Release Date(s)1995 (June 2, 2015)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Based loosely on the book Lost Moon, written by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13 is a gripping and accurate depiction of the doomed Moon flight, which, although a failure by mission standards, is rightly considered by many to be NASA’s finest hour. Directed deftly by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 rings honest and true from beginning to end. Its script was written by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert (who also produced and directed For All Mankind, perhaps the best documentary ever made on the Apollo missions). What amazes me most about this film, is the extraordinary attention paid to detail, and the way it keeps you on the edge of your seat, even though you probably already know how the story ends. The zero-gravity depicted here is not a visual effect – the filmmakers actually put the set in a NASA jet, capable simulating weightlessness by diving headlong at the ground for short periods. The launch sequence is breathtaking, and gives me a chill every time. Perhaps the greatest testament to this film is the fact that many of the real-life participants, after seeing Apollo 13, felt as though they'd relived the events.
Universal has released Apollo 13 on Blu-ray previously, most recently in a decent 15th Anniversary Edition (reviewed here). The good news about this new 20th Anniversary Edition, however, is that the film has been completely remastered in 4K from the original 35mm elements. And I'm here to tell you, it makes a big difference.
Presented at its proper 2:35.1 aspect ratio and at the original theatrical length (no IMAX cut here), the new Blu-ray offers more image detail than I can ever recall seeing. It's nuanced detail too, refined and subtle without ever looking edgy or processed. Gone is the flutter on the edges of title text, for example. The added detail also helps even the weakest VFX shots of the Saturn V pre-launch (which were state of the art at the time) look more natural and blended into the film's textures. The color palette is rich and natural. Perhaps best of all, the dynamic range is superb. This presentation offers deep and detailed blacks on one hand, yet nicely bright areas too that are never blown out. In between the two, you get a wonderful range of contrasts. This film has quite simply never looked better on disc.
Audio-wise, the disc appears to include the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix from the previous Blu-ray version, which is fine. The soundstage is big, wide, and immersive, with excellent clarity and abundant bass. Dialogue is clean and audible, and the James Horner score – one of his most iconic – is well represented in the mix. Additional audio mixes are included in several other languages, and you also get English SDH among a wide variety of subtitles offerings.
The new Blu-ray contains all of the previous Blu-ray's bonus offerings, including the hour-long Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 documentary, the shorter Conquering Space: The Moon and Beyond and Lucky 13: The Astronauts’ Story pieces, both feature-length audio commentaries (featuring director Ron Howard and the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell), and The Apollo Era and Tech-Splanations U-Control features. For the first time on Blu-ray, this new disc also includes the film's original theatrical trailer. (It was on the early DVD releases of the film, but never the BDs.) Note that all of these video-based extras are in their original SD. To this legacy content, the new Blu-ray adds a 12-minute HD featurette called Apollo 13: Twenty Years Later, in which Howard and producer Brian Grazer look back on their experience of making of the film. You also get a Digital Copy/Ultraviolet code. (Note that D-Box support may not have carried over from the last BD, but I have no way to test that.)
Even a full two decades on, Apollo 13 remains the single best dramatic film about NASA's exploration of space to date. Only The Right Stuff comes close (though I have high hopes that Ridley Scott's The Martian might prove to be a worthy addition to such company later this year). You'll be please to know that Universal's new 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is selling for just $12.98 right now on Amazon (see cover link above). At that price, and with the quality of this restoration, fans of the film would be crazy not to make the upgrade. Very highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt