DVD Review: Apollo 13 (10th Anniversary Edition)

Apollo13 launched in 1970. Because of an onboard malfunction no astronauts landed on the targeted moon and very nearly no astronauts returned safely to Earth. 1995 saw the original release of this film that so grippingly captured the tumultuous event. This year, Universal Pictures is offering an anniversary edition. The two DVD discs contain the drama, twice. One is in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the other, briefer version, is in IMAX.

The film centres on the astronauts. Three flew in the capsule while one, quarantined from a possible exposure to measles, remained behind. Suspense builds steadily even for viewers with prior knowledge of the crisis. Flight crew selection, training, and embarkation proceed apace with suitable backdrops of loving families and concerned mission controllers. The rather incredulous disinterest from the media during the launch and for the first tranquil day of flight particularly raises ire and expectation. Then comes the famous phrase, ‘Houston, we have a problem’, and the film soars. Continually shifting from the space craft to the control room to the families’ homes combines these people into one scene and one event. Problems arise, get dealt and solutions to the next ones sought. Knowing the final outcome in no way diminishes the gripping nature of the delivery. A sense of relief is quite palpable on seeing the astronauts being welcomed on the recovery ship after their return to Earth. The film superbly portrays the drama that unfolded during this crisis in space

In a surprising conundrum, this film is incredibly authentic even though no stock footage was used. Many of the participants who were involved with the event provided first hand recollections. The control room was rebuilt, to spec. The astronauts flew for several hundreds of cycles in the KC-135 (Vomit Comet) astronaut trainer getting footage of real weightlessness. Flight manuscripts got memorized and where appropriate were repeated word for word. Little seems to have been missed in the successful quest for accuracy, to the point where a landing capsule was built and dropped just for this movie. As a further note, astronauts viewing this film asked about the launch footage given some very unexpected and rewarding perspectives. Their answer gets discussed in the special features elsewhere within the DVD. As a reference both of the era and the event, this film greatly fills the need. Nevertheless, first and foremost this film is an entertaining drama of humans nearly failing in their out reach to space.

Joining the film are special features. Commentaries by the director and actors give insight into the push for authenticity. Perhaps most rewarding are the many appearances by James and Marilyn Lovell who have obviously put so much of their own memories into this production. A brief vignette recapping the last 45 years in space is a handy perspective for the uninitiated. These embellish the video package in a nice way but don’t necessarily add much to the film itself.

Apollo 13 was a memorable mission and “Apollo13” does great justice to it as a film. As there may not be many people who could appreciate the included IMAX version, there may not be much value in getting this version in addition to the original release. Some people even preferred the original. However, for those looking to add a copy of this film into their libraries and those who missed the original release, this is a great package. Solid directing, an experienced and involved cast and a resounding musical score keep this film entertaining. Faithful reproduction of surroundings and events of the era make this an accurate historical drama.

James Lovell’s view as an astronaut were that, “you’re there because you expect crisis”. Apollo 13 was a crisis and the film version, “Apollo 13” directed by Ron Howard allows us to relive this moment using both a detached analytical view and a very attached drama tical view. Some corollary can be shared between the event and the film, ‘though each participant was an exceptional individual it was team work that won the day’.

Click here to read more reviews or order a copy online from Amazon.com.

Review by Mark Mortimer