PG Dir: Ron Howard | Universal | 2h 20min
Plot: What’s it about?
It’s hard not to think of the space program without having some memories…Man walks on the Moon in July 1969, Shepard orbits the Earth 8 years earlier and a mission that no one really thought about, until it all went wrong. Apollo 13 is the true story of the mission that had America on it’s feet and listening to every word that was uttered for four days. Ron Howard has assembled a near perfect cast with Tom Hanks playing flight commander, Jim Lovell. This role garnered Hanks his third consecutive Best Actor nomination and it’s well deserved, as Hanks was perfect for the role. The rest of the cast, while not quite as stellar, only added to the intensity of the movie. Gary Sinise plays Ken Mattingly, the crew member who was sidelined at the last minute due to a case of the measles (which he never got). Kevin Bacon plays his replacement, Jack Swigert and Bill Paxton plays the third member of the crew, Fred Haise. There’s no telling how the flight would have gone had Mattingly been up there with the original crew, maybe fine, maybe none would be here today. It’s just one of those things.
Nevertheless, the story of Apollo 13 is one of the most remarkable in recent history. The story starts off before the flight and introduces us to the lives of the members of the crew. Kathleen Quinlan, who also was nominated for an Oscar for her performance here, plays Lovell’s wife Marilyn. We see how passionate Lovell is for his job and that he’s a natural born leader, and that’s part of what Hanks brings to the role as well. Things progress normally, and the flight is treated as another “mission to the moon”, but Lovell in an interview remarks “There’s nothing normal about going to the moon” and he’s right. When you think about it, look at what we’ve accomplished! Once airborne, the flight seems to be taking place just as they practiced. With the flip of a switch, a routine stir of the Oxygen tanks, the whole mission is ended and the only thing that matters is getting home alive! It’s about at this time where we see the crew and the members of the ground crew (led by Ed Harris) come together. We see the smartest people in the world trying to figure out how to get three astronauts, who are 200,000 miles from home, back safely.
Apollo 13 is not only good because it’s a story of triumph over impossible odds. It’s good because of a number of things. First, with Ron Howard directing a movie, odds are it will be good. And second with Hanks, Harris and Bacon in starring roles you’re bound to have a hit on your hands. It doesn’t concentrate on the beginning of the space program like “The Right Stuff” or how it all happened from the ground like “From the Earth to the Moon. Apollo 13 chronicles one of the most significant events that happened this century, after all…what would have happened to the space program had Apollo 13 not made it back to Earth safely?
Video: How does it look?
Time flies. Back when this site was still brand new, one of Universal’s major releases was this film (at the time not even five years old). Two decades have now passed and it’s high time we get a decent-looking transfer for this Anniversary Edition. And we do. Much like Criterion takes care of their titles, Universal has taken their time and provided a brand new 4K remaster of this now “classic” film. It’s immediately evident in this 2.35:1 AVC HD encode that the film has benefitted from this laborious process. Blacks are deep and dark, contrast is solid, detail has been improved and colors seem more lively and lifelike. I noticed no grain on the print, save for a minor few scenes with some stock footage. The film has a very sleek quality to it, like you’re watching it on a live HD broadcast. This new version simply blows the previous DVD’s out of the water so run, don’t walk, to pick this up based on the video quality alone.
Audio: How does it sound?
I can recall when this movie came out on DVD (for the first time) that it was released in dual DTS and Dolby Digital editions. Thankfully those days are long gone and we’re treated to a new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that really fits the bill. Vocals are solid and strong, the front directional channels propel the noise the surrounds thereby creating a very immersive experience. Much like the recent Gravity, the sound is so immersive that you can actually feel like you’re in space. No that it needs to be said, but James Horner’s score is second to none. A fine effort here as well.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Universal came out with an “Anniversary Edition” some time ago, probably in 2005 for the 10th anniversary of this film, that added a few supplements. The main draw here is the improved audio and video, though there is a new retrospective featurette. The rest of the supplements remain the same as on the previous DVD. Nevertheless, let’s take a look.
- Apollo 13: 20 Years Later – The aptly-titled retrospective is a bit short and only features Howard and co-hort Brian Grazer (yes, the dude with the hair) as they give us some tidbits about the film. Sadly, the cast of the film is nowhere to be seen and it’s a shame as this could have been a lot more interesting. Still, it’s a testament that they’re adding new material and not just recycling what’s already been released.
- Audio Commentaries – Two are included. The first is with Director Ron Howard and the second with Jim and Marilyn Lovell. Both have their ups and downs and while Howard’s is a bit more technical in nature, the Lovell’s is a lot more personal. Both deserve a listen and it’s a real treat that both are included.
- Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 – An hour long documentary which, as the title suggests, gives us a very immersive look at the ill-fated crew of the Apollo 13 mission and its subsequent success for the NASA program.
- Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond – Essentially a recap of the space program to date, starting with the Mercury astronauts and going on through Gemini, Apollo and Challenger. This is interesting, but clearly Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon gives a much more in-depth look at the space program.
- Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story – This is one that’s been on every DVD since the film came out and contains interviews with the real astronauts who were featured in the film.
- Theatrical Trailer
- DVD/Digital HD Copy
The Bottom Line
Many movies don’t age well. Apollo 13 is one that does. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most inspiring stories in U.S. history, but the fact that it’s chronicled and so expertly well-acted and directed doesn’t hurt. This Blu-ray looks and sounds amazing and is a suitable replacement for any and all DVD’s you have of the film. It’s got its fair share of supplements to boot and comes with our highest recommendation.