"Apollo 13"

The movie is a suspenseful account of a real-life near-disaster; plus a legendary astronaut tells what it's like to be (almost) lost in space.

Published September 1, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Apollo 13" (Collector's Edition)
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon
Universal Home Video; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: "Lost Moon" documentary, director and consultant commentary, program notes, trailer, more

"Apollo 13" is one of those movies that gets better each time you see it. Bristling with techno-speak and microscopic attention to detail, this true tale of the spacecraft that almost got away is like a graduate course in rocket science and the people who put their pressure-suited behinds on the line to get us to the moon. The fact that viewers know in advance how the story ends (the guys make it back) does nothing to take away from the film's genuine chills and suspense. The respect and admiration with which director Ron Howard and star Tom Hanks approach the material shine through in every frame, and especially after countless go-nowhere space-shuttle missions over the years, "Apollo 13" reminds us of the singular commitment and courage that once propelled mankind into the proverbial final frontier.

By April 1970, though, the moon missions themselves were becoming old hat, and some TV stations even refused to cut away from reruns of "I Love Lucy" to broadcast live footage from Apollo 13's crew. It wasn't until the mother of all glitches caused one of the spacecraft's oxygen tanks to explode that most people took notice of the fact that astronauts Jim Lovell (Hanks), Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) were overhead and suddenly in very deep trouble. Forget about getting to the moon; whether the astronauts were even getting home was the question. "Apollo 13" tracks almost every detail of what the trio went through up there, as well as the remarkable efforts of NASA to overcome a seemingly endless series of snafus.

The collector's edition of the DVD contains plenty of goodies, and they're all top-notch. The accompanying documentary, "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13," chronicles not only the making of the film but also the mission itself and features interviews with both the actors and the real-life people they portray. The disc also boasts two separate audio commentaries: one by the director describing his work on a shot-by-shot basis and the other by Lovell and his wife, Marilyn, providing a more down-to-earth perspective. Each track brings fresh insights to the film. But for viewers lacking the patience for repeated viewings, stick with Howard's commentary up to the explosion and then switch over to Lovell for the rest of the film.

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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