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Go / No Go :
"From The Earth To The Moon:
The Signature Edition" DVD

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   Warner Home Video
Release:   September 2005
Length:   720 minutes on five discs
MSRP:   $99.98
Extras:   Widescreen transfer; DTS and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound; behind-the-scenes featurette; special effects featurette; President Kennedy's speech to Congress on May 25, 1961; "Out Of This Solar System," "History Of The Moon," "The Space Race"; six HBO trailers

Booster Rating: Five (out of five) Stages

Studio Synopsis: Produced with the cooperation of NASA, From The Earth To The Moon follows the voyages of the Apollo astronauts in their mission to place a man on the moon. Powerfully told as never before, these are the stories of the men, women and children, who lived breathed, and manufactured from the power of human will one of the greatest achievements in the history of man.

Review: Tom Hanks is living a space geek's dream.

First, there was his turn as Jim Lovell in Apollo 13. Then, he produced and starred in an episode of the HBO miniseries From The Earth To The Moon. And finally, with the Sept. 23 IMAX release of Magnificent Desolation: Walking On The Moon 3D, one almost has to wonder what's next for Hanks. What could be next? What's left?

If Hanks received an education in the space program during the filming of Apollo 13, From The Earth To The Moon was his master's thesis. The project scored an Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries, a Golden Globe for Best Mini-Series and a host of other awards. Originally released on DVD in November 1998 (after broadcasting on HBO in April and May of the same year), the series has received a makeover as a tie-in to Magnificent Desolation's theatrical debut. Advertised with two-page spreads in such high-profile publications as Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly, a lot of emphasis went into making sure that people noticed the set's re- release. If the truth be told, even if the set isn't perfect, it is indeed worth noticing.

The Signature Edition is not an "extended" edition. There are no deleted/expanded scenes, nor new documentaries. Unfortunately, also missing (again) is a commentary track by Hanks or any of the astronauts and their families - the real historical figures or the actors who played them. The content of the Signature Edition appears to be unchanged from the original release. The Apollo 12 episode That's All There Is is still the best episode of the series, and the Apollo 13 We Interrupt This Program is still the weakest.

The set is far from untouched, however. The most obvious change is its new widescreen format. Because the series was originally shown on HBO in the 1.33:1 "fullscreen" format, the tweak is rather dubious at best. The images on this new version have obviously been manipulated this way or that to fit between the black bars at the top or bottom of the screen. If the series went widescreen to make it appear more important than "just" a made-for-television docudrama, it wasn't necessary.

A much better change for those with surround-sound systems is the addition of a DTS soundtrack. This is particularly noticeable during launch and flight sequences, when the bass literally rumbles out of the subwoofer. Music roars out of the speakers. Even simple dialogue is much easier to hear, coming out of just the center front speaker.

The series has also improved visually. Its 12 episodes are now spread over four discs, rather than the three of the original DVD edition. Less compression makes for a cleaner image. Colors are brighter, flesh tones are more realistic.

One thing is for certain: you've never lived until you've seen and heard space sickness like this, as portrayed in the Apollo 8 episode, 1968. It's just... well... nasty.

Lastly, I'm not a fan of the new packaging. It's like a puzzle to get to the discs, especially if you're of the mind to keep the attractive black-and-silver information band on which Hanks' facsimile signature appears. It is removable but it's the only part of the wrapping that bears Hanks' autograph, and this is The Signature Edition.

Go/No Go: Personally, I bought the original DVD release of From The Earth To The Moon before I ever bought a DVD player. It was that important a purchase. If you haven't yet picked up the first set, its Signature Edition is a must-have. No library is complete without it.

However, for those who╩already own╩the first edition, the choice is less clear. If you are a perfectionist, have a decent surround-sound system and want the best sound possible, you'll╩probably want to pick up The Signature Edition. If surround sound hasn't quite made it into your household just yet, there's just not enough to justify the additional expense.

Order now: HBO | Amazon

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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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