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Travel from the Earth to the Moon in high def

Way back in the late 1990s, HBO aired an amazing miniseries called From the Earth to the Moon. Produced by Tom Hanks, the 12-episode series covers most of the key events in the Apollo program, including the Apollo 1 fire, the first moon landing, the Apollo 13 crisis, and much more. In total, 30 of the 32 astronauts in the Apollo program are represented onscreen during the series.

Each episode runs about 50 minutes; Wikipedia’s entry on the miniseries includes a nice summary of each episode that doesn’t give too much away.

I’ve watched it at least a half-dozen times, and up until this summer, every viewing was at DVD resolution—eventually upscaled on higher-resolution TV sets, but still not the greatest video experience.

This summer, however, HBO re-released the series after remastering it in HD. They also reworked many of the special effects to take advantage of advances in that field over the last 20 years. If—like me—you’re a physical media person, you can pick it up for only $23 from Amazon…or if you’re fully digital, you can get it from the iTunes Store for $30. (Yes, a physical copy with media and packaging and shipping1and it includes a digital copy! is $7 less than a series of 0s and 1s written to a file. What a wacky world we live in.)

The visual changes are dramatic, as you can see in these shots from the two versions.

The first, and most notable change, is of course the much higher resolution and wide-screen format. Here I’ve overlaid a frame from the original DVD release with the Blu-Ray release:

Watching on a 27″ iMac, there’s no comparison—if I increase the DVD’s window size to match the Blu-Ray, it’s really blurry. And the change to widescreen really helps every shot, even boring ones like the above of Alan Shepard’s (played by Ted Levine) face inside the Freedom 7 capsule.

(Note: I’m not sure how much of the color change is from the remastering and how much is from changes in my ripping routine over the years, as I used clips from my ripped DVD and Blu-Ray discs.)

Here’s a rollover comparison of the DVD and Blu-Ray with a shot of Jim Lovell (Tim Daly)…

The above image is smaller than full scale; the blurriness of the DVD version is much more apparent on a big screen when scaled to match the Blu-Ray.

Although I’ve yet to watch all 12 episodes, the reworked special effects are generally well done—here’s a brief portion of the launch of Freedom 7:

I haven’t watched all 12 episodes yet, but so far, I’ve found the reworked effects to fit in quite nicely.

Overall, I’m thrilled that HBO took the time to remaster the series and update the effects. Yes, they did it for the money, but they did it well, and this strong series was deserving of the effort. If you’re a space fan and you haven’t watched this series, I highly recommend it—and at $23 (or $30) for over 10 hours of viewing time, it’s a bargain.

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