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Warner Home Video presents
"Surely the President realizes that the moment a man steps foot on the moon will be a definitive one in the history of the world."
DVD ReviewPublished in 1994, Andrew Chaikan's A Man on the Moon provided informative accounts of each compelling story from the Apollo program. It covered all of the missions and focused on the individual astronaut's backgrounds in entertaining fashion. Every Apollo mission offers numerous riveting tales of dire circumstances and great personal accomplishment. Many of these stories are chronicled in From the Earth to the Moon—a classic miniseries that represents the most extensive and powerful dramatic representation of Apollo. Produced by space enthusiast Tom Hanks and based partially on Chaikan's book, this collection of 12 episodes should captivate both devotees and casual viewers with its inside stories of the astronaut's exploits.
Originally airing on HBO during six weeks of two-hour blocs in 1998, this big-budget miniseries utilizes a large, talented cast to tell one of our country's most ambitious undertakings. Every Apollo mission appears here, along with the stories of the wives, Houston engineers, government officials, and scientists that supported the project. Numerous recognizable actors appear in small roles here and seem determined to deliver a product that will stand the test of time. The stories definitely praise the project, but they avoid being overly sentimental and do convey some of the less-flattering issues regarding Apollo. The problems include conflicting astronaut egos, the Apollo 1 fire, the lack of support from Congress, and the saddening effects on the wives. All of the primary issues (positive or negative) or presented with an eye for accuracy, which adds an atmosphere of strict authenticity to every scene.
Although many characters appear for several episodes when their mission arrives, several pivotal figures effectively bridge the series together. The primary individual is Deke Slayton (Nick Searcy), a member of the original Mercury astronauts, who was grounded due to a heart anomaly. He handles the selection of crews for each mission and works directly with the astronauts during preparation. Searcy utilizes a down-to-earth demeanor that makes Slayton one of the most believable and likable characters. The other consistent participant is network journalist Emmett Seaborn (Lane Smith), a fictional creation in the vein of Walter Cronkite who believes in Apollo and comments on key events. The remaining cast includes far too many standouts to list, but a few especially strong performances should receive a mention. Stephen Root generally shines in comedic roles, but his job as Chris Kraft is one of the series' best. The astronauts include a score of solid actors, with Tom Amandes, Frank Andrews, Dave Foley, Peter Scolari, Ted Levine, Tim Daly, and Brett Cullen doing very well.
Before proceeding to the episode descriptions, I had to mention the wonderful digital effects, which present space and moon majestically. Combined with the use of actual NASA facilities and vehicles, the CG imagery showcases the best aspects of the newer technology. The astronauts' stories remain the primary focus, but the impressive landscape helps to complement their personal struggles. Each of the twelve one-hour episodes have been described in the upcoming sections:
Can We Do This?
Writer Steven Katz must summarize numerous key events in the early stages of the space program in one short hour, which is a monumental task. Directed by Tom Hanks, this busy series premiere does an amazing job of introducing many key figures. While the Russians continue to beat the Americans into space, key NASA and government men decide to take the ultimate chance and guarantee a landing on the moon by the end of the decade. One of the show's countless magical moments presents Ed White (Chris Isaak) becoming the first American to walk in space. We also meet "The New Nine," who would play a pivotal role in the upcoming Apollo Program. Any doubts about the series' effectiveness and scope are erased by this gripping premiere episode.
In a tragic accident that threatened to end Apollo before it even left the ground, the Apollo 1 disaster remains a saddening moment in the space program's history. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee were performing a typical ground test when a fire erupted and quickly ended their lives. This episode deals with the aftermath and focuses on the reactions of NASA's Joe Shea (Kevin Pollak) and North American's Harrison Storms (James Rebhorn). Both actors do a wonderful job in conveying both the anger and regret brought about by the tragedy. Apollo ultimately survives, but it will be a long time before it participants can overcome Apollo 1.
We Have Cleared the Tower
A fictional documentary filmmaker (Peter Horton) documents the crew of Apollo 7 and their efforts to become the first Apollo team to enter space. Mark Harmon plays the fiery Wally Schirra, whose nerves have been tested by the reminder of the fire. This more light-hearted entry presents some of the sillier actions of the astronauts and their close connection to Launch Pad Director Guenter Wendt (Max Wright). It falls short of the series' top episodes, but is worthwhile for Harmon's impressive performance.
This ambitious episode presents the extremely troubling events of 1968, which included several assassinations of key political leaders and an increased furor over the Vietnam War. It also showcases the preparations of Frank Borman (David Andrews), Jim Lovell (Tim Daly), and Bill Anders (Robert John Burke) for Apollo 8, the most ambitious mission to date. It will involve an actual journey to the moon for several orbits that would make them the first men in history to reach this goal. Director David Frankel and Writer Al Reinert do an excellent job in balancing the historical events with the astronauts' story, which leads to a compelling episode.
In the series' best episode, we learn about some of the more unique ways proposed for getting us to the moon. Narrated by Grumman Aircraft's Tom Kelly (Matt Craven), the story focuses on his team's efforts to create Spider, the first Lunar Module (LM). Going well past the original timeframe and way over budget, they continually face difficulties and must adjust their plans numerous times. Once the LM is finally ready, it goes to Earth orbit with Apollo 9 astronauts Tom Stafford (Steve Hofvendahl), Dave Scott (Brett Cullen), and Rusty Schweikart (Kieran Mulroney) for a test. This stirring episode hits all the emotional notes and prepares things wonderfully for the big event.
