Although there are a few small things that I don't care for, "Apollo 13" remains a wonderfully acted, superbly tense picture that contains excellent performances. During the early portion of the film, there are moments that I felt are slightly slow. I do enjoy some of the scenes that have to do with NASA and having to do with the process of being about to go into space, but I suppose I was just wanting to go into space as soon as possible. Luckily, the ground characters (especially the outstanding Ed Harris) such as the NASA crew and Lovell's family(I went to high school with the actress who played the daughter) are all performed by an excellent crew of actors and actresses. Once the film finally moves into space though, director Ron Howard succeeds in every aspect, from storytelling to the attention to detail in the sets. The amount of tension is increased at every moment.
Everyone probably knows the story by now: 3 astronauts, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert(Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon) have an oxygen tank explode in the middle of their mission to the moon ("Houston, we have a problem."). They face almost a constant string of obstacles, from freezing to death in space to their remaining oxygen levels running dangerously low. The dialogue between the characters as things begin failing feels as if it's been kept realistic, and that only adds to how engaging and riveting the scenes are once the movie has moved into space. Howard also talks about this in his commentary, where he talks about the fact that the audience may not know what the technical language means, but with the performance, we know that it's important and feel that each step is critical.
And of course, what Ron Howard movie would be complete without a performance from his brother Clint, who plays a NASA control room operator. Seriously though, Howard did an incredible job re-creating the events of "Apollo 13" and he had a crew of actors who provided performances that were nothing short of outstanding.
VIDEO: When I first started watching this disc, I thought "Wow. Really good transfer!" This really is outstanding work by Universal and even more impressive that it was one of their early "collector's edition" series. Images are razor sharp and revealing very fine detail, but not overly sharp at any time. Colors are absolutely perfect and accurate throughout, and the clarity is wonderful; even in the darkness of space, there is a remarkable amount of information apparent. Smoky or dim scenes remain just as clear. Black level is very good and flesh tones remain accurate throughout.
There are a few small instances of shimmering that I noticed, but this is a case of the positives far outweighing the negatives. The scenes in space are so wonderfully crisp that I was amazed. In terms of discs that came out early on, this is really one of the very best I've seen in terms of image quality.
SOUND: The sound quality is a close runner-up to the image quality. From the early scene where the rocketship takes off and you feel as if you're right there as sound fills the room to scenes in space that have a perfect sense of space, this is an involving sound mix throughout. Surrounds are used often during some of the more intense scenes of the film. The details remain crisp and clear, from the hustle and talking of the control room to the flip of each switch on the ship itself. Dialogue remains clear and easily understood.
MENUS:: Like most of the early "CE"'s from Universal, the menus are fairly basic "film-themed" menus, with the score playing in the background. Again, what is most frustrating about the Universal DVDs (and a problem that remains today), is that to change the audio from a commentary to the film itself, you have to go back to the menus, instead of having the ability to change it with the remote.
Commentary: This is a commentary by director Ron Howard. I didn't really like Howard's commentary for "EDTV", but I was actually entertained by this one and found it informative. During this discussion, he goes in-depth into the details of the production, talking about how many of the scenes were filmed on the KC-135 jet, where the actors were weightless, or on the stage. He also frequently talks about various stories from the set and what it was like to work with the various actors. Most interestingly, he also goes into detail about the research that he had to do to make the film more accurate, as well as the differences between the film and what really happened.
The commentary in space focused a bit much during one point on pointing out whether or not the scene was filmed on stage, but when Howard goes into more detail about the performances, as well as the challenges of filming both the space and mission control scenes, it's fascinating to listen to.
Commentary 2: This commentary is from Jim and Marilyn Lovell and where the Howard commentary was able to take us into how the production was able to re-create many of these moments, Lovell is able to tell us in great detail about what really happened during these scenes. This is not really a commentary where the speakers are talking constantly throughout the film, but when Lovell does talk about what really happened, every comment gives a wealth of information about the real events, and he even goes into quite a few technical details about what the astronauts had to do during the flight. The ability to hear Lovell's memories of this tragic incident and hear exactly how it happened is nothing short of amazing. A great commentary track.
Lost Moon: The Making Of "Apollo 13": This is a 1 hour documentary feature that takes a look not only at the history and events of the "Apollo 13" mission, but also takes a lengthy and very in-depth look at how the production put this film together. There are a number of interviews with the main cast and crew that I found quite interesting - these are interviews that have a very honest, "non-promotional" feel to them; they're just the cast talking about the the challenges and feelings around playing these characters. Especially amazing is the footage of the cast weightless on the special plane that was used for this film, as well as their thoughts of terror during their flights on the plane. The documentary also takes a look at the film's visual effects, with an interview with visual effects supervisor Rob Legato, who also did work on "Titanic" and "Armageddon". It's one of the better documentaries that I've seen included with DVD, and succeeds in giving you a look at "Apollo 13" both past and present.
Also: Trailer, production notes, cast/crew bios.
Final Thoughts: Absolutely recommended - great movie and 2 fine commentaries as extras.
The Film 95/A = (475/500 possible points)
Stars: *** 1/2
Video 97/A = (388/400 possible points)
Audio: 94/A = (376/400 possible points)
Extras: 93/A = (279/300 possible points)
Menus 75/C = (150/200 possible points)
Value: 89/B+ = (267/300 possible points)