(This review is made up partly of prior "Apollo 13" DVD reviews. New review elements have been added in several instances in regards to this Anniversary Edition, however.)
Although there are a few small things that I don't care for, "Apollo 13" remains a wonderfully acted, superbly tense picture that contains excellent performances. During the early portion of the film, there are moments that I felt are slightly slow. I do enjoy some of the scenes that have to do with NASA and having to do with the process of being about to go into space, but I suppose I was just wanting to go into space as soon as possible. Luckily, the ground characters (especially the outstanding Ed Harris) such as the NASA crew and Lovell's family(I went to high school with the actress who played the daughter) are all performed by an excellent crew of actors and actresses. Once the film finally moves into space though, director Ron Howard succeeds in every aspect, from storytelling to the attention to detail in the sets. The amount of tension is increased at every moment.
Everyone probably knows the story by now: 3 astronauts, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert(Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon) have an oxygen tank explode in the middle of their mission to the moon ("Houston, we have a problem."). They face almost a constant string of obstacles, from freezing to death in space to their remaining oxygen levels running dangerously low. The dialogue between the characters as things begin failing feels as if it's been kept realistic, and that only adds to how engaging and riveting the scenes are once the movie has moved into space. Howard also talks about this in his commentary, where he talks about the fact that the audience may not know what the technical language means, but with the performance, we know that it's important and feel that each step is critical.
And of course, what Ron Howard movie would be complete without a performance from his brother Clint, who plays a NASA control room operator. Seriously though, Howard did an incredible job re-creating the events of "Apollo 13" and he had a crew of actors who provided performances that were nothing short of outstanding.
This 2-DVD set offers both the original edition of the movie and the IMAX version, which cuts down the film by 24 minutes (unfortunately, some character moments have been dropped and while that is a major issue, part of me did feel that this edition ran a little tighter) and has the aspect ratio of the film at 1.66:1, instead of the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. "Apollo 13" was the first film to undergo this process. Others, including the "Matrix" movies and, more recently, "Robots", have also undergone this process. The technology has advanced so that, as far as I'm aware (when I saw "Matrix: Revolutions" and the third "Harry Potter", they were the full cuts), films no longer need to be recut to fit the IMAX reels, as "Apollo 13" was.
From the IMAX website:
"IMAX digital re-mastering starts by converting a 35mm frame into digital form at very high resolution, capturing all the detail from the original. Our proprietary software mathematically analyses and extracts the important image elements in each frame from the original grainy structure to create a pristine form of the original photography. This is the most complex step in IMAX digital re-mastering.
The image on a 35mm film frame is comprised of a fine grain structure like that of all photographic images. This grain when projected on to the IMAX screen looks like a TV channel that isn't quite tuned to the station. Removing this grain while preserving the quality of the underlying image is the basis of IMAX DMR.
To create the brightness and clarity that audiences have come to expect from The IMAX ExperienceŽ, IMAX uses a proprietary computer program to make the images sharper than they were originally, while colors are adjusted for the unique technically superior characteristics of the IMAX screen. The completed re-mastered film is then transferred onto the world's largest film format, 15-perforations 70mm."
VIDEO: The film is presented in two different aspect ratios on this release. The theatrical version, included on the first disc, is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The IMAX edition, available on the second disc, is offered in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. The theatrical version of the film looks terrific, as it has been given a new transfer. The IMAX version, with the digital remastering done for the format, looks spectacular. Sharpness and detail are excellent on both versions, although the IMAX version has a really nice level of depth to the image.
Both presentations suffer from very few flaws. Both editions do show some mild edge enhancement in a few scenes, but I didn't find this to be particularly irritating. Both editions showed no pixelation and only a couple very tiny instances of print flaws. Colors were bright and well-saturated, with no smearing or other faults. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate.
SOUND: This release offers the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation on both editions, although only the IMAX version also contains the DTS 5.1 soundtrack. The sound quality is a close runner-up to the image quality. From the early scene where the rocketship takes off and you feel as if you're right there as sound fills the room to scenes in space that have a perfect sense of space, this is an involving sound mix throughout. Surrounds are used often during some of the more intense scenes of the film. The details remain crisp and clear, from the hustle and talking of the control room to the flip of each switch on the ship itself. Dialogue remains clear and easily understood.
