15th ANNIVERSARY BLU-RAY
Length: 2 hrs 19 mins
Genre: Historical Drama/Science Fact
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution: 1080p
BD Video Codec: AVC (@ an average 20 mbps)
English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 4.0 mbps – up to 5.0 mbps during the launch)
French European DTS 5.1
Castillian Spanish DTS 5.1
L.A. Spanish DTS 5.1
Italian DTS 5.1
Czech DTS 5.1
Hungarian DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French Canadian, Castillian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Romanian, Slovenian. (There are also subtitles available in various languages for both commentaries.)
Film Rating: PG (Language and Emotional Intensity)
Release Date: April 13, 2010
Starring: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan
Screenplay by: William Broyles Jr., and Al Reinert
Based on the book “Lost Moon” by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger
Directed by: Ron Howard
Film Rating: 3/5
Before I say anything else, I’m going to preface this review by saying that Apollo 13 is unquestionably a well-made film. It is well-acted, clearly staged and professionally crafted. It is no accident that Ron Howard won a DGA Award for his direction of this film, even while the Academy left him off the list of director nominees. Regardless of anything else, he makes eminently watchable and easily digestible movies. I should note that the film did pick up Oscars for Sound and Editing, as a tribute to the craftspeople who worked to make this film. And the mission commander, Jim Lovell, was an active and enthusiastic participant in the film.
But therein lies the rub. Apollo 13 certainly works on the most rudimentary level. It tells an extremely simple story of what occurred when the 3rd NASA moon landing mission went terribly wrong in the spring of 1970. (To give the short version, the spaceflight was jeopardized by equipment failures that crippled the vessel and nearly killed the crew. Thanks to the work of the Mission Control team and the astronauts, the crew was able to safely return to Earth.) In terms of jargon and some intermittently messy details about space travel, the film is pretty accurate. But if you are looking for anything deeper or more meaningful, you may be in for a disappointment. One indicator of this problem shows up here on the Blu-ray: A brief 12 minute featurette (“Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story”) manages to cover all of the major issues portrayed over the course of the film’s nearly 2 ½ hour running time.
As John Powers pointed out in his review of the film in the Washington Post in July 1995, the movie doesn’t even try to scratch below the surface of its material. There is no serious attempt to get into the souls of the three men aboard the doomed craft, nor is there any attempt to provide any context for the mission. We are told that America isn’t paying attention to this mission, but we aren’t told why. The only moments close to a depiction of the American cultural mix at the time feature the Lovell’s daughter listening to Jefferson Airplane and mourning the breakup of The Beatles. If you only saw this film, you would not know that 1970 was a time of major upheaval in this country. Two major examples of this that would not fit within the world of this film are the Kent State tragedy which occurred within one month after the astronauts arrived home, and the works of Gil Scott-Heron, whose popular songs at the time demanded to know why the space program was prioritized over more immediate social problems.
I have heard defenses of the film that say that the movie does not show context or dig very deeply because it is trying to simply relate the facts of the mission. Unfortunately, these defenses don’t hold up once the viewer realizes that various scenes in the film are complete inventions, and that the drama inside the capsule has been heightened with fictional conflicts that did not exist. This is compounded by the fact that other films, like The Right Stuff, have managed to cover this ground with a much surer sense of the contemporary context, and have been able to find a way to explore the souls of the characters with much greater depth.
Again, none of my comments are meant to say that this film is a poorly made one, or even a bad one. My issues here have to do with the rich material left unexamined, and the potential for a better film that may have been lost here. The problem here isn’t that the filmmakers made a bad movie – it’s that they could have made a much more satisfying and resonant one, but chose not to do so.
Apollo 13 has previously been released on standard definition DVD and HD-DVD. The Blu-ray release carries over most of the extras from the last special edition DVD, which also appeared on the HD-DVD, and adds a couple of U-Control features to go along with the high definition picture and sound. If you already have the last 2-disc DVD (from 2005), a purchase here will simply be a matter of whether you want the high definition transfer. Fans of Ron Howard’s movies will certainly want to pick this up, as will fans of Tom Hanks. For more casual viewers, I recommend a rental first.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½ /5
Apollo 13 is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that looks great, and brings out a lot of detail in the various flight suits, uniforms and environments on display here. The level of detail is enough that it reveals some of the limitations of the then-cutting edge visual effects from Digital Domain. (Some shots, like an overhead view of the astronauts on the gantry arm, are now clearly seen to use CGI standins walking through the frame.) I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
AUDIO QUALITY 3 ½/5
Apollo 13 is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with standard DTS 5.1 mixes in French, Castillian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Italian, Czech, and Hungarian Given that much of the film is dialogue-driven, the mix mostly lives in the front channels, but there is some effective use of the subwoofer and the surrounds, particularly during the enthusiastic launch scene. James Horner’s score gets a satisfying presentation in the surround channels.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Apollo 13 comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality, as well as pocket BLU, social BLU and D-Box functionality. The disc also carries over most of the extras from the prior DVD (and laserdisc) releases, including two commentaries and various featurettes. New to the Blu-ray are two U-Control features.
