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Go / No Go :
"Apollo 13: The Real Story" DVD

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   Spacecraft Films
Release:   November 2004
Length:   More than 12 hours on 3 discs
MSRP:   $44.99
Extras:   press conferences and world reaction; crew preparation and review board testing footage; mission control footage with commentary from EECOM Sy Liebergot

Move over, Tom Hanks. There's a new Apollo 13 in town.

It's hard to pin down a high point for the newest effort from Spacecraft Films producer Mark Gray, because from first disc to last, it's all first-class material. Beginning even with the visually improved menus, you know you're in for a treat from the very first moment you hit "Play".

There's an original documentary on disc one containing footage you've never seen before, e.g. Ken Mattingly and Jack Swigert talking to each other, as Jim Lovell, Deke Slayton and Tom Stafford stand close by. Whether it was before Swigert was assigned to the mission or after is beside the point; it's a great shot either way.

Disc two features another upgrade over prior Spacecraft Films releases. Apollo 13 EECOM Sy Liebergot provides commentary for mission control footage from just before and just after the oxygen tank explosion, as well as from the flight home. This bonus audio track comes across as a personal, one-on-one guided tour through the drama that was the Mission Operations Control Room during Apollo 13. Who could ask for more?

Another prime stop on disc two is the famed television transmission that was broadcast just before the accident. The camera passes by the backpack that Lovell would have used on the lunar surface, and one thought comes to mind: what does Lovell think today when he sees this footage? Has enough time passed for he and Fred Haise to stop thinking about what might have been?

There's even more from the second disc that you won't want to miss. No less than three press conferences are included, the most telling likely the one from midnight on the night of the accident. The looks on the faces of Chris Kraft, Jim McDivitt and Sigurd Sjoberg said it all... the fate of the crew was very much in doubt. At that moment, they didn't know what had happened, and perhaps more importantly, what was going to happen next.

On the third disc, you hear Lovell's voice as he spots the damaged service module for the first time after it had separated. The Hollywood movie depicts this moment and you have likely heard the actual transmission, but the entire 16mm data acquisition sequence is presented here, to go along with 70mm still images.

The post-flight press conference with Lovell, Haise and Swigert is also here, as is the presentation of their Presidential Medal of Freedom. The review board press conference and footage of its findings, as narrated by producer Gray himself, rounds out the third disc.

That said, quite possibly the best treat of disc three, if not the entire set, is a 1995 mission retrospective held at Johnson Space Center with Gene Kranz, Gerry Griffin, Jerry Bostick and John Aaron. They laugh, they pay compliment to each other, they tell stories and you... you listen, captivated by the experience.

Go/No Go: Go. To paraphrase the line from A Few Good Men, "You want this on your shelf. You NEED this on your shelf." You have never known Apollo 13 so fully as after watching these discs. Spacecraft Films' releases keep getting better and better with each and every effort.

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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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