Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise
, Ed Harris
, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd, Miko Hughes, Max Elliott Slade
Jim Lovell (book, "Lost Moon"), Jeffrey Kluger (book, "Lost Moon"), William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert
Houston, we have a problem.
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." Ron Howard directs Academy Award winner Ton Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris in a riveting suspense-thriller from Imagine Entertainment.
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.
$25.000 million on -unknown- screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 140 min.
Release Date: 2/2/1998
• Audio Commentary by Director Ron Howard
• Audio Commentary by Jim & Marilyn Lovell
• "Lost Moon: Triumph of Apollo 13" Documentary
• Production Notes
• Cast & Filmmakers
• Theatrical Trailer
• Easter Egg
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
Apollo 13: Collector's Edition (1995)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 23, 2005)
Most movies find it hard enough to keep us interested when we don't know precisely how the story will end. After all, how many genuinely unpredictable films are there? Some - like Se7en or The Sixth Sense - catch us off-guard with twists, but the vast majority of movies feature tales and outcomes that are easily anticipated. It's not like we ever actually think James Bond won't survive his encounters.
The predictability factor becomes all the more intense when the film in question sticks to a historical topic. In those cases, the ending is never in doubt because the filmmakers can't deviate from fact. There are some ways around this, to a certain degree. Some films - like Saving Private Ryan or Titanic - create fictional characters amidst factual action, and that opens creative opportunities. Others such as The Insider stick to completely true events but maintain an air of unpredictability because the topics aren't well-known to many.
Neither of those advantages were available to the makers of 1995’s Apollo 13. In fact, it had every disadvantage that one could attach to this kind of project. It dealt with a fairly recent event, which meant quite a few members of the audience would still remember it from first-hand experience and could compare the two. It also featured a pretty high-profile incident, since it focused on the space program in the early Seventies.
Those two strikes could have doomed the movie right there, but Apollo also tempts fate since it bases most of its drama upon the tension surrounding the fates of three astronauts aboard an ill-fated mission. We know exactly how the story will end, as all three of them survive. Even if you don't know this prior to the start of the movie, the opening credits show that the movie was based on a book by astronaut Jim Lovell, so it's pretty clear he'll make it to the end, and that means it's a good bet the others will too.
Despite all of those issues, Apollo works as a film, and works splendidly, even as a tense drama. Just like with all those Bond films, we may know exactly how the story will end, but all of the fun comes from the execution, and director Ron Howard maintains a crisp and taut pace that serves the tale exceedingly well.
Apollo is a wonderful example of how fine a "feel-good" movie can be. Too many of these are marred by excessive and artificial sentiment, and every once in a while, you can see that Apollo starts to travel down that path. However, it never quite gets there, and the movie manages to maintain a nice stiff upper lip throughout most of the events. To be sure, the film packs a considerable emotional punch, but Howard achieves this the old-fashioned way with well-drawn and interesting characters, not through cheap theatrics.
It helps that Apollo features an excellent cast headed by Tom Hanks. He was coming off of two straight Best Actor Oscars and might have gotten a third nod had he not experienced a minor backlash due to his good fortune. I don't know if Hanks' portrayal of Lovell really was award-worthy or not, but he does a very nice job. He and most of the other actors seem a little too personable and emotional for my liking. Those NASA types always come across as very detached and stoic, and I don't think that's just an act for public consumption; I believe those attitudes become ingrained in their personalities and exist most of the time. However, Hanks never goes over the top with his gusto, and since it seems likely his added emotionality - as well as that of the others - comes in the interest of making the characters more believable to the general public, I'll forgive him.
Overall Hanks does a fine job, however, especially in the way he conveys the honor and dignity of Lovell. He also gives us some nice insight into the awe and wonder with which Lovell regards space, and his eagerness to be there. Hanks' performance covers a lot of bases and does so adeptly; he makes Lovell a very three-dimensional and real character.
Since they receive much less screen time, the other actors don't fare quite as well, but a solid cast helps make every aspect of the story work. As fellow astronauts Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon provide solid support in the spacecraft, especially in the ways the three bounce off of each other. The men maintain a believable chemistry and interact naturally. Back on the ground, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris lead the way, and both of them offer their usual fine work, along with Kathleen Quinlan's emotional but firm turn as Lovell's wife Marilyn. The film still might have succeeded without such a terrific supporting crew, but their inclusion makes it all the more solid.
There's not much to dislike about Apollo 13. The movie may run a little too long, and perhaps it could have avoided some of the factual liberties it takes, but these are minor gripes in the face of a generally fine film. Ron Howard has a very spotty track record as a director, but Apollo is his one almost total success.
The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio A-/ Bonus A-
Apollo 13 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie displayed a few more problems than I expected, and that made it not terribly above-average.
Sharpness usually seemed nicely crisp and detailed, although a few wider shots occasionally betrayed some vague softness. In an odd way, even those instances didn't look particularly bad, as the film featured a very naturalistic appearance in general and some of the slight softness suited it. Moiré effects were an occasional concern, and I also noticed some jagged edges and edge enhancement.
