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Apollo 13 - Anniversary Edition

 

Rating: PG

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Video

Release Date: March 29, 2005
Review posted: April 23, 2005

 

Reviewed by Greg Malmborg

 

SYNOPSIS

 

“Houston, we have a problem.”

 

Apollo 13, originally released in 1995, nominated for nine Oscars, and quite possibly the best film ever made about the NASA space program (along with The Right Stuff), is now being released in this excellent two disc anniversary edition.

 

The film is universally acclaimed and the story is well known.  The film chronicles in meticulous fashion the fateful journey of astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) aboard the Apollo 13 where a massive mechanical failure crippled their spacecraft and put their lives in utmost danger.  Lovell was a seasoned astronaut who had gone on many space missions, but his dream was to walk on the moon (which he never got to do).  Haise and Swigert had never been into space before, so this was all new to them.  The Apollo 13 flight was the first flight to the moon after Neil Armstrong’s famous walk on the moon.  Since the goal of the NASA space program (in the public’s eye) was to beat Russia to the moon and had succeeded to do that, this flight was viewed by the public as very routine and unworthy of press.  But once the crew was put in such jeopardy, the flight became anything but routine.  It became a media circus. 

 

The film juxtaposes between three separate locations and character settings: the spacecraft itself with the three endangered astronauts, mission control at NASA where the efforts and ingenuity of countless individuals helped these three men overcome impossible odds, and at the home of Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan), worrying about her husband’s safe return.  As much as the three astronauts are viewed as heroes, the men of mission control in NASA are also put in this light.  It was their innovation and creativity that saved the three astronauts.  Led by flight director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), these guys are put to the test and are forced to come up with creative solutions quickly to problems they have never faced before.  Swigert was a last minute replacement for Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) who, due to measles concerns, was dropped from the mission at the last minute.  And it is Mattingly who helps uncover the most critical of answers to help get the spacecraft home.

 

This new Anniversary edition includes an enhanced widescreen version of the film, the IMAX version of the film, and a multitude of extras (some new and all of the extras from the first release of the film on DVD).  Apollo 13 was the first non-IMAX movie to be released in an IMAX version.  The IMAX version of the film is about a half hour shorter and is visually enhanced.

 

CRITIQUE

 

What truly astounds me about this film is how intense, suspenseful and emotional it is when the story revolves around three very bland heroes mostly relaying and taking orders, a room full of straight-lined pencil pushers looking mostly at charts and graphs, an over abundance of technical jargon, and an ending everyone knows already.  This, plus the fact that the space program and walking on the moon are definitely not my cup of tea, it is just amazing how much the film grabbed me.  I was riveted by this story all over again.

 

I have to give most of the credit to Ron Howard for putting this film together in such a meticulous and passionate way.  Everything from the placement of microphones in mission control to the way an astronaut would react to his first flight is thought out and detailed out to perfection.  You learn through the extras how dead on Howard had everything and how much research went into this film.  You can’t help but feel admiration as you watch the film for the dedication Howard gave to it.  The film is beautifully shot and Howard was able to piece together real space shots (zero gravity shots, some of the launch sequence) with special effects and simple camera tricks (the extras show how the actors are bouncing around pretending to be in zero gravity for many shots) just perfectly.  He also managed to successfully build tension and suspense even when he was going back and forth so often from three distinct settings.  In many films, this can be a hindrance on tension and an utter annoyance.

 

The script is full of technical jargon and NASA politics and yet the story is utterly compelling.  Screenwriters William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert (along with Howard) wrote an absolutely terrific script that did not cut any corners, took dramatic license only where it was aptly needed, and captured the essence of a time where the space program really mattered and when astronauts were heroes.  The only part they may have considered cutting out was the actual real life instances where Marilyn Lovell lost her ring in the shower the day of her husband’s launch and her dream of the ship crashing.  Both scenes felt contrived and tonally off from the rest of the film.  The intense and overbearing attention to every last detail when it came to both the script and the direction made Apollo 13 all the better because it really sunk the viewer into this lifestyle.  Not taking the easy way out and dumbing it down for the public pushed the film into greatness.

