DVD Review: From the Earth to the Moon
It seems to be the week of the Moon.
Not only did NASA unveil its new plan to send human explorers to the Moon by 2018, but IMAX released Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon in 3D nationwide today and - since good things come in threes - HBO Video released its new DVD box set From the Earth to the Moon: The Signature Edition.
A single vein runs through all three events - NASA's Apollo-era feat of not only sending 24 astronauts to Moon, landing 12 on its surface, and returning them safely to Earth.
But it is only From the Earth to the Moon that covers the broad spectrum of NASA's entire Apollo effort, from the astronauts and their wives to the Apollo test flights that never left Earth orbit let alone the ground.
In 1961, with the Cold War on and the U.S. facing a space race with the then Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy - perhaps despite his personal views - committed the nation to land Americans on Moon. The effort culminated with the July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing, and was followed by five more successful landings and one space crisis.
HBO's new From the Earth to the Moon five-disc box set chronicles the Apollo effort - with nods to its progenitor programs Mercury and Gemini - presented digitally remastered and in a widescreen format. The series is based in part on space writer Andrew Chaikin's book A Man on the Moon, with actor Tom Hanks - who portrayed beleaguered Apollo 13 commander James Lovell and - serving as the 1998 mini-series' executive producer.
Despite their episodic format, each of the 12 installments of From the Earth to the Moon feels like a separate film. While some drama has likely been introduced for storytelling purposes, there was also inherent drama in NASA's push to reach the Moon before Kennedy's 1969 deadline.
The loss of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who perished when a fire broke out inside their Apollo 1 capsule during a routine test, is particularly strong in the series' second episode given the somewhat recent 2003 Columbia accident which killed seven NASA astronauts and grounded the space agency for more than two years.
Collected in a neat volume, From the Earth to the Moon also include a bonus disc of extras with resources designed to expand viewer knowledge about, you guessed it, the Moon.
The text of Kennedy's speech calling for a targeted Moon landing space program is included, as are timeline of the U.S. and Russia space race accomplishments, series trailers and guides to both prominent astronomers and the objects they study.
While a commentary or two would be nice - they are noticeably absent - the box set does contain entertaining featurettes providing a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the cast and crew, as well as a window into the series' special effects.
NASA's new vision for four-astronaut Moon landings and potential six-month lunar missions is no doubt a lofty plan for human space exploration. But, like Apollo, it is capsule and lander based, with many of the vital pieces - powerful rockets, docking methods, lunar landers -developed a generation ago. Modern technology, with its smaller, more powerful computers and new materials, will likely add to what was once a proven way to reach the Moon.
But From the Earth to the Moon shows how NASA did it first so that hopefully, come 2018, the space agency can do it better.
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