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Ron Howard
Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise , Ed Harris , Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd, Miko Hughes, Max Elliott Slade
Writing Credits:
Jim Lovell (book, "Lost Moon"), Jeffrey Kluger (book, "Lost Moon"), William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert

Houston, we have a problem.

Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Apollo 13 is now available in an incredible 2-Disc Anniversary Edition with never-before-seen bonus materials. Produced by Academy Award winner Brian Grazer and directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard, Apollo 13 stars Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris in the inspiring and riveting story of the real-life space flight that gripped a nation and changed the world.

Box Office:
$62 million.
Opening Weekend
$25.000 million on -unknown- screens.
Domestic Gross
$172.071 million.

Rated PG

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
Castillian DTS 5.1
Czech DTS 5.1
Hungarian DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 4/13/2010

• Audio Commentary by Director Ron Howard
• Audio Commentary by Jim & Marilyn Lovell
• "Lost Moon: Triumph of Apollo 13" Documentary
• “Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond” Documentary
• “Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story” Documentary
• “U-Control” Interactive Feature


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Apollo 13 [Blu-Ray] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 11, 2015)

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 audience members 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 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. As I said, this may not be an award-worthy performance, but I think Hanks tops his work in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Hanks played a symbol in the first one, and Gump was nothing more than a cartoon character. Lovell is the only real person of the three.

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 Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio A-/ Bonus A

Apollo 13 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though generally attractive, the transfer suffered from a few more problems than I’d like.

Sharpness usually seemed fairly crisp and detailed, although a few wider shots occasionally betrayed some vague softness. Those instances remained minor, though. I linked the slightly lack of definition to the mild edge enhancement that sometimes crept into the transfer. The haloes weren’t severe, but they were noticeable, especially during the movie’s first act; once we spent more time in the darkness of space, they were less obvious.

Moiré effects and jagged edges failed to create concerns, and very few source flaws became obvious. I noticed a speck here or there, but not anything to create distractions. Grain looked a bit heavier than one might expect, though that likely was an outgrowth of the Super 35 photography; films shot that way usually look grainy when compared to flicks made with other processes.

Colors represented the natural look of the piece and seemed nicely realistic and accurate. The film got the slightly garish fashion sense of the era down well, and it replicated the hues well; they occasionally threatened to become too heavy but remained fine. Black levels seemed deep and dark without any excessive heaviness, and shadow detail looked appropriately opaque. The image was always more than watchable, and it often looked quite good, but it seemed a bit too “processed” and unnatural for a grade above a “C+”.

I felt more satisfied with the DTS-HD 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. A smidgen of edginess occurred, but speech usually 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 such as explosions and jet engines display minor crackling, but that's almost inevitable.

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.

How do the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to those of the 2005 DVD? I thought the two soundtracks were similar, but the DTS-HD mix got a boost in terms of vivacity and accuracy. It added a bit more pep in its step and seemed more realistic.

As for the visuals, the Blu-ray was superior because its best moments exceeded the DVD’s highlights. However, it wasn’t as big an improvement as I’d like; the various issues I mentioned meant it lacked the smoothness and definition I’d expect from Blu-ray. It may be better, but it’s not a great deal better.

Most of the 2005 DVD’s extras repeat here, along with some new elements. The set includes two separate audio commentaries, and 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.

Two more documentaries follow. Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond runs 48 minutes and 24 seconds and looks at issues connected to space exploration. We see archival material and hear modern comments from Lovell, NASA astronauts Shannon W. Lucid, Roger K. Crouch, NASA astronomer Ann Kinney, NASA Mars scientist James Garvin, and NASA solar system scientist Colleen Hartman.

The program starts with the roots of the “space race” between the US and the USSR and continues with the development of NASA and the “Mercury Seven”. We see the early achievements and setbacks as well as the push to get to the moon with the Gemini and Apollo programs, the Apollo 11 landing, NASA’s quest to examine the rest of the solar system, close-up looks at Mars and other exploratory issues, additional space flights and problems like the Challenger explosion.

“Beyond” presents a pretty good overview of the various issues. It gets into manned flights and looks into the present and future of space exploration. It feels a bit dry at times, as it lacks much flair, but it communicates the material concisely and well.

Finally, we get the 12-minute and 13-second Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story. This “Dateline” segment offers more archival materials, some film clips, and remarks from Jim Lovell, Marilyn Lovell, Fred Haise, Sy Liebergott, John Aaron and Gene Krantz. “Story” presents a quick overview of the events that occurred during the Apollo 13 mission. It’s a good little synopsis, but it brings almost nothing new to the table. I think it just rehashes the same information heard elsewhere.

For something new, we go to U-Control. This allows for picture-in-picture information that goes down two paths. “The Apollo Era” looks at aspects of the period in which the movie takes place, while “Tech-Splanations” delivers information about the space flight and other connected concepts. Most of the material comes from text, though we also get computer animated demonstrations accompanied by narration.

Across both of these components, we learn a moderate amount about the topics at hand, but they tend to be a bit frustrating in execution. In an annoying twist, you can’t run both at the same time, so if you want to watch both, you either have to sit through the movie twice or you have to constantly access the “U-Control” menu to jump from one segment to another. The latter is the more effective way, but it’s not efficient; the disc doesn’t allow you to quickly head back to this menu, so the amount of button-mashing gets old before long.

Is the information worth the effort? Not really. Of the two, “Tech-Splanations” is the superior one. I like the animations, and the facts about the space flights add some good background. “Era” is less compelling, but since the absence of animations makes it less obtrusive, you could easily watch it while you view the film and it probably won’t distract you. That’s what I’d recommend: view the movie with “Era” activated and then go back later to jump around among the tech material. Don’t expect greatness from either, though.

What does the Blu-ray lose from the 2005 DVD? It drops a trailer as well as an IMAX version of the film. Since the latter edited the film and compromised its aspect ratio, I don’t miss it. The isolated score from the original 1998 DVD remains MIA.

Apollo 13 remains an excellent film that provides suspense, drama and emotion all with dignity and flair. The Blu-ray provides erratic but generally good picture along with excellent audio and a nice collection of supplements. Though this is the best version of the movie on the market, the picture concerns make it a bit of a disappointment; it’s a nice enough disc but not the killer edition I’d like.

To rate this film visit the 2005 DVD review of APOLLO 13

Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main