Apollo 13: The Imax Experience

on September 12, 2002 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
The first non-animated feature film to be retooled for the IMAX format doesn't benefit as much as one might expect from its new incarnation. "Apollo 13," Ron Howard's depiction of the 1970 ill-fated Apollo 13 space mission, wherein mechanical failures endangered the lives of its three man crew, was a solid if uninspired drama, devoid of the imagination and magic of "The Right Stuff," Philip Kaufman`s luminous space epic. Blown up to near IMAX proportions (some of the screen is not utilized) and shorn of about 23 minutes, including three minutes of credits (the film was cut for length because any IMAX film over two hours would need a reel change), its strengths and weaknesses are once again evident.

Surprisingly, its space scenes, which would seem a natural on a giant screen, are among the least impressive aspects of this new version of "Apollo 13." Simply put, we've seen these before writ large and to more impressive effect in IMAX films like "The Dream is Alive." "Apollo 13's" earthbound dramatic sequences, mostly of friends and families waiting anxiously to see if the astronauts make it, are emotionally potent but seem pallid, almost washed out, when showcased in the giant IMAX format. The film's characterizations remain skimpy on any size screen.

What still impresses are the nail-biting tension of "Apollo 13's" second half, as time runs out for the crew, and the movie's excellent performances. Tom Hanks, especially, is first-rate in another of his Everyman roles as Jim Lovell, Apollo 13's capable leader. The rest of the cast, including Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton as Lovell's fellow crewmen, Kathleen Quinlan as his worried wife and Gary Sinise as the astronaut who was scrapped from the mission at the last minute, ably back him up. But those virtues aside, there's still no escaping the feeling that ordinary features like "Apollo 13" are not the way IMAX should go. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Ed Harris. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by William Broyles and Al Reinert. Produced by Brian Grazer. Drama. A Universal release. Drama; large-format. Rated PG for language and peril. Running time: 116 min

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