Feature Commentary with Ron Howard – Ron Howard’s commentary from the laserdisc and earlier DVD releases is carried over here, and it continues to be a rewarding one. Beyond his enthusiasm for the project, and his memory of the various people who helped him make it, Howard’s scene-specific comments also reveal the places where he took dramatic license to stretch the truth or simply invent material. One early example is the Apollo 11 launch party , which he used as a convenient way to introduce the main characters in a social setting. The problem here is that this party did not happen – in reality, Jim Lovell watched the launch from Mission Control. Another domestic scene, in which Lovell’s daughter is chastised for her “flower child” Halloween costume (and apparently her appreciation for Jefferson Airplane) is revealed to be an invention. Howard openly admits he designed the scene to reflect the kind of mother-daughter run-ins he had seen in his own home. Howard is apparently unaware that many reviewers took exception to this scene in particular, as it seems to repudiate its only example of the popular culture of the time.
Feature Commentary with Jim and Marilyn Lovell – The second commentary from the laserdisc and earlier DVD releases is preserved here. This one is a scene-specific talk with mission commander Lovell, with occasional laughs and observations from his wife Marilyn, who is watching the film with him. Lovell adds to the discussion of various situations in the film that were either changed for dramatic effect or completely invented. As one example, he notes that the doubt shown toward pilot Jack Swigert was not an issue during the actual mission, but he appreciates that Ron Howard wanted to amplify the tension in the capsule.
Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 – (58:06, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) The original making-of documentary from the laserdisc and the earlier DVDs is included here. It’s an amiable piece, including interviews with all of the cast, as well as Ron Howard and the Lovells. It also has some great on-set video of the crew filming on the looping aircraft used for real on-camera zero gravity. (It’s interesting that the participants here never identify this plane by the name by which it’s commonly known…) Like the film itself, there’s nothing particularly deep here. It’s really just an extended EPK piece in which everyone shows a genuine enthusiasm for the material.
Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond – (48:26, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) This documentary, held over from the 2005 DVD, is a general overview of the history of NASA. It covers everything from the first space launches up to the then-current material about the International Space Station. All the various programs (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Shuttles, etc) are dealt with in pretty short order. If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of NASA’s work, this probably won’t fill the bill. But it’s fine as a quick introduction.
Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story – (12:14, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) Here we have what I would call a misleading title for a featurette. This is NOT an examination of the people who manned the Apollo 13 mission. Instead, it’s a Dateline NBC segment from July 29, 1995 that very quickly recaps the various mishaps that occurred during the mission. (I would venture a guess that this was a promotional segment.) What’s really interesting here is that in just over 12 minutes, this featurette manages to relay the same information we get from the movie, without feeling like it’s been rushed or that we are missing anything. This featurette originally appeared on the 2005 DVD.
U-Control – NEW FEATURE – Here we have the only truly new material on the Blu-ray. Two onscreen informational options are available while you watch the feature. The first, The Apollo Era, is a pop-up trivia function that displays various bits of 1970 information, such as the price of groceries and bits of cultural context. The second, Tech-splanations, is a picture-in-picture function that graphically displays computer simulations of various technical issues. One good example is the tank explosion that crippled the spacecraft. When this comes up, the PIP function carefully shows and explains exactly what happened.
BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events. At the same time, the Blu-ray also allows for social BLU networking and pocket BLU iPhone connectivity.
My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
D-Box - The sensation functionality is present here for those viewers who have this technology in their homes.
The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film is offered in a wide range of subtitles, including English, French Canadian, Italian, Castillian Spanish, L.A. Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Romanian and Slovenian. And while it isn’t listed in the menus, if you manually go through the subtitle options, you’ll also find multiple language options of subtitles for both commentaries. When you first put the Blu-ray in the player, you’ll initially see a language selection menu.
IN THE END...
Apollo 13 is a film that works on a basic level, and will certainly please fans of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks. The Blu-ray is a fine presentation of a decent film, and fans of this film should be well-pleased with the presentation here. The film is too simplified for my taste, but I can’t argue with the fact that the film was a big hit in its day, not to mention a Best Picture nominee. I have a feeling that the movie’s many fans will already be making this an easy purchase. I suggest that more casual viewers try renting it first, and see what they think.
April 16, 2010.