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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Apollo 13 [Blu-ray]


(Ron Howard, 1995)








Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Brian Grazer

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:19:51.049

Disc Size: 46,297,718,453 bytes

Feature Size: 39,571,494,912 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.23 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 13th, 2010




Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 4237 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4237 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio Czech 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Hungarian 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Italian 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps
DTS Express English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, French, Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovenian, Spanish, none



• Audio Commentary with Ron Howard

• Audio Commentary with Jim & Marilyn Lovell

• Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 – ins SD (57:55)

• Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond – in SD (48:00)

• Lucky 13: The Astronauts' Story – in S (12:10)

• U-Control (The Apollo Era & Tech-Splanations)

• BD-Live (with



The Film: 8
It was almost twelve years after Sputnik, and the Americans had finally topped the Russians with Neil Armstrong's stepping foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. But once was not enough. It was never the objective to simply plant a flag and fly away. No, the Apollo program had several more moon landing opportunities waiting in the wings. And the next one was to be Lucky Number 13. Thumbing their noses at conventional wisdom, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Ken Mattingly were slated to take off on April 13 at 1313 hours. (It turned out to be April 11.)

In the first inkling that the fates had a left hook hidden behind their backs, Ken was grounded after he was exposed to measles when a backup astronaut contracted the disease. Ken had never had the measles and wasn't about to be sent into space with the likelihood he would get sick on route. Lovell's crew had trained for this flight for six months; they worked together like a finely tuned watch. To replace Mattingly just two days away from launch made everyone uneasy, but Lovell, anxious not to disappoint his team and to step out onto the moon himself, gave it the Go.

About 200,000 miles from Earth, an explosion occurred in the oxygen tanks of one of the service modules. The moon landing had to be aborted, but they had far worse problems. Ron Howard's movie reconstructs the accident and the efforts on board and at Houston Control to move the crew from the command module (Odyssey) to the lunar module (Aquarius) for the return flight, conserve power, deal with the cabin's increasing carbon dioxide content, and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere without burning up or skating back off into space.

Though there was plenty enough opportunity to get sidetracked into endless shots of space flight and gadgetry (so effective in 2001: A Space Odyssey and so pointless in the first Star Trek movie), Howard keeps his eye on the ball in Apollo 13: the human drama in space and on the ground. There are light moments and flashes of satire, but Howard does not dwell on any of it or allow them devolve into silliness. And though Tom Hanks is the star, his portrayal of Lovell (on his fourth space flight as compared to his teammates' first) not only allows for a team effort for the rescue, it encourages it.

Subtle and assured, this is one of Hanks' best performances. Special mention, also, to Bill Paxton as Fred Haise, desperately trying to keep panic and illness at bay; Kevin Bacon as John Swigert, the new man on the team who has to check his hot-dog persona at the door and prove himself without heroics; and Gary Sinise as Ken Mattingly, the man left behind who helps solve the problem of re-entry. Ditto kudos to editors Michael Hill and Daniel Hanley who keeps us on the edge of our seats between the Aquarius, Mission Control, the waiting families and the nation huddled about their TV sets and Times Square.



Image: 7/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Despite a riveting drama and generally satisfying HD presentation, there are a few inexplicable moments of heavy grain and/or noise (cf. capture #1) – all the stranger considering that so much of the film is sharp and relatively quiet, so to speak. Contrast is superbly handled from the fiery blast off to the inky black of outer space. Flesh tones are spot-on and colors properly saturated. There is some mild edge enhancement on rare occasions (cf. capture #12 parachute landing), otherwise, the transfer is quite good.
















Audio & Music:8/7
Stanley Kubrick's space missions were conspicuous for their silence, excepting the music soundtrack. We were so taken with the idea of "The Blue Danube" accompanying the first space flight that we may not have noticed the absence of a single take-off in an atmosphere. But a movie about America's Apollo space program would disappoint without a room-shaking take-off from those enormous Saturn V rockets. Oddly enough, while the blast off is loud and clear enough, the Blu-ray lacks power and bass. It's possible that the movie never had much at this point, perhaps favoring an enveloping distortion-free clarity; even so, I found more voluptuous bass elsewhere: the music, for instance.

Once in space we are immersed in a world of silence, dotted with various effects of movement within the cabin. Every sound, from the removal of a space helmet to the click of a switch to the gliding through the tunnel from the main cabin to the lunar module is exquisitely captured. Effects are discrete but always feel properly situated in the mix rather than hanging in isolation. The oxygen tank explosion is kept proportional to all that has come before, but it still projects quite a jolt into the Odyssey, followed by considerable sonic clutter and overlapping dialogue. The panicked chatter about the room at Houston Control is almost suffocating, as intended. James Horner's music is suitable, expansive, but not especially memorable – and that is all to its credit, as it does bring attention to itself as it did for Cocoon ten years earlier.


Loading and menu functions follow the same template as other Universal Blu-rays, and it's smartly laid out. U-Control functions can be accessed from either the menu or the remote. When bringing up the audio options from the menu you need to know that there are more options than what the window displays: click upward or down for the others – it's the only way to find the commentaries short of returning to the menu. I felt the division into only twenty chapters insufficient.



Extras: 7
The big pieces have had life in previous DVD editions. The U-Control features are new. The Audio Commentary with Jim & Marilyn Lovell is spotty, as we might expect, Jim taking most of the command with bits of detail. Ron Howard's Audio Commentary is sober and informative. He has a light touch even when speaking of serious matters that is most engaging.

"Lost Moon" is a near hour-long documentary that gets its title and impetus from the book co-authored by Jim Lovell, who appears in the feature; Interviews of the astronauts portrayed in the film are shown in "Lucky 13"; and "Conquering Space" is an overview of the U.S. space program up to that point. These features are presented in so-so standard definition. BD-Live offers two possibilities: "Social Blu" (a terrible name), which connects you to a Facebook and Twitter and "pocket BLU" which enables your mobile device to communicate directly with your Blu-ray player to extend your movie experience.



Bottom line:

Despite the occasional disturbances in the image, the less than awesome audio in take-off, and the lack of any new or HD bonus features (except some minor bits in U-Control and what you can find through BD-Live), I can warmly endorse a purchase of Apollo 13. I am not generally a big fan of Ron Howard's work as a director, but he nails this one perfectly. Peter Travers expresses my feeling exactly:

Howard doesn't soar to the satirical heights of The Right Stuff, Philip Kaufman's film of the Tom Wolfe best seller about the space program. But his view is cleareyed. The public grew cynical about the space program when the government used it as a costly political PR tool, and boredom set in after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969. Boredom was never in the picture for those who risked their lives exploring a dream. In honoring a failed mission, Apollo 13 celebrates the rebel part of the American character that won't accept boundaries.

Excerpt of review from Rolling Stone located HERE

Leonard Norwitz
April 16th, 2010






About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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