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Ron Howard

"The Ron Howard Signature Collection" on DVD

Winning Trio

Apollo 13

Universal Home Video has assembled three of director Ron Howard's best movies into a boxed set that's a great introduction to the films of the man formerly known as "Opie."

The films in question - "Backdraft," "Apollo 13," and "Ed TV - are a pair of "homages" and a biting satire on today's "culture of celebrity." The latter two DVD's are the "Collector's Editions," while Backdraft is a standard DVD release with few extras.

The set doesn't really offer anything that wasn't included on the discs' original DVD releases, but now you get a slipcase with Ron Howard's picture and signature on it in which you can keep them.

So if that's your cup of tea you'll like this set.

Backdraft is a fine tribute to firefighters. It's also a darn good drama about a pair of brothers following their late father's footsteps into the world of the smoke eater.

Kurt Russell and William Baldwin are the brothers and they don't get along for the most part. Russell has been a gung ho firefighter for years, carving out a legendary niche on the Chicago force. Baldwin has tried and failed at firefighting before, but something keeps drawing him back to the calling.


The story also revolves around the investigation into a series of arson attacks, a path that eventually leads the brothers to question each other's innermost character.

Besides Russell and Baldwin, the ensemble cast includes Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca DeMornay, Robert DeNiro, and Donald Sutherland as an institutionalized firebug who views fire as a living, breathing creature rather than the inhuman result of combustion. These journeymen performers are completely believable in their performances.

Howard has done an outstanding job with this flick. There are fires scenes in which he's actually managed to make the flames appear as if part of a living, breathing creature (as in Sutherland's descriptions) - a thing of simultaneous beauty and terror that can bewitch before it bites. The pyrotechnic effects are unbelievable.

The widescreen DVD is Dolby 5.1 surround and audio/video quality are superb. The audio is worthy of note especially for the sounds of the fire trucks - and the fires themselves - and the surround sound is excellent. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of extras; you only get the theatrical trailer, chapter stops, and a bit of cast/production info.

Great movie, though...

Backdraft, from Universal Home Video
135 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rebecca DeMornay, Robert DeNiro, and Donald Sutherland
Produced by Richard B. Lewis, Pen Densham, John Watson, Written by Gregory Widen
Directed by Ron Howard

Apollo 13, as everyone knows by now, tells the real life drama of a nearly-disastrous moon mission and is in fact a powerful tribute to NASA and the ingenuity of mankind.

Tom Hanks is Jim Lovell, a true astronaut hero and the leader of the first crew to reach the moon at Christmas 1968 (they orbited, but didn't land). He's joined by Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon (who replaces Gary Sinise in the Command Module at the last minute) on their lonely voyage.

Apollo 13

As they approach the moon, an explosion rocks the Command Module, forcing the crew to shut it down and take refuge in the Lunar Module, using it as a lifeboat.

The crew displays the type of heroism one expects from such people, and Hanks, Paxton and Bacon are all more than up to the task of portraying these larger-than-life figures. But it's the unsung people back in Houston, led by Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz, who are the real story behind the trip. Their efforts, improvisations, and innovations - coupled with Lovell's sure finger on the rocket engine control - ensured the safe return of the crippled ship and saved the lives of the crew.

It's an epic adventure that would work well as fiction, except that it isn't.

The spaceship scenes, from the Saturn V rocket's final assembly to the Command Module's eventual splashdown, are beautifully re-enacted thanks to the special effects wizardry of Digital Domain. It looks as if it were shot on location, back in time.

Adding to the realism is a series of shots done aboard NASA's "vomit comet," a jet that flies a parabolic course through the near-earth heavens to allow several seconds of free fall weightlessness. This allowed the cinematic Apollo 13 crew to float around their spaceship as they would have in real life.

The side stories are also well told, including the ordeals through which the astronauts wives are put by the circumstances, their lives as astronauts' spouses, and the news media.

The widescreen DVD looks and sounds wonderful. Extras include a good set of liner notes, and an excellent documentary "Lost Moon: The Triumph of Apollo 13." You also get production notes, cast/crew info, chapters, subtitles, etc. It's a complete package, as one expects from a "Collector's Edition."

Apollo 13, along with Hanks' "From the Earth to the Moon" and Phil Kaufman's "The Right Stuff," are a terrific look at the US space program and should be required viewing in schools today.

Apollo 13, from Universal Home Video
140 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris
Produced by Brian Grazer, Screenplay William Broyles, Jr. & Al Reinert
Directed by Ron Howard

Ed TV seemed to get lost in the aftermath of "The Truman Show," which is a shame because their concepts are only superficially similar.

Ed TV stars Matthew McConaughey as Ed Pekurny, a "lovable loser" who gets chosen as the subject for a cable channel reality show that consists of having a camera crew and truck follow him through his life, broadcasting everything he does from the moment he rises to bedtime.


Naturally, the program becomes a hit and Ed (and everyone around him) are vaulted to celebrity status. This wreaks all kinds of havoc on their lives, destroying friendships and relationships (and starting new ones) and leading to a lot of soul searching on the part of the main characters.

McConaughey, who's wonderful as the nobody everyone gets to know, leads a fine cast that includes Woody Harrelson as Ed's brother, and Jenna Elfman as Ed's on again and off again love interest. Elfman is charming in her part as "the girl next door" who at one point is competing for Ed's attentions with "the bombshell" (Elizabeth Hurley) who wants Ed because of his celebrity.

Rob Reiner and Ellen DeGeneres also deserve mention. They're the TV station personnel behind "Ed TV" and they provide a hilarious insight into that kind of thinking.

Ed TV is a juicy satire. It lampoons the society in which we live very, very well, from the all-consuming media to the people whose lives are so vacuous that they believe what they see on TV - even if it's the nightly newscast.

I went into Ed TV expecting a reasonably amusing Howard flick - something like "Splash," for example. What I got was a lot more than I expected. Ed TV is a really good, really funny look at ourselves.

The DVD is in widescreen, Dolby Digital, with great a/v quality and lots of extras. The Collector's Edition disc includes feature commentaries by director Howard and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. There's also a "making of" featurette, deleted scenes (some of which are very funny), outtakes, music videos, musical selections, trailers, chapter stops, etc.

Ed TV is the real "Must See TV."

Ed TV, from Universal Home Video
124 minutes, Widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley, Clint Howard.
Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Screenplay Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
Directed by Ron Howard


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Updated May 13, 2006