One of the things that Ron Howard ( Beautiful Mind) mentioned during various little interviews and press junkets for Apollo 13 was that he was surprised that up until this film everyone seemed to forget about story. He could not have picked a better cast to boot, with recognizable names as Tom Hanks (who was coming off his back to back Oscar wins with Forrest Gump and Philadelphia), Bill Paxton (Twister) and Kevin Bacon (Where The Truth Lies), along with Oscar nominees Kathleen Quinlan (A Civil Action) and Ed Harris (A History of Violence).
Based on the book by Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell (played by Hanks) and adapted to film by William Broyles (Unfaithful), the film chronicles the story of the dramatic flight. To sum it up for those of you who haven;t contributed to it;s $350 million worldwide box office take, allow me to do so now; Lovell, Fred Haise (Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise, Ransom) are due to take off in Apollo 13. Unfortunately a member of the backup crew had the measles, and Mattingly was scrubbed and replaced by Jack Swigert (Bacon). The relatively young crew tests and retests for the big flight, and it goes off without a hitch.
While the crew is in space, Swigert performs a routine task for the ship, and a frayed electrical wire helps to set off an oxygen tank explosion. The team is forced to frantically prepare to move their operations to the lunar module, which was essentially became the life boat, even though it was not meant to support the crew. What also made this problematic was that they needed to conserve power for the ship;s re-entry into space, and a large part of the module had to be turned off, so the astronauts were without heat for several days.
While that was going on up there, back down here, flight director Gene Kranz (Harris) was working with various departments to help get the men back home, even as many were speculating on a possibility of it. Mattingly, who was initially dejected at his omission from the launch, was brought back into the mix to help determine procedures to help get the astronauts back to Earth. An even more emotional storyline with Lovell;s wife, waiting eagerly at home for when (or if) Lovell returned.
Aside from providing an insight into NASA that few people were aware of at the time, Apollo 13 was a compelling movie based on historical facts, and that;s always hard to pull off, but it’s done so well with so many great performances that it;s a perennial favorite, no matter what. Howard is so keenly adept at directing real-life stories, the title “king of the docudrama” should go to Opie, with no reservations or hesitations.
The picture is in the 2.35:1 anamorphic, and the depth that this picture picks up really looks good. The overall detail that you gain from this is amazing, and the colors have new life breathed into them. Putting it up against the Anniversary Edition, it’s an improvement over the shorter IMAX version, and a definite step up against the regular version.
The Dolby Digital Plus track is, for lack of a better word, bumping. Putting it up against the DTS track of the IMAX version, the sound was just on a broader and more dynamic field than the DTS. The scene where Swigert stirs the tanks has affects that will literally shake the room if you don’t watch yourself, and as far as the launch goes, well, forget it..
Those that have the recent 2 disc anniversary edition will immediately notice that the extras from that set are on this disc, but as one, so hooray for saving some space. The commentary tracks, one by Howard and one by Marilyn and Jim Lovell are both excellent. The Lovells’ personal revelations are worth exploring as you watch the film. “Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13” is an hour-long look at the mission and the making of the film. A lot of the normal memories about how Howard and producer Brian Grazer came to the film are discussed, and the cast discussed how they became part of the flm. Showing the actors in and out of the “vomit comet” is kinda interesting, and the visual effects are covered also. It’s really cool how they edit a scene from the film into news footage of a particular event, with dialogue almost matching perfectly and whatnot. In fact, Kranz is still so affected by the mission that he chokes up to this day. It’s a very good look at the film and the event.
“Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond” is a 45 minute look at space travel that is quite informative. It discusses the origins along with the much discussed “Space Race” between the American and Russian programs, but obviously focuses more on the USA. From Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, it’s all here. Some interesting trivia was that Glenn almost didn’t survive his space flight, which was a definite surprise to me, as I didn’t hear about it. There are a lot of astronaut interviews, but mostly focusing on Lovell. The other planets are talked about too, and the current progress (MIR, space stations and the Mars rover), and of course, the tragedies of Columbia, Challenger and the Soyuz fatalities are talked about. All in all, this is an interesting piece, even if a lot of it sounds like it came from either Hanks or Howard. Following that is a 12 minute look at the real events surrounding the film, as part of a NBC piece that was presumably released around the time of the film. This one is notable if for nothing else because there’s interview footage not only with Lovell, but with some of the other characters that Harris and even Clint Howard portray.
By no means is Apollo 13 a perfect DVD, but when it comes to showing up what HD-DVD as a technology can do, you’ll find little else that can match up to it right now. It’s a demo-worthy as you can get right now.