Apollo 13(Universal Home Video, 3.29.2005)
Apollo 13 is a darn good movie, filled with memorable performances, tight pacing, nice (but not over-the-top) visuals, and a tremendous amount of tension. Ron Howard skillfully balances scenes aboard the intensely claustrophobic Apollo 13 with dynamic NASA control room sequences and emotional, domestic moments. There is much to admire about this film and time has served it well. Howard can be a skilled craftsman and Apollo 13 is a true testament to that.
The film comes in two versions, each located on a separate disc. The first disc contains a wonderful new transfer of the film in its theatrical entirety, as well as in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Now here comes the dilemma. On the second disc, we have a much superior IMAX transfer that's simply amazing in terms of depth, image brightness, sharpness, and the lack of visible grain. Most DVD transfers are flatter, darker, and softer.
So why not watch the film with a prettier, grain-free transfer? Well, there are two major problems with this. Firstly, several sequences (totaling 24 minutes) have been omitted due to the unwieldy size of IMAX reels. Another problem is the IMAX aspect ratio: it has been reformatted to 1.66:1. The reformatting actually isn't that distracting but the condensed narrative is a serious liability. It may at first appear tighter but many key scenes of character motivation are lost.
Another problem, in terms of audio, is the lack of DTS on the theatrical version of the film, while a DTS track is included on the IMAX version. Still, both discs sound great. It just seems kind of lazy not include DTS on both. Who knows, maybe we would've wound up with a three-disc edition. I know I wouldn't mind. [a DTS DVD of the theatrical version is available but, due to space issues (no pun intended), it doesn't include any extras. -ed.]
Thankfully, the DVD comes packed with an enormous amount of extra material, some old and some new. On the first disc, we get two commentaries, both of which were included on the original special edition DVD. Ron Howard provides an informative track, filled with interesting anecdotes from the set, production and performances details, and comparisons to the true story. Overall, this is an above-average track.
The second commentary comes from Jim and Marilyn Lovell. Here, we get a remarkable first-hand account of what it was actually like to fly to the moon (or be married to a man who flew to the moon). There are several long pauses throughout the commentary but what we do hear is always relevant and completely fascinating.
On the first disc, there is also an hour-long making-of featurette called "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13" (this was also included on the original special edition). This is a great extra that is almost worth the price of purchase alone. We get behind-the-scenes stories, interviews with the film's cast and crew, as well as the real Apollo 13 crew and NASA technicians. There's also some amazing archival footage.
Disc two includes two more, newly made, featurettes. "Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond" is a really nice doc, recapping the last 45 years in space. Narrated by Bill Curtis, the doc runs 48 minutes and manages to cover a surprising amount of historical information. It also contains invaluable archival footage and interviews.
The final featurette is "Lucky 13: The Astronauts' Story," a recounting of the mission that runs only 12 minutes. There isn't much new material here but it's redeemed by more enjoyable, informative interviews. One certainly can't complain.
A very solid film is made even better with thorough extras and remarkable video quality. Of particular note, the IMAX transfer gives us a nice look at how impressive home viewing has become and offers a glimpse into its promising future. -- Neil Karassik