The launch sequence (which looks a bit dated now in terms of effects) is, as always, a massively enjoyable sequence in terms of not only visuals, but audio - and it sounds remarkable on the DTS edition of the film, available (oddly enough) only on the IMAX version. That's certainly not the only impressive portion offered up by the audio on this edition. The score, by "Titanic" composer James Horner, sounds wonderfully dynamic and comes through with impressive clarity. The surrounds are used solidly and agressively when the film gets more intense, and when they do recieve work to do, their use is very effective. Details during the space scenes later in the film is also fantastic, and adds to the success the film has in building the environment in the space scenes. Dialogue comes through very clearly and is easily understood. This is a rich, detailed audio experience that envelops the viewer - very, very enjoyable. The DTS edition does provide stronger, tighter bass and a more enveloping, seamless feel, so it's too bad that it was only included on the IMAX version in this set.
EXTRAS: Commentary: This is a commentary by director Ron Howard. I didn't really like Howard's commentary for "EDTV", but I was actually entertained by this one and found it informative. During this discussion, he goes in-depth into the details of the production, talking about how many of the scenes were filmed on the KC-135 jet, where the actors were weightless, or on the stage. He also frequently talks about various stories from the set and what it was like to work with the various actors. Most interestingly, he also goes into detail about the research that he had to do to make the film more accurate, as well as the differences between the film and what really happened.
The commentary in space focused a bit much during one point on pointing out whether or not the scene was filmed on stage, but when Howard goes into more detail about the performances, as well as the challenges of filming both the space and mission control scenes, it's fascinating to listen to.
The second commentary is from Jim and Marilyn Lovell and where the Howard commentary was able to take us into how the production was able to re-create many of these moments, Lovell is able to tell us in great detail about what really happened during these scenes. This is not really a commentary where the speakers are talking constantly throughout the film, but when Lovell does talk about what really happened, every comment gives a wealth of information about the real events, and he even goes into quite a few technical details about what the astronauts had to do during the flight. The ability to hear Lovell's memories of this tragic incident and hear exactly how it happened is nothing short of amazing. A great commentary track.
Lost Moon: The Making Of "Apollo 13": This is a 1 hour documentary feature that takes a look not only at the history and events of the "Apollo 13" mission, but also takes a lengthy and very in-depth look at how the production put this film together. There are a number of interviews with the main cast and crew that I found quite interesting - these are interviews that have a very honest, "non-promotional" feel to them; they're just the cast talking about the the challenges and feelings around playing these characters. Especially amazing is the footage of the cast weightless on the special plane that was used for this film, as well as their thoughts of terror during their flights on the plane. The documentary also takes a look at the film's visual effects, with an interview with visual effects supervisor Rob Legato, who also did work on "Titanic" and "Armageddon". It's one of the better documentaries that I've seen included with DVD, and succeeds in giving you a look at "Apollo 13" both past and present.
Conquering Space This documentary, found on the second disc, is one of the two new supplements included. The 48-minute program, narrated by Bill Curtis, takes a look at the space race and America's history of space exploration. The program is an involving and enjoyable look at the different triumphs and obstacles NASA has faced, and it also provides some enjoyable interviews and archive footage.
Lucky 13: The Astronaut's Story: This shorter documentary is the other new supplement included on the second disc. This piece runs a little over 12 minutes and includes both interviews with the astronauts and archive footage. The short piece certainly doesn't have enough running time to provide a full exploration of the events, but the interviews here are interesting and the featurette does give a pretty good overview.
Finally, production notes and the theatrical trailer are included on the first disc.
Final Thoughts: A powerful and incredibly tense drama, "Apollo 13" is a well-acted look at the heroic acts made in order to bring the "Apollo 13" astronauts back home safely. Universal's new 10th Anniversary Edition has some issues (the DTS audio option being available only on the IMAX edition), but the release offers more supplements and improved image quality. Recommended.
Read our coverage of the Apollo 13 DVD Launch