Apollo 13

Apollo 13 (1995)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Bill Paxton
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentary, Featurettes

"Houston, we have a problem." The line still rings in my ears and makes my hair stand up every time I hear it, as it announced one of the pivotal moments in space program history.

36 years ago, on April 11, the crew of Apollo 13 took seat in their spacecraft to undertake what was supposed to be the third landing on the moon. But shortly after liftoff a problem occurred and landing on the moon became out of the question. In fact, the problem was so serious that the preeminent problem became bringing the three astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert back to Earth alive. Stranded in outer space with limited supplies and oxygen, barely able to maneuver a race against time began in which the men on the ground and in the space capsule did what everyone thought was impossible. After rounding the moon they brought back the space craft safely to Earth and landed it with everyone alive! The event turned a potential disaster into one of NASA's most brilliant moments and became the material for legends.

In 1995 director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer brought this captivating story to the screen in their grandiose movie "Apollo 13." Featuring an all-star cast, featuring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and countless others, they made the story tangible for everyone, showing just what a miracle the events surrounding Apollo 13 were. Among their first HD-DVD titles, Universal Home Entertainment has also prepared a release of "Apollo 13," perfectly mirroring last year's 2-disc Special Edition DVD. With one major exception, of course – a full-blown 1080p high definition video transfer.

The release features the movie's original theatrical cut in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer without the somewhat superfluous, shorter IMAX cut that was also part of the DVD release. The picture is absolutely clean and free of defects and the presentation comes from the same high definition transfer that was used for the DVD last year. Interestingly, while the transfer looked spectacular on DVD on this HD-DVD version there is a noticeable graininess to the picture. It gives the image a grittiness that wasn't there before and is only now visible as the high resolution of the high definition transfer brings the grain back into focus. It is never distracting from the film, however, and nothing to worry about, but if you compare the DVD and the HD-DVD side-by-side you will notice this as a difference immediately. Since grain is an integral part of the film process and its look many times, I usually do not consider a certain graininess detrimental to a presentation anyhow.

The transfer reveals a wonderful level of detail that brings out many little nuances and subtle textures that have been previously lost. The image is very sharp and nicely delineated doing the high definition format justice with a crisp look that looks natural and extremely pleasing. Colors are also impressive with their natural look, as they were on the DVD version, and help add realism to the film, especially since this HD-DVD version seems to add very fine nuances to the color palette that add to the finely defined look of the transfer. Overall it is the sharpness and the absolutely natural look that will strike viewers most with this release. Especially the outer space shots with their remarkable contrast stand out as the delineation and color gradients are finely rendered. Overall it's a very cool looking disc without flaws.

The audio comes as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track that is sounding great, though it is without notable differences to the DVD's 5.1 Dolby Digital track, I found. The audio features a wide sound field with a bombastic bass extension and clear high ends. The dynamic range of the track is also very good, making for an enjoyable experience altogether, offering great spatial integration and "oomph" when needed, while perfectly delivering subtle ambient effects and dialogue. Additionally, Dolby Digital Plus tracks are provided in French and Spanish language, also.

The two commentary tracks that were released on the previous DVD versions of the movie are once again included here for your enjoyment, featuring Ron Howard on one track and Jim and Marilyn Lovell on the second. They are both extremely enlightening and exceedingly interesting, so make sure to check them out – Howard's track for more technical details, the Lovell's track for a very informative human and emotional ride through history.

Presented in 480i encoding, the disc also contains the featurettes from the 2-disc DVD Special Edition. They are accessible from the disc's menu, which pops up while the movie continues to run. Universal's menu style looks a little futuristic and as such it perfectly fits the movie's premise, though overall it is fairly simple and without a lot of bells and whistles.

The Special Features start out with the "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13" making-of documentary. Running for an hour, the documentary is filled with fascinating moments, including behind-the-scenes footage, many interviews, and archival footage from the original events. Again, this documentary has been brought over from the previous DVD release of the film together with production notes and the trailers.

Next up is "Conquering Space: The Moon And Beyond," a 50-minute documentary covering the 60s race into space. It is fairly neutral in tone but very informative nonetheless, offering a good overview over the space program and the race that had entire nations scrambling.

"Lucky 13: The Astronauts' Story" is a brief featurette, produced by NBC for television, covering the real men behind the events. Taking a look at the lives of the astronauts, the featurette also contains fairly new interviews with Jim Lovell and his wife, Fred Haise, Gene Kranz and other crew members. It is certainly an exciting look, but much too short for my taste.

"Apollo 13" is a true classic and it deserves to be seen over and over again and there is clearly no better way to experience it in your own home than on this HD-DVD release. The video transfer and the audio presentation are top notch making for a great experience that is enjoyable through and through. After watching it I am sure you'll be glad you spent all that money on your new HD-DVD equipment.