HBO // 1998 // 639 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sean Fitzgibbons (Retired) // August 25th, 1999
We choose to go to the moon...
From the Earth to the Moon is nothing less than a ground breaking achievement for Tom Hanks and cable television. A 12 part mini-series, From the Earth to the Moon covers all aspects of the NASA led Apollo program, whose aim was to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. HBO releases a stellar DVD set to accompany their monumental series that will live in my memory for years to come.
I've always been fascinated with space travel. You can give credit to Star Wars and Star Trek for spurring my imagination, but NASA is the organization who has allowed everyone to believe we really can travel into space. The Apollo program was spurred decades before NASA would even consider placing a man on the moon because of Soviet pressure, and President John F. Kennedy's promise to land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s. If the race to the moon was lost, the Apollo program would have been looked upon as one of the United States' costliest mistakes ever; but in winning the race it became mankind's greatest achievement to date. As an American the Apollo moon landings give me a great sense of pride, in the fact that my country did it; however, it should not be limited to an American achievement because it truly is one the entire world should take pride in.
Thankfully, Tom Hanks has done a truly incredible job in bringing the trials of the Apollo program to life in his From the Earth to the Moon mini-series. The 12 part series progresses through the stages of the Apollo program and covers various aspects of the program, creating the most comprehensive look into the Apollo program that I have ever witnessed.
"Can We Do This?"
The first chapter in Hanks' moon saga is directed by Hanks himself. This episode covers the highlights of the Mercury (which sent astronauts into space and into orbit) and Gemini programs; following the steps the space program took before launching Apollo and setting their sights on the moon. The episode plays well as background for the rest of the series.
One of the most fascinating episodes in the series, the second chapter deals with the Apollo 1 tragedy. While conducting routine tests in the Apollo 1 space capsule, astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee sparked an electrical fire causing them to burn to death inside the capsule. The episode focuses on how and where blame for the accident was placed, and how this tragedy almost ended the Apollo program.
"We Have Cleared The Tower"
A unique episode that follows the crew of Apollo 7 (the first manned Apollo flight in space) as they are filmed by a documentary crew. The astronauts of Apollo 7 must operate in the shadow of the tragic Apollo 1 and prove to the world that the Apollo program is still safe.
One of the better episodes in the series, this chapter chronicles the turbulent year that was 1968. Throughout the year, the Apollo program starts to feel Soviet pressure as it appears the Russians are ready to send a man to the moon. The Apollo program is sped up and Apollo 8 aims to be the first manned craft to orbit the moon and return safely to Earth. However, the astronauts onboard Apollo 8 are forced to stake their lives on an engine being able to break lunar orbit and send them home.
Another one of the best episodes in this series focuses on the construction of the Lunar Excursion Model (LEM), also known as the "spider." A private company must do its best work to develop the LEM in time for the lunar landing and ensure the safety of the astronauts onboard. With a clock to race against and outrageous specifications from NASA, it becomes increasingly clear that the LEM will not be ready on time as specified, endangering the outcome of the race to the moon.
This episode handles the Apollo 11 moon landing nicely. Beginning with a fictional news interview with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, the episode deals with the feelings of all astronauts involved in the landing. Aldrin is forced to accept the fact that he will be the second (not the first) man to set foot on the moon, and Collins is continually left out of the spotlight as the single astronaut on Apollo 11 who will not actually set foot on the moon. Despite their qualms, the crew of Apollo 11 voyage to the moon and make history.
"That's All There Is"
My personal favorite episode of the series deals with the Apollo 12 moon landing. Apollo 12 lands on the moon without much fanfare in the wake of Apollo 11, and even without images, thanks to the screw up of astronaut Al Bean. Bean narrates the comical episode as he recalls his luck in being able to join the crew of Apollo 12 and his friendships with the two men he traveled to the moon with, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon. Dave Foley brings Al Bean to life, making him seem like a normal guy that could very well have been any of us up there walking on the moon.
"We Interrupt This Program"
Following the Apollo 13 tragedy from the perspective of news reporters, this episode is another one of the most memorable in the series. While some reporters try to keep their distance from the families of the astronauts on Apollo 13, others set out to exploit the raw emotion from those families to gain better ratings. This episode nicely displays the change in journalism ethics that occurred in the late '60s and early '70s, and how it directly affected the Apollo 13 news story.
