the Earth to the Moon
HBO Miniseries a
Glorious Achievement for Fans of the Human Drama
by Jim Bray
Every once in a while
a production comes along that helps restore one's faith in the capabilities
and credibility of the usually banal Hollywood movie machine. HBO's remarkable
four disc DVD set of the miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon"
is such an event and I couldn't help but watch it filled with a sense
of awe and pride at the accomplishments it recounts.
is a wonderful miniseries that was obviously a labor of love for those
who made it - a list that includes Tom Hanks (whose vision the project
was) and Ron Howard's Imagine Entertainment. Detailing Project Apollo's
wildly successful mission to put humanity onto the Earth's moon, it focuses
equally upon the technology and the people who ultimately pulled off what
many consider to be mankind's greatest achievement.
twelve hours, and twelve episodes, this is a long miniseries. Not
too long for those who find themselves drawn into the adventure, however.
Even episodes that, at first glance, seem bound to put one to sleep come
alive with human drama. For example, Part 5 ("Spider") is about
the development of the Lunar Module, detailing the landing craft's nine
year evolution from drawing board to working spacecraft. And while the
hardware development runs throughout, it's really the story of people
rising to a challenge despite many obstacles - a tale of humanity.
Likewise, Part six
- the series' halfway point - focuses on the Apollo 11 mission, the one
that saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first humans to land
on the moon (and left Michael Collins orbiting alone above them). But
it isn't just about the trip; it's about answering Big Questions like
"Who gets to step out First" (and why?) - and about rising above
personal ambition while keeping the Giant Leap for Mankind in its proper
short and long term perspectives.
Even the voyage of
Apollo 13, which was covered so well by Hanks/Howard et al in the theatrical
movie of the same name, was given new life in "From the Earth to
the Moon." In fact, you never really see the mission itself; the
episode is shot from the perspective of the media coverage and in the
process not only puts a new spin on an old story but manages to take some
well aimed (and well deserved) shots at the mainstream media as well.
Tom Hanks deserves a lot of credit for this video tour de force. Not only
was it his idea to create this paean to the human spirit, he also appears
as host, directed Part One ("Can We Do This?", which sets the
scene via the Mercury and Gemini programs that preceded Apollo), and was
co-writer of other episodes. He's joined by a cast of veteran, journeyman
actors like Lane Smith, Mark Harmon, Cary Elwes, Rita Wilson and Diana
Scarwid and directors including Frank Marshall, Jon Turteltaub, and David
are outstanding - amazingly so considering this isn't a big budget Hollywood
movie but rather a miniseries made for the premium cable TV channel HBO.
It makes you wonder where all the money for the big budget Hollywood movies
recreated the technology and locations - right down to special effects
shots that often look as if they were shot by a documentary crew floating
alongside the Apollo missions in their own camera ships (except that you
know they weren't). They've even recreated famous images like the Earth
rising over the lunar horizon as shot from Apollo 8 at Christmastime 1968
- images we've seen a million times. And the lunar surface scenes look
very real, indeed.
feel permeates the entire dozen hours, giving the miniseries a historical
quality that belies the present day actors populating it. In fact, when
I first heard of the miniseries I thought it was a documentary
and, though I was disappointed when I learned that it wasn't, that disappointment
turned to awe as the miniseries unfolded.
Call me an emotional
fool, or incurable space nut/romantic, but I was hooked by this miniseries
virtually from the opening shots - and the more I got into it the more
I marveled and the more I wanted it to keep on going. I'm still amazed
that a TV channel could pull off such a production.
The transfer onto
DVD also shows the TLC (not to mention a competing cable channel, mind
you!) the series received.The full screen picture and digital sound are
as clear and sharp as one can expect from a DVD (in fact, though the credits
clearly show it wasn't, I wondered at times if this series weren't shot
in HDTV), and you can access each episode individually or play the entire
four parts per each disc as a single movie. The miniseries itself spans
three of the set's four discs, with the final platter reserved for the
kind of lovely extras the DVD format allows.
The fourth disc is
both an interactive video DVD and a DVD-ROM as well. The video section
includes several "mini-documentaries" on the making of the series,
as well as space-related components like a fascinating virtual tour of
the solar system, President John. F. Kennedy's original speech challenging
Americans to reach for the stars, and 3D models of some of the ships involved
in Apollo. There are also TV promos HBO used to preview the series.
The DVD ROM component
has some nifty quicktime3D panoramas of Apollo cockpits and a lovely one
of the lunar surface. There's also the "HBO Docking Station,"
which homes your Browser onto HBO's website from which you can access
other space-related information.
"From the Earth
to the Moon" is packaged beautifully as well, with a four part sleeve
that opens like a big book (it also contains a program guide). Unfortunately,
the sleeve looks like it may fall apart with repeated use.
"From the Earth
to the Moon" definitely belongs in the DVD library of any fan of
space, space movies, or tributes to the human experience. Pricing, at
around $90US for the whole shebang, may appear a bit steep but this is
a remarkable collectors' item that's well worth the price of admission.
Well done, HBO!
From the Earth
to the Moon, from HBO Home Video and Imagine Entertainment
Full Screen, color,
Running time approximately 640 minutes
Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Michael Bostick; Executive Producer
Various actors and directors
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