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Go / No Go :
"NASA 25 Years: Triumph and Tragedies"

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   Madacy Entertainment
Release:   1998
Length:   Approximately 10 hours spread over 5 discs
MSRP:   $49.95
Extras:   Trivia questions, biographies, mission synopses, space vehicle images, direct scene access, film clips

Beginning this review in earnest, I have to apologize to my now 15-year-old son, Richard. His Christmas present of a few years ago, the NASA 25 Years: Triumph and Tragedies DVD set, was truly one of the best gifts I have received.

It was purchased with the greatest of intentions, as he knew his old man was, and is still is a huge space buff. I wouldn't trade, sell or give the set away for anything. If this review is harsh, it is because of the set's quality and content (or lack thereof) and does not reflect any lack of appreciation for my son's generousity.

That said, from the first few seconds of the first disc, it's almost impossible not to be frustrated. The image quality is beyond terrible, the public affairs narration is worse and the music is dated.

Each of the episodes were originally released by NASA public affairs, and as a result, each has a distinct PR feel to it. That doesn't necessarily mean they are untrue to their subject; it may not present the complete story, with all the bumps, warts and blemishes that accompany the space program.

In the hands of a company that cared, unlike Madacy Entertainment, 25 Years might have been salvaged. The content is interesting; its historic, monumental and all the other superlatives that might be applied to images of so many firsts achieved for the American space program.

If Madacy had applied some very basic remastering so you could see through all the snow and dust plaguing the first four of the set's five discs 25 Years would be a much better product. Madacy converted the NASA filmstrips to VHS for their first release in 1990, and then it appears to have been direct to DVD eight years later. There was no care taken to restore the film to its original luster; that is, assuming there was ever any luster to begin.

If not for the lack of care afforded these films, you could almost get past the overly-dramatic promotional tone of the narration. The treatment is particularly a shame given the caliber of the flights covered by 25 Years: Freedom 7, Friendship 7, the Gemini program as a whole, Gemini 7, Apollo 11, 13, 15, 16 and 17, Apollo-Soyuz, Skylab, early Shuttle flights and the Challenger disaster.

If there is a redeeming quality to this set, it is found on disc five, Challenger: Disaster and Investigation. This program presents almost continuous footage of each of the crew members in the white room, with public affairs voice-over from mission control. Watching this footage, it is a stark reminder that astronauts flew wearing little more than a blue jumpsuit and helmet.

This disc also includes a half-hour analysis and step-by-step walkthrough of the accident, with multi-angle views of the launch.

Go/No Go: No go. Hold on to your money, especially if you’re just a cursory fan of the space program. Buy this set, and you’ll likely be turned off forever. The footage is passable, but as an overall effort, there are just too many problems with this set to recommend it.

NASA 25 Years Challenger program (disc five) is worth watching, but not at the expense of the full set.

A NASA 50 Years set has recently been released by Madacy Entertainment, but it doesn't appear to be much better than its predecessor.

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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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