The astronauts are interviewed by journalist Emmett Seaborn prior to the Apollo 11 Mission and appear confide about their chances for success. However, this episode reveals some doubts (especially from Buzz Aldrin) that this pivotal moment will be handled properly. We also learn about the warning lights and Neil Armstrong's (Tony Goldwyn) difficult landing that turned this flight into anything but routine. Although the basic elements of Apollo 11 are well known, this episode still manages to make it an exciting and tense event. Goldwyn makes a good Armstrong, and Bryan Cranston is especially strong as Aldrin.
That's All There Is
Following the success of Apollo 11, it was easy to think that the space program could rest on its laurels and didn't need to keep sending guys to the moon. Pete Conrad (Paul McCrane), Dick Gordon (Tom Verica), and Al Bean (Dave Foley) realized that Apollo 12 did not hold the nation's interest like their predecessor, but they still had a great time. The three actors do a wonderful job in making it seem like they're best friends, with Foley especially strong as the goofy Bean. This episode includes some of the series' most entertaining moments.
We Interrupt This Program
Since the Apollo 13 crisis was chronicled effectively in Ron Howard's feature film, this version takes a different approach to the story. It focuses instead on the media's exploitation of the dire circumstances, specifically embodied by Jay Mohr's hotshot reporter Brett Hutchins. His uncaring attitude contrasts with the old-school methods of Lane Smith's Emmett Seaborn, who reports the accurate scientific details of the mission. Although it lacks the classic moments of the best episodes, this tale still provides for some great drama. Smith does a solid job throughout the series, and this entry features his best work.
For Miles and Miles
Alan Shepard (Ted Levine) became a national hero when he became the first American to journey into space, but a severe inner ear infection grounded him to desk duty. This episode depicts both his difficulties and triumphant return to active duty on Apollo 14, which again needed to ensure the future of Apollo. Levine gives an understated performance that makes Shepard's need to return to space completely understandable. The final moments on the moon induce goose bumps and stand among the best of the series.
Galileo was Right
Under the tutelage of Lee Silver (David Clennon), the astronauts of the later Apollo missions begin to develop expertise on the scientific aspects of exploring the moon. Recruited by his former student, scientist/astronaut Harrison "Jack" Schmitt (Tom Amandes), Silver takes them on journeys into the desert that are wonderfully depicted in this episode. The story also covers the teachings of Al Worden by Farouk El-Baz, who possesses amazing knowledge of the moon's surface. Enthusiasm for science dominates this episode, which chronicles Apollo 15 and its attempts to discover "The Genesis Rock." This is my second-favorite episode behind Spider, largely due to inspired performances from Clennon and Amandes.
The Original Wives Club
Sally Field directs this unique episode that focuses on the hardships endured by the astronauts' wives while they journey into space. Rita Wilson is especially compelling as Susan Borman, who drinks heavily to combat her worries about her husband's safety. Each wife is introduced via a fashion show, which effectively bridges the various stories. Also, Ken Mattingly (Zeljko Ivanek) struggles aboard Apollo 16 to find his wedding ring, which nicely connects to the primary theme. This episode is not one of my favorites, but it does provide a much different perspective than the others and is a worthy inclusion.
Le Voyage dans la lune
This ambitious episode veers from the others by portraying George Melies directing his famous early silent film. Tom Hanks wrote this episode and plays his assistant Jean-Luc Despont at the movie studio. We also see Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan (Daniel Hugh Kelly) exploring the moon during Apollo 17, the final moon mission. This story also includes recollections from Schmitt, Cernan, Emmett Seaborn, and others about the space program and their hopes for its future. The movie filming is a unique choice, but it doesn't entirely work with the other episodes. However, the idealistic but frustrated tone leads to an effective conclusion.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+
Image Transfer Review: The only significant omission in the original release of From the Earth to the Moon was the lack of a widescreen offering. That issue is corrected with this new collection, which offers an impressive 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture is slightly limited by its original television format, but this new version offers little grain and a bright presentation. Considering the majestic scope of this production, a topnotch visual transfer is a necessity, and this release fits the bill.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: This boxed set also improves on the sound of original release, which offered a solid 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. That audio track appears here, along with an excellent DTS transfer that provides an extremely powerful and complex listening experience. The experiences of the astronauts are translated effectively into the home theater, which immerses viewers in their space journeys. This release also includes 2.0-channel Dolby Surround tracks in English, Spanish, and French.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 72 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
6 TV Spots/Teasers
Packaging: Box Set
This release also includes some interesting textual information and a group of six trailers. The previews are presented with a full-frame transfer and vary between about 30 and 90 seconds. The first text extra is President John F. Kennedy's pivotal speech to Congress on May 25, 1961 that specified the funds and commitment needed to reach the moon. A 10-second audio excerpt of his speech also is available. The Space Race Timeline details the essential events during the struggle to reach the moon. History of the Moon offers a brief description of some different cultures' views of the moon and some basic scientific facts. Out of This Solar System is a database that contains information on galaxies, black holes, and stars located beyond our solar system. The final section provides biographies of key astronomers and other scientists who helped to enhance mankind's knowledge.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsFrom the Earth to the Moon received a well-deserved Emmy award in 1998 for Best Miniseries and remains one of the standout television productions of the past 10 years. It tackles an extremely complex story and makes it understandable while retaining the historical accuracy needed to present Apollo effectively. This Signature Edition may not contain enough substantial extras to warrant replacing the first DVD set. However, this release is highly recommended for new viewers hoping to learn more about the achievements (and pratfalls) of Apollo.
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