"For Miles & Miles"
An episode which follows astronaut Alan Shepard, one of the original Mercury astronauts, who is forced to leave his job as an astronaut after coming down with an inner-ear disorder. Shepard continues to work with NASA and soon partakes in experimental surgery to cure his disorder, which proves to be successful. At the age of 47, Alan Shepard becomes the oldest man in space (at the time) and sets foot on the moon during the flight of Apollo 14.
"Galileo Was Right"
The astronauts of Apollo 15 no longer could afford to just be astronauts, they were turned into geologists in order to be able to collect the most important samples from the moon. This episode follows the main and backup crews for Apollo 15 as they are instructed in geology and then use their skills on the moon. Not to mention that you get to see the moon rover in action for the first time!
"The Original Wives Club"
Sally Field directs this episode that chronicles the ordeals the wives of the "new nine" Apollo astronauts had to cope with. With the astronauts constantly away from home, and always facing the possibility of death, the wives of the astronauts could only find solace in each other. So tortuous were the lives of these women that only two of the nine wives actually remained married to their husbands.
"Le Voyage Dans La Lune"
The final episode in the series (in which Tom Hanks makes an on-screen appearance) is really two separate stories. One story is that of Apollo 17, the final flight to the moon. The other story is that of film maker George Melies who, 70 years earlier, brought the world to the moon with his film, "Le Voyage Dans La Lune." A touching farewell to the moon brings this series to a splendid close.
All episodes in this set are presented in the 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The video quality is good, although not breathtaking. Squeezing four episodes in full frame on to a dual layered disc seems to have compromised the quality of the video. Still, the resolution on the image is high, daylight scenes perform flawlessly, and black level is dead on, which is especially important during sequences in outer space.
Surprisingly, the audio on this disc is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital (surprising because this was a TV mini-series). Rear channels are not too active, but during shuttle launches and scenes in outer space, both the rear channels and subwoofer are put to good use. Dialogue is placed well on the front sound stage and when the series' majestic score blasts through your speakers you can't help but feel that you are witnessing something special.
To compliment this comprehensive series, HBO has provided an entire disc full of extra content. There are two featurettes, one an HBO "First Look" at the series, which runs about 30 minutes in length and helps to shed some light on the great effort that it took to get this series made. The second featurette only runs about 5 minutes long, but contains interesting information about the special effects used in the series and how they were created. Also available is a cool little section with 3D models of crafts used in the series, including the Saturn V rocket and the Lunar Excursion Module. HBO crams in a ton of information screens on this disc, which covers each planet in the solar system, mission objectives for each Apollo mission, a full transcript of John F. Kennedy's moon speech, a time-line of the space missions, and information on the history of the moon. If that wasn't enough, HBO also provides trailers for each episode, 12 in total.
For those with DVD-ROM (which I do not have), HBO provides even more extra content. Compatible with both PC and Macintosh DVD-ROMs, you can access information on the future of space travel, go beyond solar system, read Kennedy's speech, uncover information on famous astronomers, and go inside space crafts with Quicktime VR clips.
I loved the series, I loved the extra content, I loved the acting, I loved the music; I loved the DVD set as a whole. I have but one quip: the video transfer. In each episode there is usually some picture noise and detectable grain on the transfer, especially during scenes with brown colors. At the end of "The Original Wives Club" there is a huge picture error with the back of a character's hair being completely bleached out; artifacting when the head of the character moves. Four episodes per disc might just have been too much.
Although this set is pricey ($100 street) you get the most for your money. This is a comprehensive, accurate, and entertaining look into mankind's greatest endeavor. From the Earth to the Moon should be required viewing for all American History courses and for anyone who has even been awed by man's flight to the moon.
Acquitted on all counts.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean Fitzgibbons; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 639 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* 30-Minute "HBO First Look" Featurette
* Special Effects Featurette
* 13 TV Spots
* Virtual Tour of the Solar System
* 3D Models of the Ships
* Mission Objectives
* Kennedy's Speech
* Time-line of the Space Missions
* History of the Moon