Let’s face facts. You’re stupid. We all are. Compared to the guys inside those Apollo mission ships, we might as well be Neanderthals. In the off chance you actually are an astronaut and are reading this, sorry. None of this has anything to do with you.

Anyway, that creates a discrepancy when trying to make a disaster movie about space travel. On Earth, there is an earthquake, things shake, and buildings fall. Explanation is pretty simple. In space, with hundreds of switches on a control panel, certain ones failing, others working, none of them with any purpose to the average moviegoer, it takes keen writing to talk down to an audience without insulting them.

Creating drama out of the near disastrous Apollo 13 mission takes some skill. Co-screenwriters William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert do a fantastic job of being both technical and simple, explaining the ins and outs of the spacecraft so anyone can grasp it. Where complications arise, news anchors fill in to tell an audience logically what is happening. Without it, Ron Howard’s adaptation of this story would never work.

Howard is able to build tension through more than capable actors, each becoming increasingly worried as time passes. By the end, when you learn a typhoon is near the landing zone on Earth, you want to bang your head against something and try not to think about what else could go wrong.

Apollo 13 is fairly standard until disaster strikes, forcing the three-man crew into the landing module for much of their trip. However, it is still engaging. Realistic or not, you feel as if you are learning something, and you wonder who was stuck with the job of animating urine being passed into space. Hopefully, the paycheck was worth it.

Mixed with actual newscasts, scenes of grieving wives, crying children, and stressed out mission controllers, Apollo 13 sets the period and the tone. The hilariously dumb MPAA description describing why the film is rated PG is at least correct, stating the film carries “emotional intensity,” or enough of it to keep it away from a G rating (?). The entire mission seems like a mistake from the beginning, particularly as a pilot is determined to be sick, and a rookie inserted into the role at the last minute.

The men of Apollo 13 are certainly heroes, both to each other and to the US space program. Their determination is immeasurable, and yes, their level of intelligence undoubtedly superior to all of us. That shows in this film adaptation, one that makes them the stars, not the extensive visual effects. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]

Here is the deal with Universal’s AVC encode for Apollo 13 on Blu-ray: It’s terrible. The hi-def community has to wonder what happens inside those boardrooms when execs make decisions like this. Back in 2007, the HD DVD edition suffered from artifacting problems, unable to keep up with the grain structure. Now on a BD-50, one would expect the same encode, only with more space to breathe a bit. Instead, they barely made use of the additional GB count, brightened the entire thing, artificially sharpened it, and applied sporadic splashes of DNR. What is the logic here?

Certain scenes have been so smoothed over, it is disgusting. The scene in which Kathleen Quinlan visits Jean Speegle Howard in the nursing home may be one of the most glaring, ugly, and deplorable scenes ever committed to Blu-ray. The DNR in this entire sequence, occurring at 1:34:03, literally turns Howard’s skin into a waxy plastic, robbing it of all detail and texture. As Gary Sinese learns he is not flying on the mission at 22:18, the same effect occurs, becoming worse as the camera pans out. A black outline around the actors is easy to spot as well. Glaring edge enhancement continues soon after, around Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon’s shoes in a shot from the ceiling.

Colors have been so amped up, everyone appears red. It also leads to bleeding, especially apparent early as Hanks watches the first moon landing at 4:57. The right side of his shirt bleeds out, and a glaring halo is the only thing stopping it. At 28:33 during flight preparation, the entire scene looks covered in jelly, and Kevin Bacon appears to have gained a force field around his body. Even stupider, Universal has kept the grain in many scenes, especially in the command center. Because of the abhorrent sharpening applied, this causes extensive banding against the brown walls. It could have appeared perfectly natural, and with a decent job on the transfer, not caused these problems. The artificial brightening makes all of the paperwork sitting on the consoles appear to be glowing. All depth is lost as blown out highlights take over.

Positives? There are a few. Black levels are truly spectacular, the darkness of space rendered perfectly. The contrast boosting has done little to take away from their impact. There are scenes that appear perfectly film-like, despite all of the excessive, unnecessary manipulation. Many of the scenes in space, despite the flesh tones, look okay. Some high fidelity detail, including pores and intricate stitching on the space suits, are visible. Some close-ups on Earth, including Quinlan’s at 1:46:42, look properly handled, maybe even untouched aside from the warm color increase. Hanks’ face in the car at 17:30, even despite the heavy blacks, is superb. Why this wasn’t left alone to look like these sporadic shots is a mystery. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Video]

The transfer to Blu-ray has brought about one positive, and that is an upgrade to uncompressed audio. Universal gets one right with this forceful, aggressive DTS-HD effort that offers opportunities galore to show off your system.

Undoubtedly, many will flip to the initial launch of the shuttle to see what the disc has to offer, at least for audio. Thrusters generate enormous bass, thankfully free of distortion. The effect extends deep into the low-end, generating a satisfying rumble. Surrounds are heavily engaged as smoke begins billowing out, enveloping the viewer in a fine “whoosh” effect. As things start going awry for the crew, heavy thuds typically cue trouble. Well-spaced fronts are fantastic for capturing motion as the lunar module goes out of control.

James Horner’s score is generally limited for much of the film, saved for those truly intense moments. As the module burns to align for re-entry, everything comes into balance, from the heavy boom of the flames, the critical dialogue, to the music itself. Fidelity is excellent, producing superb clarity and individualized instruments. The bleed into the surrounds completes what is a full, rich audio experience, one that almost makes up for the video… but not quite. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

This 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray begins its extras with a commentary from Ron Howard, and a second from Jim and Marilyn Lovell featured on the HD DVD and DVD (as with almost all of these features). Lost Moon is the hour-long making-of, which has been used previously, but remains a superb documentary. Conquering Space is a feature on space travel and its difficulties.

Lucky 13 lets the astronauts themselves speak about the experience. Two U-Control pop-up tracks include Apollo-era trivia and explanation of the technical chatter. BD-Live support is typical Universal splash page access. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]

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