"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.
35 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. Now, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the events - or the 10th anniversary of the film, depending on how you look at it - Universal is re-releasing the movie on DVD in a 2-disc Special Edition.
The release feature the movie’s original theatrical cut in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, as well as the IMAX version, framed at 1.66:1 for fans to watch. The IMAX version is almost 30 minutes shorter than the theatrical version, condensing the story noticeably by removing a lot of the magical little moments that help bring the story and most importantly the characters to life. I’m not sure why anyone would really want to see the "readers-digest" IMAX version on DVD, but here it is. For completeness sake, let’s say. (Incidentally a cropped fullframe version of the movie is also sold separately for those who have absolutely no respect for movies.)
The picture is absolutely clean and free of defects on both versions. The theatrical version comes from a new high definition transfer and is leaps above the previous DVD version of the film which was pretty good to begin with. It shows just how much film transfer and image processing has evolved in the past 6 years, as the new transfer reveals details that were previously lost. Colors are also impressive with their natural look. Never over-saturated, hues are strong and bold, while the transfer faithfully maintains the original look of the film with all its tones. Razor-sharp, detailed and with solid, deep blacks, the image is superbly rendered at all times, making the film even more enjoyable to view. No edge-enhancement mars the picture and the compression is equally without flaws.
Being a Universal release, of course, this release has also not been saved from the studio’s obligatory slip-ups. Here it comes in the shape of the audio tracks. The theatrical version contains the 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track, which is great and clear and without problems. It 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. However, the DTS audio track that was made available on a previous DVD version of the film is missing.
To add insult to injury, Universal instead decided to add a DTS track to the IMAX version, as so often, spitting in the face of every fan of the movie and the filmmakers, of course. As I mentioned above, I am not sure why anyone would want to view the IMAX version on DVD to begin with so the DTS track is a complete waste here, making me wonder just yet again what is wrong with the guys at Universal. They do not seem to be capable to make any common-sense decisions any more and just keep screwing up one release after the other that way. Could someone please give these people a wake-up call?
The two commentary tracks that were released on the previous Collector’s Edition of the film are once again included here for your enjoyment. They are both extremely enlightening so make sure to check them out.
The release also features a great number of extras, such as a making-of documentary with the title "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13." 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.
On the second disc you will find "Conquering Space: The Moon And Beyond," a new 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.
"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 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. The new transfer adds a new brilliance to the film that is well worth checking out even if you already own the previous DVD release of the movie. I’m just getting tired of Universal kicking film lovers in the butt over and over again with their inability to properly handle their films, so it is hard for me to make a whole-hearted recommendation. Still, the movie rocks!