Print flaws were more prevalent than I'd expect from such a recent film. I saw light grain at times and also detected occasional white speckles, black grit and a couple of nicks. These problems were relatively infrequent, but I felt they occurred too many times for such a new picture.
Colors represented the natural look of the piece and seemed nicely realistic and accurate. Reds especially fared well, but all hues were clear and rich. Black levels seemed deep and dark without any excessive heaviness, and shadow detail looked appropriately opaque. All in all, the film featured a good image, but not one that seemed great.
I felt more impressed with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Apollo 13. The soundfield seemed wonderfully detailed and lively throughout the whole film. The sequences that related to the spacecraft stood out the most strongly, of course, but even "ordinary" scenes in mission control or in homes sounded realistic and active. The forward speakers were in constant use, with a great deal of ambient sound and music coming from the right and the left. The surrounds didn't get quite as good a workout, but they rarely seemed idle; James Horner's score and lots of ambient reinforcement emitted from the rears. Split surround usage wasn't frequent but it appeared appropriate; the sound designers avoided any "gimmicky" effects in that regard, and the whole program held together well.
Audio quality also appeared positive. On a few rare occasions, dialogue came across as slightly edgy, but for the most part, speech sounded clear and natural, with no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects were always accurate and realistic, with very little evidence of distortion; some of the usual suspects like explosions and jet engines displayed minor crackling, but that's almost inevitable, and I'm sure some of the problem came from the limits of my own system. Music appeared very dynamic and clean, with smooth highs and some deep lows. Across the board, bass sounded excellent; the track will give your subwoofer a workout. Overall, the soundtrack of Apollo seemed terrific.
As do the extras. The DVD includes two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from *director Ron Howard as he offers a running, screen-specific chat. Howard provides a lot of background about the film. Howard mixes a nice sampling of remarks about both the technical aspects of making the movie and the historical facts behind the picture. He spends too much time telling us when shots were done aboard the "Vomit Comet" and when they weren't, but overall this is an enjoyable and informative track.
The second commentary presents *astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn. This one starts slowly, as in the early moments, Jim does little more than say "Remember that?" to Marilyn. However, once the two of them get more comfortable with the format and the movie's action heats up it becomes more compelling. Jim offers a lot of good details about the factual side of the mission; he points out how the movie differs from reality and helps fill in some of the gaps.
Marilyn doesn't say much but she does provide a welcome emotional component to the track. Unsurprisingly, Jim doesn't deviate from the detached flight jock tone during his comments, so it was nice to have someone attach some feeling to the events. All in all, it's a fine commentary; as with Frank McCourt's track on Angela's Ashes, it's very cool to be able to hear the person being Depicted on screen describe the events.
Next up is a 58-minute and three-second documentary about the film called *Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13. This is a truly terrific piece of work. The program involves Howard, Jim Lovell, Marilyn Lovell, producer Brian Grazer, executive producer Todd Hallowell, visual effects supervisor Robert Legato, lead digital compositor Mark Forker, astronauts Fred Haise, Dave Scott, Apollo 13 flight director Gerald Griffin, command module systems controller Sy Lieberglot, Apollo 13 flight dynamics officer Jerry Bostick, mission control director Gene Krantz, Tom Kelly of Grumman, NASA mission operations director Christopher Kraft, daughters Susan Lovell Williams and Margaret Haise, command systems module controller John Aaron, and actors Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan, and Ed Harris. The show offers a mix of film clips, interview segments and archival footage from the era itself.
That latter aspect is maybe the most compelling. The documentary starts with a clip from Johnny Carson and "The Tonight Show", ends with a speech from Nixon about the mission and hits on all sorts of other great material in between those points as we find out about the actual flight and its issues. For movie material, we also learn about how the project made it to the screen, casting, shooting in the “Vomit Comet”, the quest for accuracy and telling the story, approaches to the various roles, visual effects, and general production information. The show balances historical observations and data about the flight along with movie-making notes to create a very informative and enjoyable documentary.
A few short extras fill out the package. The Production Notes provide some nice details about the making of the film. There's nothing here that's terribly new, since most of it's already stated in the other sections, but it reads well. Oddly, the booklet almost exactly duplicates the notes found on the disc itself except that the first paragraph is different.
More text appears in the Cast and Crew area. We find brief but decent listings for the six main actors and Howard. The DVD also features the film's theatrical trailer.
Finally, an Easter egg appears. If you go to the main menu and don’t change it, you’ll hear the film’s entire isolated score.
If you've gotten this far, my recommendation should be fairly clear.
Apollo 13 remains an excellent film that provides suspense, drama and emotion all with dignity and flair. The DVD provides passable picture with terrific sound plus some simply fantastic supplements. Apollo 13 offers a memorable movie and a generally strong DVD.
To rate this film, visit the 10th Anniversary Edition review of APOLLO 13