Apollo 13 HD DVD
I hadn't watched Ron Howard's Apollo 13 in years- probably since the first DTS DVD release in the late 90s. It's extraordinary that this movie remains so riveting- nerve wracking even- so long after seeing it for the first time, and having gone into that first viewing knowing how the story ends! The filmmaking, the performances, the effects, the attention to every technical detail, everything is top notch and about as good as it gets from big-time Hollywood filmmaking. A great, compelling movie, and capsule in time of one of America's most riveting real-life dramas. This is what used to be "reality TV" back in the day!
Of course the reason I'm writing this is because Apollo 13 has just been released on HD DVD in a breathtaking new HD transfer. As great as the 2005 10th anniversary DVD is, this VC-1-encoded HD DVD just kills it. The details and colors are amazing, razor sharp with no edginess whatsoever- just loads of three-dimensional depth and clarity. In addition to all of the spectacular stuff, what elevates this HD DVD even from the great HD I see on satellite, is the lack of artifacts. Gone are the artificial edge haloes and noise in dark scenes that afflict DVDs, and gone are the compression artifacts that are prevalent on DVD and occasionally present on satellite HD. I have DirecTV, and while Showtime, and HDNet Movies sometimes approach this level of image quality, HBO HD isn't even in the neighborhood. This is to die for stuff, folks.
The sound is no less spectacular as a Dolby Digital Plus track transcoded to PCM and then to DTS at 1.5Mbps by the Toshiba HD-XA1. The launch sequence remains one of the premier surround sound demoes of all-time, and throughout the film there is expansive but tasteful use of the surrounds and LFE with both sound effects and James Horner's sweeping and well recorded score. The low-level detail is excellent too, and convincing throughout. I've not yet had a chance to compare this track to the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks present on the theatrical and IMAX versions, respectively, of the film contained in the 10th anniversary two-disc DVD set.
Last, it should be noted that this dual-layered HD DVD has all of the supplements that came with the 10th anniversary two-disc set. There are separate feature commentaries with Ron Howard and Jim and Marilyn Lovell, and three outstanding documentaries. Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13 is one of the best "making of" features I've ever seen. I simply can't recommend something higher than this HD DVD.
Video reviewed on Marantz VP-11S1 1080p DLP projector, 80" wide Stewart Filmscreen Studiotek 130 screen, and Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player via HDMI. Audio sent via SPDIF to Theta Casblanca II pre/pro, Theta Citadel and Dreadnaught power amps, and Vandersteen loudspeakers.