Ron Howard’s 1995 space-exploration nail-biter “Apollo 13” has been reformatted for the big-screen IMAX theatres, and the effect is impressive. Blowing up the images (not a simple pricess, since the aspect ratio is altered and the 35mm original digitally reprocessed to 70mm) does, to be sure, make the moments of hokiness and manipulation all the more obvious, but it gives the far more numerous exciting scenes greater punch as well, so the result is mostly positive. And the fact that the picture has been whittled down from its original 139 minute running-time to slightly under two hours (to fall within the limits of current IMAX projection equipment) makes less difference than you might think; the editing has been judiciously done, and everything flows smoothly. The film remains a solid, if somewhat heavy-handed, account of the near-disaster that befell NASA’s 1970 mission to the moon, done up by Howard with a steady, if not very imaginative, hand; and especially at this time of patriotic fervor, its celebration of American ingenuity and steadfastness in the face of near-disaster will undoubtedly prove welcome. The cast is excellent, with Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon serving as a stalwart flight crew and Ed Harris and Gary Sinise, among others, doing good service back on earth (though Clint Howard is always a distraction in his brother’s pictures). The film still looks great; the special effects remain very realistic, and Dean Cundey’s cinematography as crisp as ever.
In one respect, though, the IMAX format does the original a disservice. The overwhelming sound system, which makes the rumble of the takeoff an almost tactile tactile thing, also gives far more presence to James Horner’s music. With its soupy angelic soprano-choir humming wordlessly in the distance and its purely instrumental interludes sounding hopelessly ordinary, the score is one of the picture’s weakest elements, and its feebleness is all more apparent in this version.