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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Apollo 13: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Apollo 13: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG // June 2, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted June 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Ron Howard's Apollo 13 (1995) is now almost closer in age to its source material than the present day. It portrays the fateful mission of our eponymous spacecraft's crew, from last-minute crew changes to the on-board explosion that almost killed astronauts Jim Lovell (portrayed here by Tom Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton). The world couldn't have been less interested in the mission after coming down from their moon-landing high nine months earlier...but once lives were at stake, it developed into a media frenzy while the crew's friends and family helplessly watched their TVs. Nominated for nine Oscars, Apollo 13 was a box office smash and still remains a dependably good time at the movies. I've seen it at least a dozen times since 1995...and though it's never broken past the four-star ceiling, this slice of cinematic comfort food is far from disappointing in all respects.

Perhaps Apollo 13's greatest asset is its commitment to detail. No footage of the actual mission is used from start to finish, filming was partially completed in a reduced gravity aircraft, and even the pressure suits were designed to functionally mimic those worn by the real-life Apollo astronauts. Multiple crew members and NASA technicians, some depicted in the film itself, served as consultants to ensure that replicas and sets were accurate. The actors were trained in a similar---and, in some respects, identical manner to astronauts of the time period----and reviewed hundreds of NASA transcripts to ensure dialogue accuracy and correct technical terminology. But while Apollo 13 makes no apologies for this commitment to detail, it doesn't forget to loosen up and ensure we have a good time at the movies: the source material provides ample backdrop for plenty of nail-biting suspense, while lighter moments and terrific cast chemistry makes all that technical jargon a whole lot easier to swallow.

Rounding the formula out are terrific performances by Ed Harris (Flight Director Gene Kranz), Gary Sinise (astronaut Ken Mattingly, reluctantly confined to Earth) and more, while the memorable score by James Horner and excellent cinematography by Dean Cundey balance the realism and cinematic flair in equal parts from start to finish. Sure, it's fairly predictable (even for first-time viewers) and those pesky period-specific winks to the audience ("The Beatles broke up!") are still eye-rolling, but the film's obvious technical strengths and lasting appeal offer plenty of proof why Universal bothered to celebrate its 20th anniversary with this new Blu-ray edition. Last released at five-year intervals on DVD and Blu-ray, the film's finally been given a much-needed 4K restoration and the extras get a slight boost as well. It's also priced to move, unlike other Anniversary Editions released in the last month.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Not surprisingly, this new 4K presentation looks superior to any and all previous releases of Apollo 13, including the 15th Anniversary Blu-ray and the 2006 HD DVD. Colors and image detail are very stable and solid from start to finish, black levels are deeper, shadow detail is improved, and the slight sheen of digital noise that we've become used to now looks more like actual film grain. There is one problem with the improved clarity, of course: the film's slightly creaky CGI sticks out a little further this time around, but that's an unavoidable problem. The benefits of this new presentation (framed at the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio) are extremely apparent, and it's likely that those who haven't seen Apollo 13 on Blu-ray will be very much impressed by Universal's excellent remastering job.

DISCLAIMER: This promotional images on this page are strictly decorative and do not represent this Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix sounds pretty close to the last Blu-ray (if not identical), but that's definitely not a problem here. Like the film itself, it's a rather standard and dialogue-driven affair until lift-off occurs about 40 minutes in...and from there on out, our ears are given much more to do as the drama unfolds. LFE and surround activity are ample on many occasions, while James Horner's score offers a suitable amount of support along the way. My only problem with this mix is that it hasn't been scaled back suitably for home theaters, which means that dialogue is much quieter than the film's more action-packed moments. Yes, it's true that back-and-forth conversations aren't nearly as loud as engine burn-offs, but you'll most certainly have your hand on the volume control unless your nearest neighbors live more than a quarter-mile away. Optional DTS 5.1 mixes are provided in six different languages (including French and Spanish) and a dozen sets of subtitles during the main feature and extras.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Standard Universal all the way: everything's nicely organized, loading time is relatively fast and the "Resume Movie" option is always a welcome surprise. This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with plain black disc art and a Digital Copy redemption code; no other inserts are included, but everything's listed on the back.

Bonus Features

The only new supplement here is "Apollo 13: 20 Years Later" (11 minutes), a brief retrospective interview with director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer. There's some good info here and the honest sentiments of Howard and Grazer are appreciated, but the lack of cast and additional crew input spoils the party somewhat.

Otherwise, everything from the 15th Anniversary Blu-ray is carried over, including a pair of Audio Commentaries with Ron Howard and James & Marilyn Lovell, the long-form "Lost Moon" Featurette, the space-race examination "Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond", "Lucky 13: The Astronauts' Story" (interviews with the real-life Apollo 13 crew and NASA technicians, an informative two-part U-Control sidebar that explains historical detail and technical terms, as well as the film's Theatrical Trailer. Overall, a good batch of extras that fans will enjoy revisiting.

Final Thoughts

Unlike its subject matter, Apollo 13 pretty much stays on the surface from start to finish, rarely deepening its mixture of crowd-pleasing suspense and starry-eyed nostalgia. Yep, it's pretty much cinematic comfort food, but Apollo 13 still remains an enjoyable ride 20 years later, thanks to its capable lead and supporting performances, a realistic and grounded approach to its historically-charged events (except for the sound in space), and the terrific details that almost make us feel that we're watching everything unfold as it actually happened. Universal's 20th Anniversary Blu-ray offers a few obvious upgrades to the 15th Anniversary Edition, from the major (a much-needed 4K remaster) to the minor (one new featurette, plus all of the old ones). All things considered, it's a well-rounded package at a fair price, making this an easy choice for new, casual, and seasoned fans alike. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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