It had been less than a year since man first walked on the moon, but as far as the American public was concerned, Apollo 13 was just another "routine" space flight- until these words pierced the immense void of space: "Houston, we have a problem." Stranded 205,000 miles from Earth in a crippled spacecraft, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert fight a desperate battle to survive. Meanwhile, at Mission Control, astronaut Ken Mattingly, flight director Gene Kranz and a heroic ground crew race against time-and the odds- to bring them home.
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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal's new and much-welcome edition of 'Apollo 13' includes a BD-50 and a code for the redemption of both an Ultraviolet and a Digital Copy. The DVD copy from the 15th Anniversary Edition is missing. The solitary disc comes within a single-disc blue Elite keepcase and, if you pick up your copy early-on, it includes a slick cardboard slipcover that's matted in areas, embossed in others and reflective in others. A stick has been slapped on the black matted area that explains the newly restored transfer. Luckily, the sticker can be removed without damaging the matte or leaving residue. The only video to play before the main menu is a Universal vanity reel that can quickly and easily be skipped over.
Despite employing artificial enhacement techniques, the 15th Anniversary Edition of 'Apollo 13' was good - especially for when it was done. Luckily, for those of us who love Ron Howard's film and want to see an honest restoration, the 20th Anniversary Edition completely delivers.
Universal went back to the film's original 35mm elements for this new transfer. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is perfectly clean and clear. Along with the edge enhancement and DNR, long gone are the age-revealing flaws - specks, grime, scratches and runs - found on the 15th Anniversary Edition. Honest to the original imagery, there's a nice dusting of film grain. Colors are more lifelike and natural than those in the previous release.
For those who love 'Apollo 13' and want to have the best and most faithful version possible, this edition is wonderful. Comparisons between releases show just how much great work has been put into this new edition. If anything, the only problem with it is that the upped quality reveals the lesser CG quality and details found within the special effects - especially during the blast-off sequence.
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.
All of the features found in this section have been brought over from the 15th Anniversary Edition.
'Apollo 13' is a modern masterpiece. A monumental piece of filmmaking that still retains the resonating spirit it had when it was first released. The new 20th Anniversary Edition contains a pristine video transfer that's free of age-revealing flaws and artificial enhancements. Combined with the same fantastic lossless 5.1 audio track from the 15th Anniversary Edition, 'Apollo 13' looks and sounds magnificent. Even though it took a second transfer, this is just the type of release you'd expect for such an audacious and awe-inspiring film. While the previous Blu-ray edition came with a high recommendation, the 20th Anniversary Edition is a must-own.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.