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Apollo 13 (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios / 1995 / 140 Minutes / Rated PG
Street Date: April 13, 2010
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Reviewed by Aaron Peck
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Nobody cared when Apollo 13 was going to the moon. America had a "been there done that" feeling going on, and the Apollo 13 astronauts were just picking at the scraps left behind by Neil Armstrong and his crew. The national sentiment changed, however, after an explosion on the ship left them crippled, unable to make their moon landing, and even more worrisome, with a very slim chance they might even make it home.
'Apollo 13' is one of those rare films that draws you in with a true story and doesn't let you go. The film is directed masterfully by Ron Howard. The ensemble cast, including Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, and Gary Sinise, remains to this day one of the best film casts assembled.
Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) has his heart set on going to the moon. A tad envious of Neil Armstrong, Lovell, can't wait to step out onto the lunar surface. Soon after take off however, Lovell is faced with not completing his mission. Instead, his mission becomes keeping his crew and himself alive.
Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) is the leader of mission control. With stoic composure, Kranz navigates the situation put before him. Harris' performance is one of the many hidden gems in this movie. Every time he's on screen he steals the scene. Tom Hanks takes top billing, but Harris gives arguably the best performance.
Howard has the advantage of being provided such a heart-wrenching true story that it would be hard to mess it up. As Roger Ebert pointed out on the film's release, Howard has enough smarts not to litter the movie with ridiculous subplots, which may undermine the overall objective.
According to IMDb, the actors made "between 500 and 600 parabolic arcs in NASA's KC-135 airplane (nicknamed the "Vomit Comet") to achieve real weightlessness." In other words, in order to achieve the very lifelike weightlessness going on in the film, Howard and his crew had to assemble hundreds of flights where the weightlessness only lasted a mere 23 seconds. This is directing on a monumental scale. Thinking about the grueling schedule of flight after flight to get each and every shot right is unfathomable. Instead of using green screens, wires, and film trickery, Howard decided to give us a very real feeling of what it's like to be in space. The weightless scenes in 'Apollo 13' are some of the most technically awesome scenes ever put to film. Considering the planning and preparation that had to go into them is astounding.
'Apollo 13' touches the heart. It's suspenseful, soulful, and inspiring. It's a true story, where not much fluff has been added. It was truly an event that was destined to be made into a movie. Howard chose the right way to do it, cutting no corners. Giving us a real sense of what it must have been like for those three astronauts who were faced with the real possibility that they might be lost in space forever. It was one of the best films of 1995, and faced an unfortunate turn of events when it had to go up against 'Braveheart' for Best Picture. Although it didn't win, it remains Howard's finest work, and a masterpiece of modern cinema.
This is the 15th Anniversary Edition of 'Apollo 13,' yet Universal succeeds in providing us with a lushly detailed AVC-encoded transfer. Fine detail is uncanny for the most part. Some soft shots are occasionally sprinkled in, but the scenes in space are some of the best as far as detail and crispness that I've seen on a catalog title of this vintage. From the worn instruments of the spacecraft to the facial details of its inhabitants, this is an extremely rich video presentation. Blacks are deep. When the lights in the spacecraft are shut off, delineation is spot on, providing fantastic depth and dimension. Technically, this presentation is leaps and bounds above the DVD presentation. This will delight videophiles and will give you great demo material to show to your friends. When they come over, show them the rocket taking off. The launch scene is one of the most detailed of the entire movie, and it looks amazing in high definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation, like the video presentation, is something to behold, especially for a catalog title. Clear and concise dialogue pour through the center channel without sounding muted or underwhelming. The beginning of the film is very dialogue-heavy so this is key to its success, but once that rocket blasts off, anything hanging on your walls will be shaking. The LFE let loose during the blast off scene is tremendous and booming. It rumbles from the subwoofer as heavy and rich as I've ever heard. Not only does the LFE engulf you, but the surrounds are alive with action and sounds which completely overtake you while you're watching. When the astronauts reach the desolate darkness of space, the presentation shifts back to a subdued, but spectacularly clear dialogue film. Panning effects are done smoothly, and as the astronauts bang around in the inside of the spacecraft clinks and clanks are heard throughout the rear channels. This is a technically proficient audio presentation which will suck you into the movie just like the video. One of the best I've heard on a catalog release.
- Commentaries by Ron Howard and Jim and Marilyn Lovell – Two Commentaries are provided. First is a commentary by Ron Howard who is always fun to listen to. He's joyful about the film and heaps praise on his actors and crew. It's a great listen. Some directors come across as very dry during their commentaries, but how can a guy who narrated 'Arrested Development' come across as dry? He's enjoyable to listen to and he's got so much enthusiasm about his film and the true story that it makes this commentary a must listen.
The other commentary is provided by the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell. This is a special commentary and one that shouldn't be missed. It's a treat hearing Jim and Marilyn reflect on what is happening in the movie and how it affected them personally. They lived through this crisis and offer loads of details about their feelings and thoughts when everything was happening.
- Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 (SD, 58 min) – This fantastic documentary has been carried over from the previous DVD release. Every person of the cast and crew is interviewed in depth about the project. Other gems include the interviews of the actual surviving astronauts who give their accounts and thoughts.
- Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond (SD, 48 min) – Carried over from the recent Anniversary DVD release, this documentary gives us some insights into the space race and why it was so vital at that time. While not as enthralling as "Lost Moon" it's still worth a watch.
- Lucky 13: The Astronauts' Story (SD, 12 min) – Also from the Anniversary DVD release this featurette includes footage from an NBC Dateline special about the astronauts. It contains interviews with the astronauts and their thoughts on the then recently released movie.
The requisite Blu-ray offerings are available here like basic BD-Live functionality, which introduces "Social Blu." Universal says "Social Blu" is a way to connect with your friends about your favorite movies on your favorite social networks. Pocket Blu and D-Box Motion are also available.
- U Control – Universal's U Control, while not as engrossing as Warner's Maximum Movie Mode, is still fun to use and navigate through. Here we're offered two interactive features to peruse while watching the movie. "The Apollo Era" covers the history surrounding the mission and what was going on in the world at that time. "Tech-Splanations" gives us an in depth analysis on all things technical. It explains what the characters are talking about at times and gives us information on the technology used during the Apollo 13 mission.
No easter eggs reported for 'Apollo 13 ' yet. Found an egg? Please use our tips form to let us know, and we'll credit you with the find.
'Apollo 13' is a modern masterpiece. A monumental piece of filmmaking that still retains the resonating spirit it had when it was first released. There is no better way to release this film than on Blu-ray. It looks and sounds magnificent. This is just the type of release you'd expect for such an audacious and awe-inspiring film. This one comes very highly recommended.
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