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Apollo 13 (15th Anniversary Edition) (1995) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
ImageI last left you discussing Ron Howard's "Cocoon" and parted that there were likely other Ron Howard films that were more suited to a Blu-ray release.  Well, "Apollo 13" is one of them.  After a somewhat disappointing release of the film on the defunct HD DVD format, it seems that Universal took their time to correct the issues.

When trying to capture the emotions and events of a real tragic event you can't ask for anything more than what we are given in "Apollo 13."  The film has it all.  There is a true story that is excellently portrayed by the actors and given a star treatment by the writing department.  Ron Howard gives one of his best directing jobs of his career.  While being nominated for nine academy awards in 1996 it won but two, including Best Sound Mixing.  Sadly it lost Best Picture to the less deserving "Braveheart."

There is something about Tom Hanks that gets him into all the best films of the past.  He is an actor who chooses his roles carefully and appropriately.  The other performances in the film are also solid.

The film is based on the book written by Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13.  Dubbed the "successful failure," Apollo 13 is one of the darkest and brightest moments of the NASA space program.  After the successful landing of Apollo 12 and Neil Armstrong on the moon, Jim Lovell pilots the next spacecraft to land on the moon.  When routine procedures lead to an explosive Lovell's team and the command center in Houston, need to work against the clock and technology to bring the men home.

Tension is kept throughout with the constant struggles faced by the families of the crew and genius team doing everything in their power to keep the crew alive.  While the film may slow a couple points it is more than just a film.  It is engaging and riveting.  Certainly this is one of the best films of the 90s.
"Apollo 13" had previously been released on HD DVD with some artifacting in the image and some banding and unsatisfying black levels.  I am pleased to report that Universal has created a better transfer that shines on the Blu-ray format.  Black levels are well resolved and contrast supplements the space background, highlighting stars and debris.  Colors are true to form.  They are not excessive but are realistic.  The costumes are vibrant while most scenes remain tamer, with the exception of the Lovell home landscape in Houston.  Details are simply impressive.  Every knob, switch and number on the NASA display and spacecraft panels is easily distinguished.  The Blu-ray does not contain the IMAX version of the film like the special edition standard DVD, but instead sticks with the 2.35:1 aspect theatrical edition of the film.  There is the occasional soft shot, but overall this is terrific transfer for a 1995 film.

While the film won for Best Sound Mixing, this transfer doesn't exactly represent that.  While the "action" sequences of the film are terrific, there are some issues holding back the rest of the film.  There is a balance issue when it comes to directionality.  Some of the effects are not as discreet as they should be.  While dialogue is generally struggle, it occasionally is muddied by some of the boomy bass.  And yet other times the dialogue is a little brash.  It seems the studio should have stuck with the original mix and not prepped it for a DVD release.  When it comes to the space explosions and blast-offs, the sound effects are marvelous.  Effects are crisp and clear.  The LFE channel upon the craft's reentry is terrific.  Dynamics range is good, used when need be.  The rear channels are not as engaging as I would have liked.  Much of the time the rear channels simply contain bleed, however, pans do extend into the rear channels.  Directionality is an issue.  On a few occurrences the placement of sounds do not match the image, removing you from the film experience.  Still, this DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is quite pleasing.  And to top it off the filmmakers made it from beginning to end without using David Bowie's "Space Oddity."

The Blu-ray contains many of the features from the HD DVD and a few Blu-ray enhancements.  The standard features include, "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13," which is a making-of featurette.  "Conquers Space: The Moon and Beyond" is a recap of the space program's history.  "Lucky 13: The Astronauts' Story" contains interviews with the real crew.  The best features on the disc are the audio commentary by Ron Howard and the one by Jim and Marilyn Lovell.  They are heart-warming and informative commentaries.  The U-Control function provides two supplement tracks.  "The Apollo Era" is a cultural sidebar, while "Tech-Splanations" attempts to break down the tech speak of the film, which I didn't believe was very heavy in the film to begin with.  The disc is also equipped with pocketBLU, socialBLU, D-Box Motion Enabled.

"Apollo 13" is a definite own for film fans.  The audio and video transfers are more than pleasing, barring a few annoyances.  While it is no exactly one small step for man and one giant leap for Blu-ray, it is a great film experience.

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