission events; and commentary with director Ron Howard, astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn.  There are also in-movie interactive features chronicling other events of 1970 and the technology of the Apollo 13 mission.