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Go / No Go :
"Apollo 12: Ocean of Storms" DVD

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   Spacecraft Films
Release:   2005
Length:   More than 14 hours on 3 discs
MSRP:   $44.99
Extras:   "rebuilt" EVAs after television failure; pre-launch preparation, training and recovery footage

There is no dramatic announcement when Pete Conrad and Alan Bean land on the lunar surface in Apollo 12: Ocean of Storms. Instead, once they get through their initial post-landing checklist, the soon-to-be third and fourth men to walk on the Moon sound like two excited school kids about to embark on the field trip of a lifetime.

When Dick Gordon, orbiting 60 miles above the Moon, radios his congratulations it's impossible not to like these guys. It is scenes like this that also make it just as hard to not enjoy the latest offering from Spacecraft Films; and the fun has just begun.

The most historically significant segments of Ocean are the "rebuilt" EVAs. Evidently, television cameras have a way of conking out when their lenses are pointed toward the unfiltered sun, even if only briefly. While Bean tries to remedy the problem, the frustration is clear in his voice - despite the rather scratchy radio transmissions. You like him already, and now you feel for him.

Yet, as a result of Bean's blunder, there has not been a way to watch the minute-by-minute progress of the Apollo 12 moonwalkers; that is, until now. Using the complete air-to-ground transmission record as the guide, producer Mark Gray fills in the nearly seven-hour missing footage with maps, checklists, still photos, panoramas and video taken during training.

If there are instances when a traverse map stays onscreen for too long, taken as a whole, Gray's methods work and history is the richer for it.

While the rebuilt moonwalks comprise the bulk of the set's 14-hour runtime, there are numerous highlights throughout the remainder of the discs.

Other Spacecraft Films' releases have included audio from onboard voice recorders, but not nearly to the effect heard on Ocean. Take for example, the mission's liftoff. There's drama, and then there is the launch of Apollo 12.

For 36 seconds, all goes as well as well as can be expected for Conrad, Gordon and Bean. Then a burst of static, and from the rarely heard onboard reels comes Gordon's exclamation, "What the hell was that?!?"

"That" was their Saturn V launch vehicle being struck by self-induced lightning. For the next few precious seconds, they search for a solution to a multitude of alarms. What is truly amazing is that while there's an undeniable sense of urgency in their voices, the crew is not panicking. They are just three men working together, albeit in a hurry.

Whereas the launch audio is fascinating, the onboard chatter during reentry is equally entertaining. As Yankee Clipper, the mission's Command Module, begins to dig into the atmosphere and flames begin to shoot past their window, spaceflight rookie Bean remarks, "Look at that son of a bitch go... Mamma Mia, that's fantastic!"

Gordon, who has been through all this before on Gemini 11, responds rather nonchalantly, "Hold on to your hat, ass and overcoat, gang..." According to Gordon's call, they withstand up to 6.5 Gs, as Conrad jokes about being splashed by water from somewhere within the cabin. The man has an elephant sitting on his chest, and he can still laugh.

Interviews with Conrad, Gordon and Bean on the set's first disc prove them to be an articulate group. There are shots of Bean wheeling into and out of a NASA parking lot in his gold and black trim Corvette, and of all three checking out their T-38 jets. An observation begs to be made, however: Conrad and Bean would ultimately walk on the Moon, but even in their prime, both looked more like stereotypical accountants than swashbuckling, heroic astronauts.

Not so of Gordon; as he walks to his T-38, his shoulders are squared back with a military bearing. He's wearing shades and sporting a full head of hair as opposed to his balding Apollo 12 crewmates. Dick Gordon was the very essence of cool.

There is another great moment on Disc One that merits mentioning. During a post-flight press conference that serves as the audio track over the mating of the Saturn V stages, a question is asked about the computer overload problems that nearly derailed the Apollo 11 landing. Bean's responce could not possibly be any more ironic:

"It's my expectation that we're gonna have something on our flight, where nobody's thought of it before," Bean says. "It's never happened before. We've never even considered it. It's gonna come up. The thing that makes us all feel good about this thing is we've got a team together here, both in flight and on the ground, that can solve these problems as they come up," explains Bean.

"What Al's telling you," Conrad chimes in, "you're gonna be disappointed if we don't get a surprise. But I'm sure I will be too."

Go/No Go: Of course, neither man was disappointed after the lightning strike. Neither will you, after obtaining this set for your library. It's most definitely a go. With a MSRP of $45, Apollo 12 is easily one of the best values in the Spacecraft Films' collection.

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About the reviewer:
Rick Houston is an avid collector of DVDs (he has more than 600). Houston is also a space history enthusiast, so he is sure to not miss a documentary or docudrama.

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