Apollo 13

Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970, to a world unconcerned. Manned space flights were routine and no longer covered on TV. It wasn’t until a fateful explosion left the crew potentially stranded in space that anyone cared about the mission and its three-man crew. Ron Howard’s 1995 historical docudrama about the ill-fated mission won two Oscars for its taut editing and its brilliant sound design. Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Jim Lovell catapulted him into the stratosphere as a serious dramatic actor, and Bill Paxton also put in one of the strongest performances of his career as Fred Haise.

Apollo 13 was restored in 4K from the original 35mm film elements and digitally remastered on Blu-ray in an AVC 1080p transfer. The results are magnificent, with superb contrast, a fine grain structure, and only the slightest hints of softness from a combination of the vintage and production choices. Colors look natural, especially fleshtones, which are spot-on. The blacks of space are deep, and whites of the astronauts’ space suits are bright without clipping. The film’s archival news broadcasts don’t reach the same quality, but not because of the transfer.

Apollo 13’s sound mix is brought home in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The dynamic range is staggering, from the silent vacuum of space to the low din of ground control to the booming rumbles of rockets firing. The low end will rattle the floorboards, but it never gets too unwieldy. Occasional directional panning of solid effects into the surround channels makes the mix engulfing, and dialogue is crystal-clear and full throughout the film. The initial Apollo 13 launch sequence is the showcase audio segment. It rumbles with authority and sends sounds into every channel.

The main event for the extras is the new “Apollo 13: Twenty Years Later,” which offers up reflections from director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer on the production. Other supplements are two commentaries, one with Ron Howard and one with Jim and Marilyn Lovell; “Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13,” a classic featurette with Howard; and two classic documentaries on the Apollo missions. Rounding out the extras are the theatrical trailer and Universal’s U-Control allowing viewers to use an app to access interactive features during the film. Digital HD for iTunes and UltraViolet are also included.

Studio: Universal, 1995
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 140 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon

notabadname's picture

I always thought Ron was snubbed on this one for the Oscars when Braveheart won best director (a film I liked, but no where near the achievement in directing to capture on film). The weightless scenes alone - a first - to have the cast actually weightless - no wires or visual effects - are incredible. For those who didn't know, Ron enlisted NASA's "vomit comet" to fly his Apollo 13 capsule set and lunar module set. The plane is used for weightless training of astronauts, and they flew 612 flight parabolas, for a total of nearly four hours of weightless footage. Each weightless segment only lasts 25 seconds.

So if you like history, excellent story telling and acting, and wire-free weightless scenes - check it out.

Rob Sabin's picture
My first viewing of this movie was on high definition disc in the spring of 2006, specifically the HD DVD version from Universal, which was among the handful of first releases in that format. The first Blu-ray player (a Samsung model) was still a couple of months away from launch. I was using Apollo 13 to review Toshiba's then new flagship HD DVD player, the HD-XA1, for Sound & Vision (link below). We had a highly calibrated 65-inch Hewlett Packard 1080p DLP rear projector set up in our test studio back then (that set was also among the first of its kind), and the sound system was a Yamaha receiver feeding a Revel Concerta speaker system. I seem to recall that we had a couple of subs going in our acoustically treated and acoustically isolated room (maybe 12 wide x 22 feet deep), including a truly massive 15-incher at the front of the room and one of those Sunfire True Subwoofer mini subs in the back opposite corner to even out the response. Coming from DVD as the reference, looking at the incredibly pristine color and detail of high-def disc for the first time, and listening to the compressed Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack (the lossless formats were still to come at that point), I was just blown away. That launch sequence had fire from the rockets that actually looked something like fire (instead of the cartoon fire DVD portrays), and the rumble it produced shook the room so hard that the screen on the player's touch-sensitive remote flickered on and off; the thing thought it was being picked up. A while later, a small group of Toshiba marketing and engineering folks came by to see what we were up to, and that was the first scene I played for them. It left them breathless and shaking their heads; I honestly don't think they'd ever really seen and heard what they'd wrought on a fully optimized theater system with a good display and a powerful sound system.

Besides being an amazingly well executed movie and an absolute feast for Apollo-era space weenies (like me), this is really one of the great home theater demo discs of all time.