Universal // 1995 // 140 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // April 21st, 1999
Houston we have a problem.
There is not much to say about this disc that has not been said before. As such, I will try to stick to the facts, and try my damnedest not to get into too many superlatives (it's gonna be hard).
In my mind, the arrival of this disc on the scene cemented Universal as a top player in the DVD world, alongside the likes of Columbia TriStar, Warner Brothers and New Line. Apollo 13 is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The anamorphic presentation is excellent, even on my Pioneer Elite Pro 97. The 97 is one of those wacky Pioneer models that tries to straddle the worlds of 16:9 and 4:3. Essentially, it acts as a 4:3 set though, so whatever downconversion artifacts are present on other sets should be there on this set. Frankly, I an not a big believer in those artifacts degrading the picture quality. Maybe its because my eye isn't fine enough to distinguish them, or maybe it's because my Elite DV-09 does a better job than other players in this regard. In any event, I am a big proponent of anamorphic treatment because I believe we will all own widescreen sets in the next 5 to 10 years, and I don't want to be buying titles a second time simply because studios chose not to support anamorphic out of the box.
The picture this disc throws off is mighty impressive (here I go). No artifacting of any kind, even in the liftoff scene with all the clouds of smoke and plumes of fire. Additionally, there was no shimmering or ringing throughout the duration of the film. A very impressive effort from the folks at Universal.
The sound is even more stunning. The soundtrack is available in Dolby Digital 5.1, with ample use of low f4requency effects and surrounds especially in the space scenes. The soundstage was clear, deep and wide. Vocals were especially clear throughout the presentation.
Also, Universal's packaging deserves a mention here as it is by far my favorite of all the studios doing DVD thus far. The disc comes packaged in an Amaray style keepcase of high quality. The differentiating factor for me is the "Universal grid" on the back of the package. Nicely laid out for all the world to see are all the important features/functions of the disc, including the aspect ratio (including its anamorphic status), surround sound levels, number of layers on the disc, languages present on the disc, closed caption status and running time of the film. I can't tell you how many times I have tried to find this information on other studios packaging and it took 5 minutes or more. A very nice feature, which could only be improved by adding a space for listing all the extras.
In fact, nowhere on the packaging or the insert provided with the disc are the ample supplements listed, which is a shame. One would think that Universal would want to tout these extras as they really make the disc a must have. Included on the disc are a making of featurette, production notes, talent bios a theatrical trailer and two commentaries. The first commentary is by director Ron Howard. The second is by astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn on whom the story is based.
Yet another factor recommending this disc is the terrific acting which takes place on screen. Anchored by Tom Hanks, this movie soars. However, it is the rest of the cast of players, which really makes the movie great. Ed Harris is wonderful as flight director Gene Kranz (and in fact was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy Award). Kathleen Quinlan also turns in a credible performance as Jim Lovell's wife Marilyn. Bill Paxton as Fred Haise, Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert and Gary Sinise as Ken Mattingly round out the major players. The astronaut-actors were dynamically very tight, which may have been influenced by shooting a number of scenes 38,000 feet above the earth's surface in a NASA equipped KC-135 jet which is used to teach real astronauts about the feeling of weightlessness. The cast and crew flew 612 parabolas up and down, up and down, up and down, to get the shots they wanted in a truly weightless environment. Truly incredible. I'm not sure another moviemaking feat will ever match this one. How Ron Howard ever convinced NASA to agree to this, I have no idea!
There really is little, if anything, to recommend against ownership of this disc. Now, some may argue the price is a bit steep, especially when comparing it to some of the fine work put out by the likes of New Line's Platinum Editions. However, I really don't think that $27 is too much to pay for a disc of this quality. I know some of you will disagree with that statement, and sure, we would all like to pay as little as possible for these movies. But, if you give me the option of paying $27 for an anamorphic presentation as fine as this one and all the extras on this disc, and a non-anamorphic version devoid of extras for $10, I'll step up to the plate every time.
This is a reference quality disc which is a must own for any serious collector. It is a fine example of what DVD is about and what every DVD release should be. Plenty of demo material (both video and audio), a compelling story, and wonderfully acted by a star studded cast. Who could ask for anything more?
Acquitted on all counts!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Audio Commentary by Ron Howard
* Audio Commentary by Jim and Marilyn Lovell
* Orignal Documentary: Triumph of Apollo 13
* Production Notes
* Cast and Filmmakers' Bios
* Film Highlights
* Theatrical Trailer