 

 The script may be great and the direction is spot on, but all would be lost if it weren’t for the captivating, intense, and graceful performances from this all-star cast.  Tom Hanks gives one of his most understated, graceful and poignant performances that I would consider better than some of his more over-the-top roles.  He grounds the film in cool poise; his character keeps not only his crewmates at ease but also the audience.  Kevin Bacon is great in the film as the brass Swigert trying his best to impress his crewmates and he is able to command the screen even opposite Hanks.  Bill Paxton would seem to be the odd man out here, but he actually does a terrific job next to two of our best living actors.  He holds his own and gets some of the bigger laughs of the picture.  The two truly shining performances actually came from Earth in this one, mission control to be exact.  Ed Harris gives one of his most memorable and intensely honorable performances as the hard driving, no nonsense Kranz.  His character is a God like figure watching over it all and stepping in only when necessary.  The other magnificent performance is from Gary Sinise who brings a smoldering intensity to what could have been an insignificant and unmemorable role.  Both Harris and Sinise deliver Oscar worthy supporting performances.  Kathleen Quinlan is also quite good as Marilyn Lovell embodying “home”, as Lovell’s loving and supporting wife who is worried sick about her husband’s return. 

 

THE VIDEO

 

The transfer on the 10th Anniversary disc is exceptionally good.  Disc one has the film in 2:35:1 widescreen dimensions and disc 2 has the IMAX version in 1:66:1.  The IMAX version has more footage than previously seen by extending the dimensions and it looks great, but the widescreen transfer on disc 1 is just exceptional.  The images are so clean and crisp and the colors are so vibrant and life-like, the transfer is one of the best I’ve seen on DVD.

 

THE AUDIO

 

The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound sounds fantastic, the dialogue is at the front as it should be and the surround is spare since this is a human drama.  The rocket blasts and other effects sound realistic and booming but they never impinge on the dialogue.  The score sounds terrific in the mix and soars when it needs to.

 

THE EXTRAS

 

Commentaries – There are two different commentaries on the first disc, which were the two commentaries on the original DVD release.  The first commentary is from director Ron Howard and it is a very interesting and informative commentary from the man who brought not only his passion for the story but also an intense attention to every detail.  Howard has many behind-the-scenes stories and insights into his cast and story.  The second commentary is from Jim and Marilyn Lovell.  This is a very interesting and unique commentary in that they are reflecting on this time in their own lives as captured on film and portrayed by such brilliant actors.  The most interesting parts are where they are comparing what truly happened to what is in the film (there are differences, some very small and some very big).  There are also some very touching moments where Marilyn breaks down in tears recalling this turbulent time in her life.  Two great, interesting commentary tracks.

 

Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 – This is a making of featurette that was also included in the original DVD release which is one of the best making of featurettes I’ve seen.  It takes you through the film from its script development, to the casting, to the training the cast underwent, to the actual filming, all the way through completion and release of the film.  There are interviews with the cast and crew, producers, Howard, and the real life astronauts.  It mixes in actual footage and newsreels of the astronauts, mission control, and the fateful journey.  The best sections are the ones showing the actors training for the film like experiencing zero gravity for the first time.  One thing you really get to see is the level of dedication and his desire for authenticity that Hanks brings to the film.  He truly gave his all for this picture.  This is a great making of featurette that leaves nothing out and focuses on the most interesting areas of filmmaking.

 

Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience Version – This is the IMAX version of the film as mentioned earlier that cuts close to a half an hour of the film as IMAX films had required running times.  The film looks terrific and you get the benefit of added footage to every shot (since the frame has a different dimension you get more of each shot).  But the half hour that was cut out makes this a far less involving and effective film; I definitely prefer the original cut.  Character development and back-story are sacrificed which is never the way to go.

 

Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond – This is a documentary that looks at the history of the space program up through 2003 with interviews and footage from various people and events that shaped the space program.  Since I have almost zero interest in the space program, this documentary was quite a bore for me.  And this seemed like a promo piece for NASA anyway, painting everything in such a heroic, perfect light that it’s oft putting as well.  This was just not my cup of tea.

 

Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story – This was a Dateline: NBC feature that aired around the original release of the film that delves into the Apollo 13 actual event with footage and interviews from the real people involved.  This is a nice extra for those who don’t know the story, as it is brief and informative. 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

The cast of Apollo13 is so first rate and pitch perfect that it makes it almost impossible to dislike the film.  Because even if the space program and traveling to the moon don’t interest you much (like me), the tense and suspenseful story supported by Howard’s expert direction along with this amazing cast will keep you riveted.

 

VERDICT: GREAT SET FOR FANS - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Home | Back to Top

 

:: The DVD

 

:: DVD Ratings

 

THE MOVIE

9

THE VIDEO

8

THE AUDIO

7

THE EXTRAS

7

OVERALL

8

 

:: Merchandise