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Ron Howard
Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise , Ed Harris , Kathleen Quinlan
Writing Credits:
William Broyles Jr., Al Reinert

Houston, we have a problem.

NASA must devise a strategy to return Apollo 13 to Earth safely after the spacecraft undergoes massive internal damage putting the lives of the three astronauts on board in jeopardy.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$25,353,380 on 2,197 Screens.
Domestic Gross

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
German DTS 5.1
PortugueseDTS 5.1
Japanese DTS 5.1
French Canadian
Supplements Subtitles:
French Canadian

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 6/2/2015

• 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
• "Apollo 13: 20 Years Later" Featurette
• “U-Control” Interactive Feature
• Trailer


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: 20th Anniversary Edition [Blu-Ray] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 23, 2016)

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 adventures.

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.

Some films find ways around this. Examples 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 general audience doesn’t know the characters/subject matter.

Neither of those advantages became 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 outcomes 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.

In April 1970, astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) leads a team that also includes Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon). As they orbit the Moon, disaster strikes and cripples their craft. Against all odds, they need to figure out how to survive this catastrophe and return to Earth.

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, 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 Lovell’s honor and dignity 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 the closest to a masterpiece he’s made.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus A

Apollo 13 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a solid transfer.

Sharpness usually seemed fairly crisp and detailed, although a few wider shots occasionally betrayed some vague softness. Those instances remained minor, though, and tended to reflect the source, especially in effects shots. Moiré effects and jagged edges failed to create concerns, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws also remained absent.

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. I felt pleased with this presentation.

I was even more satisfied with the DTS-HD MA 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 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 did the 2015 Blu-ray compare to the 2010 Blu-ray? Audio appeared identical, as both discs offered the same DTS-HD MA 5.1 mixes.

Visuals changed, though, as the 2015 Blu-ray offered notable improvements. The 2015 disc was sharper, smoother and more film-like than the erratic 2010 disc.

The 2015 Blu-ray includes everything from the 2010 release as 2well as some added materuals. 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, five-second documentary called Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13. 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.

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 programs follow. Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond runs 48 minutes , 25 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 show 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.

Next we get the 12-minute, 12-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 that was new to the 2010 Blu-ray, 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.

Not found on the 2010 Blu-ray, we get the film’s trailer as well as a new program called Apollo 13: 20 Years Later. It runs 11 minutes, 40 seconds and includes notes from Howard and Grazer. They discuss why they brought the movie to the screen as well as aspects of the production and its legacy. Howard does most of the talking and helps make this a decent piece. We don’t learn much new but the featurette offers some good thoughts.

Apollo 13 remains an excellent film that provides suspense, drama and emotion all with dignity and flair. The Blu-ray provides very good picture along with excellent audio and supplements. This remains a terrific movie and the 20th Anniversary Blu-ray becomes its best release to date.

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