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

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   HBO/Imagine Entertainment
Release:   1998
Length:   639 minutes
MSRP:   $99.98
Extras:   HBO "First Look" and special effects featurettes; virtual tour of the solar system; 3D models of the lunar module, command module and Saturn V; NASA policy directive; Apollo mission objectives, trivia quiz; transcript of President Kennedy's 1961 speech to Congress; timeline; history of the moon; TV spots

This... this is what happens when those in charge care deeply about a project.

From the first of its 12 episodes to the last, From The Earth To The Moon is very clearly a labor of love. After finishing work on Apollo 13, Tom Hanks and Imagine Entertainment heads Ron Howard and Brian Grazer weren't through with the history of the space program. Not by a long shot.

Thank goodness for that.

With Andrew Chaikin's benchmark A Man On The Moon: Voyages Of The Apollo Astronauts as their basis, Hanks and the gang at Imagine went to work on a mini-series for HBO that took three years and $65 million to complete. If actual NASA footage is what it looked like to be in space, FTETTM is the best account available of what it felt like.

Part 1: "Can We Do This?" gets things started with Alan Shepard's first Mercury flight, and President Kennedy's subsequent mandate to send a man to the Moon by the end of the decade. Should we go, or shouldn't we? Could we beat the Russians? Could the required technology be ready in time? Watch the episode, and know that you're in for some very good things to come.

If there is one overall criticism of the effort, it's that sometimes the actors don't look much, if anything, like the real-life people they portray. Ted Levine is stockier in the show than Shepard. Cary Elwes and Tony Goldwyn take their turns as Mike Collins and Neil Armstrong respectively, but don't really look much like them. Still, their performances make up for any lack of physical similarities to their role models.

The first of this four-disc set is probably the best, in that it traces the beginnings of the race to the Moon in Part 1, then takes a somber look at the Apollo 1 fire in Part 2. Mark Harmon portrays Wally Schirra in Part 3: "We Have Cleared The Tower." Unfortunately, the episode ends with the launch of Apollo 7, and does not mention the crew's near-mutiny in flight. The triumph of Apollo 8's flight to the Moon is highlighted in "1968." Rita Wilson's performance as Susan Borman, Frank's wife, is one of the best of the series.

No, wait; the best disc has to be the second one. Part 6, "Mare Tranquilitatis" lands us on the lunar surface for the first time with Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and captures extremely well the sometimes tepid relationship of the crew. Part 7, "That's All There Is" has been mentioned by many as their favorite "To The Moon" episode. The crew of Apollo 12 had the closest relationship of any that flew to the Moon, and it was captured to perfection in this installment. Paul McCrane of "ER" fame plays Pete Conrad, Dave Foley takes on Alan Bean and Tom Verica portrays Dick Gordon, and each does a tremendous job.

There's only one real throw-away episode in the entire series, and it's the last one on the second disc, Part 8, "We Interrupt This Program." Veteran character actor Lane Smith plays fictional TV reporter Emmett Seaborn, and while he's featured briefly throughout the series, the character takes center stage in this episode. As the events of the Apollo 13 crisis unfold, old-school journalist Seaborn is cast aside in favor of another, more unsavory reporter played by Jay Mohr.

Apollo 13 had come out just three years earlier, so there really wasn't a need to rehash what had happened on that flight. Problem was, it was too important not to mention. What to do? This wasn't the answer. It's more an indictment of tabloid journalism, than having anything whatsoever to do with the space program.

Hold on a minute, the third disc is the true highlight of the set. Part 10, "Galileo Was Right" is the story of Apollo 15 and the transition from simply landing to actually studying the Moon's geologic features. Part 11, "The Original Wives Club" does an outstanding job of showing just how hard it was for an astronaut's spouse to stand by and watch as her husband flew, and sometimes died, in the pursuit of the Moon. Finally, Hanks moves in front of the camera in the series conclusion, Part 12: "Le Voyage Dans La Lune," an offbeat look at Apollo 17 intercut with the making of Jules Vernes' early-20th century film.

Extras: HBO's "First Look" is a better-than-average behind the scenes look at the making of FTETTM. Listen to Hanks for just a moment or two, and it's evident that this was more than just another paycheck for him. Dave Scott, as technical director, is also included and he appears to have enjoyed his role as well.

And check out those models in the special effects featurette. Wouldn't they look very cool in somebody's collection? Aside from that, the segment shows just how involved a project FTETTM was. Just one brief shot might've been comprised of five or six different elements. That attention to detail is one of the things that made the series so successful.

Go/No Go: Go, emphatically. If this says anything, my copy of FTETTM is ragged, the packaging scratched and dog-eared. None of the four plastic disc holders are still attached to their backing, having been used over and over. And over. This isn't a set to be viewed once and put on the shelf to collect dust.

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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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