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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/25/98

Apollo 13
Collector's Edition - 1995 (1998) - Universal Studios

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Apollo 13: Collector's Edition Film Rating: A+
At times moving, always gripping and yes.. it's a true story. One of my ten favorite films.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A+
Excellent picture and sound quality, and outstanding extras. A great value.

Overall Rating: A+
In my opinion, simply the best DVD yet released. Buy and enjoy.

Specs and Features

140 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 44:03), Amaray keep case packaging, documentary: Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13, audio commentary by Ron Howard, and Jim and Marilyn Lovell, production notes, cast and crew bios, theatrical trailer, film-themed menus with selectable soundtrack music (12 tracks), scene access (57 chapters), languages: English, French and Spanish (DD 5.1), subtitles: Spanish, Close Captioned


On April 11, 1970, astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert rocketed from the Earth on what would have been mankind's third mission to the moon. It's hard to believe now, some twenty-eight years later, that walking on the moon was, by then, considered so routine that most of the world had lost interest. That quickly changed, however, when (fifty-five hours into the mission) an explosion on board the spacecraft ended the astronaut's dreams of going to the moon, and almost their lives as well. For four tense days, thousands of NASA technicians struggled heroically to overcome virtually insurmountable odds, and the entire world collectively held its breath, in the desperate hope that these three brave men would return safely home.

Based loosely on the book Lost Moon, written by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13 is an extraordinarily gripping and accurate depiction of the doomed flight, which, although a failure by mission standards, is rightly considered by many to be NASA's finest hour. Directed masterfully by Ron Howard, and infused with a wonderful sense of humanity by Tom Hanks (who is himself a huge fan of the space program), Apollo 13 rings honest and true from beginning to end. The script is well written by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert (Reinert also produced and directed For All Mankind, perhaps the best documentary you'll ever see on the Apollo missions). What amazes me most about this film, is the extraordinary attention paid to detail, and the way it keeps you on the edge of your seat, despite the fact that you know how it's going to end. The zero-gravity is not an effect - the filmmakers actually put the set in a NASA jet, capable simulating weightlessness by diving headlong at the ground for 30 seconds at a time. The launch sequence is simply breathtaking, and gives me a chill every time. And perhaps the greatest testament to the film, is the fact that many of the actual participants in this real-life drama, after seeing Apollo 13, felt as though they had relived the event.

Hanks (as Lovell) gives a poignant and perfectly understated performance, as the veteran astronaut on his last and greatest mission. Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise and Kathleen Quinlan all give some of the best performances of their careers. And Ed Harris is absolutely terrific as Gene Kranz, the stalwart Flight Director back in Mission Control, for whom "failure is not an option". There are even some great cameos to look for: B-movie mogul Roger Corman, Howard's mother, father and brother Clint (as the EECOM), and both Jim and Marilyn Lovell.

As far as DVDs go, they just don't get better than this one. The 2.35:1 picture is excellent in both letterbox and anamorphic widescreen (note that the disc does not include a full screen, pan & scan version). The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is terrific, as is the Pro Logic track. 5.1 surround is also provided in Spanish and French, as are English and Spanish subtitles. The graphic menus nicely use film poster artwork. And as the player waits for you to make a selection, music from the soundtrack plays in the background - a really terrific touch (bravo Universal!). This is not just a few music clips: virtually the entire James Horner soundtrack (easily one of his best) is available here, with individual tracks (12 in all) selectable using the skip buttons on the player remote.

Apollo 13 runs 140 minutes, and uses 57 chapters. The disc is RSDL dual layered, with an on-the-fly layer switch at 44:03, in the fade-to-black transition between chapters 16 & 17. The second layer holds a real treasure's worth of extras. You'll find a theatrical trailer of good quality, two fascinating audio commentary tracks by director Howard, and the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell, and a first-rate documentary on the making of the film, entitled Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13. The documentary is an hour long, and is almost as much fun to watch as the film. It's filled with behind-the-scenes stories, stock footage of the event, and interviews with the cast and crew, as well as the real astronauts and technicians depicted in the film. Want to see something really amazing? Late in Lost Moon, there's an interview with the actual Gene Kranz... and darned if he still doesn't choke up at the memory of those four desperate days, all these years later.

Bottom line

The Apollo 13: Collector's Edition DVD is, in my opinion, the best DVD yet released. It's a real treat, and delivers big in every way the DVD format can. It's definitely the pride of my collection. Highly, highly recommended.

Bill Hunt
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