Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apollo 13 Revisited

My first HDTV and Blu-Ray player provided the (de?)motivation for a lazy, movie-watching weekend. I had to try out all the different parts of my new toys, including a WiFi connection that allows access to various internet-based services, some free (Pandora internet radio, YouTube), some not free (Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand). I ordered a Blu-Ray copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey from Amazon (mostly because it was only $8.99), but it won't arrive until next week. In the meantime, Amazon provides a free VOD rental of the film, but unfortunately not the HD version. I watched a little to see how the WiFi connection would work (quite well), but decided to wait for the Blu-Ray disc to watch the whole thing later this week. I've bought 2001 on VHS and DVD and now Blu-Ray. It's a space classic and a home video test case, I guess. With Blu-Ray and a 42 inch 1080p screen, it may start to approach the original movie experience of 1968 (which I barely remember, though I know I made my mother take me to see it).

The one BD that I bought and received so far is a BBC nature show, Nature's Most Amazing Events, and the action, scenery, cinematography, and visual quality did not disappoint. The new Blu-Ray player also does a nice job "upconverting" DVD's so I watched a couple of old favorites, Memphis Belle and Apollo 13. I have the 2-disc anniversary edition of Apollo 13, but for some reason I had never watched the making-of special or listened to Jim and Marilyn Lovell's commentary, both great. I really love that movie, both for the many authentic details of the Apollo era and for the emotional intensity. 13 was to be the fifth manned lunar voyage and the third landing, and the public and the media in 1970 had already come to think of it as routine (e.g., the networks didn't interrupt prime time to televise the crew's live color TV "en route to the moon" broadcast - that was so 1969!). But of course the oxygen tank explosion soon made it anything but routine, and the drama of three astronauts' lives hanging by a thread in the "LM lifeboat" captured the world's attention for almost a week. Riveting stuff even though you know the ending.

The making-of special shows what a great combination Tom Hanks and Ron Howard were for this film. Hanks was a space fanatic and astronaut wannabe. Howard wasn't so much, but he is a fanatic for detail and authenticity (technical and emotional) in all of his films. The fact that they were able to get NASA's cooperation to film parts of the film in sets installed in the KC-135 "vomit comet" was an amazing coup and added tremendously to the you-are-there feeling. All that filming had to be done in 30 second segments as the zero-G training jet flew parabolas over and over. All of the "whole body" shots were done this way, but in many scenes where only the actors' heads or torsos were visible, they had to mime the zero-G effects by swaying their bodies to simulate it. It all looks real to me!

I'm sure I will quickly recalibrate my technology "normal meter" so in a couple of weeks, HDTV will just be routine, and I'll go back to not watching much TV. This happens with all technology (except the iPod Touch -  I use it extensively every day, and it still amazes me). But I'm glad it's giving me a reason to revisit some space favorites like Apollo 13 and 2001.


Anonymous said...

Ron Howard might not have been a Space Program fan when he started the movie Apollo 13, but he became one along the way. He was quite convincing in his intro to "In the Shadow of the Moon", which is an excellent documentary that is also available in Blue Ray format.

Apollo 13 was an excellent movie, but did have a number of inaccuracies that become apparent when you read Jim Lovell's book (that the movie was based on). For one, I thought the movie's portrayal of the Grumman corporation was highly unfair. Grumman engineers worked night and day to determine and test procedures to get the LM to do what they needed to do. There did not appear to be any CYA nonsense that was shown in the film.

FlyingSinger said...

Good points, thanks. In the making-of feature, Jim Lovell gave credit to Howard and Hanks for their attention to detail in such things as procedures, radio calls, etc. but said there were a few things added or emphasized for dramatic effect, especially the implied suspicion that last-minute-CM-pilot replacement Jack Swigert might not be up to the job. Someone on the ground said "he better dock this thing [CM with LM en route to the moon] or we don't have a mission." Lovell said there were two other guys on board who could do it in addition to Jack, so it was never really an issue. But showing Jack having to "earn his stripes" on the crew added a little human drama.

I think the Grumman tech rep portrayal was a similar made-up "conflict" with him saying "we never designed the LM for that" and Gene Kranz putting him down for this. Bit of fake drama. But aside from that, the REAL drama works amazingly well for me even though I know the ending and have seen the film probably six times. The book is really good too. Maybe time to re-read it, though my book backlog is already out of control.

kevinwparker said...

Yes, there's all this emphasis on Jack Swigert being a rookie while there's no mention that Fred Haise was also a rookie, in the same class of astronauts (1966) as Swigert.