What kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s wasn’t totally and completely captivated by the moon landings? We were equally on the edge of our seats when, for a brief moment in time, it appeared we were going to lose our first men in space. Seldom can a film be successful when the audience has most of the story’s details burned into the core of their memory. After all, we know how this one comes out. Still, the film manages to create the intense tension and anticipation as if we were experiencing it all for the first time. The cast is quite crucial for such a monstrous task. Tom Hanks has arguably never been better. The understated style of Gary Sinise is exactly what the film requires when the suspense mounts. It’s particularly gratifying to have Ed Harris along for the ride, quite possibly an homage to his unforgettable John Glenn in The Right Stuff. Ron Howard should be congratulated on producing a piece of cinematic magic that will likely stand the test of time.
The crew of Apollo 13 (Hanks, Bacon, Paxton) are on their way to a historic landing on the moon when a short in an oxygen tank causes a near catastrophic explosion. The damaged craft, no longer able to complete its mission, must now make it back to Earth and an improbable safe return. Based on the book, Lost Moon, by the mission’s commander, Jim Lovell.
The disc sports a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Some might find this track to be a disappointment because of the understated nature of the mix. I found it to be perfectly suited to the cramped quarters the astronauts experience in the film. It would have taken me out of the element to have a very large sound on this one. The track delivers when necessary, particularly the launch sequence and the brilliance of James Horner’s score. There’s not a lot of use of the rear speakers. You’ll catch them most notably during the course correction sequence. You’ll hear the correction jets quite clearly and accurately in the room corresponding to their placement on the screen. This track is faithful to the DTS version found on the first release.
The commentaries are nothing short of excellent. It was nice to hear Ron Howard talk about the film and his respect for the astronauts themselves. The real treat here was the commentary with the actual man himself, Jim Lovell, accompanied by his wife. Never have I heard more perspective. This is one of those audio tracks that will often make you ignore the film itself. I would have bought this disc just for that commentary. I know it was included on the original disc, but I never had the opportunity to listen to it then. I wish I had. It is truly out of this world.
There are two versions of the film offered on this set. The original film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The print is in pristine condition. You won’t find any flaws or specks from this transfer. Colors are often soft, but faithful to the original presentation. The largest problem is compression artifacts. There’s just too much data on this disc. You’ll find many instances of digital artifacting in the space scenes. The documentary really should have been placed on another disc. Blacks are quite deep and full of wonderful detail considering the compression problems.
The second disc contains the IMAX version of the film. Unfortunately, the film is considerably shorter because of the time restraints in an IMAX theatre. The aspect ratio is 1.66:1. The film was reformatted to the IMAX specs, mostly using carefully thought out crops and zooming effects. This version of the film is interesting in its detail and sharper image. Still, I would rather watch the entire uncut film.
This is a two-disc collection, the first of which contains the original feature and aforementioned commentaries. This first disc also contains an hour-long documentary that honestly should have been placed on another disc entitled “Lost Moon: The Triumph Of Apollo 13”. This is the same feature found on the original release. What makes this standard behind the scenes extra so much more is the inclusion of the real astronauts and NASA personnel? This is a wonderful blend of the movie and the actual events it portrays. You’ll also see some archival footage from the real event. The film’s production notes are also contained on this disc.
The second disc contains the new material not found in previous releases. First up is “Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond”. This feature provides a good timeline of America’s exploration of space. The piece is loaded with original footage and interviews from many of the events. The other feature on this second disc is “Lucky 13: An Astronaut’s Story”. This very short look at the original astronauts and events is covered better with Jim Lovell’s commentary. It’s too short to be of any real value and we already get a good amount of archival stuff on the longer feature.
If you already own the Collector’s Edition of the film, this one might be worth a rent for the Disc Two extras. I didn’t find the upgrade of the video or audio to be enough alone to warrant a new release. The film ends on a rather sad note, as Hanks as Lovell opines that we have not returned to the moon in many years. I’m one of those people who believe the NASA program has staggered in baby steps in a time we should be attempting to run. Recently a Congressional report concluded that no other agency in our government has returned more economical return for the money spent than our space program. True, there are many problems facing us here on Earth, but perhaps some of the answers can’t be found here. I am eager for the return of the Shuttle program, but also impatient for us to move on to Mars and beyond. So much to see, so little time given to see it. “Failure is not an option”.