The most all-American, straight-arrow movie about space heroics and science would seem to be a natural for the wholesome educational programming of Imax, and “Apollo 13: The Imax Experience” fits the bigger-than-big screen quite nicely, with only a few small changes. The original’s 2.35:1 widescreen image has been reframed for the large-screen format of 4:3 (with an additional bit of masking frame at the screen’s top), and previous 139-minute running time has been trimmed of 20 minutes of action and three minutes of credit roll. Trims are mostly within scenes and amount to many slight cuts, quickening the original’s pace and losing a bit of dramatic and character color. The novelty of seeing the longest-yet Imax movie — an actual feature for the first time — is likely to gain the Ron Howard-Brian Grazer blockbuster some new, younger fans for a smooth flight through the Imax cinema circuit.
“Apollo 13” is the first of several features planned for Imax-ification, and this conservative, ultra-mainstream pic is probably the right choice for a test run. Trend is possible because Imax projectors can now unspool triple the length of the 40-minute reels that were once the format’s maximum capacity, and because of the new Imax DMR process, which digitally remasters the original 35mm film for Imax’s 70mm, 15 perforation medium. This doesn’t produce an ultra-sharp “digitized” image, but rather a blown-up celluloid picture without excessive grain.
What is by far the most striking element of the new version of “Apollo 13” isn’t visual, but aural. Because of the 70mm strip, which permits a much wider soundtrack, and because of the standard Imax theater’s sheer size, which can contain a vast speaker system, the resulting sound is extraordinary. While the blast-off sequence demonstrates the top end of the loud range, many other moments are greatly enhanced, from the groaning of the crippled Apollo vessel to the sound of Jefferson Airplane vividly wafting from the Houston bedroom of ship captain Jim Lovell’s teen daughter. James Horner’s already religious music is now enormous, but still banal, in the Imax cathedral.
Since director Howard has never been especially imaginative with the widescreen image, there’s no real harm to the film with the loss of (generally) the right and left sides of shots. Actor close-ups are now truly pronounced, casting an even greater spotlight on a beautifully nuanced perf by Tom Hanks, who injects his Lovell with subtle but unmistakable shots of mortality and regret. Trims tend to avoid much of the drama’s procedural character, and instead slice away at private moments (Kevin Bacon’s Jack Swigert in a shower with his lover, Kathleen Quinlan’s Marilyn Lovell trying to corral her kids to watch dad in space on TV).
“Das Boot,” the Imax version, anyone?