Apollo 13 IMAX
3 1/2 stars
starring Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise

Whew, let me tell you, that IMAX is something else. 

I mean, sure, we've all seen the IMAX. We've seen Beavers or Egypt Movie or Underwater Thing. We've sat through IMAX's little introductory laser show where we get all the speakers pointed out to us, we've been told about the millions of tiny holes in the screen that let the sound go through with "unprecedented clarity." There shouldn't be any surprises, and there especially shouldn't be any surprises when we're seeing a movie that's seven years old.

But folks, whatever magical thing they did to blow up those itsy-bitsy postage-stamp-sized 35 mm film frames into palm-sized IMAX frames, it works. The picture is so sharp, you just wouldn't believe it.

I'm something of a film sharpness freak, always sitting in the dark wishing the projector-dude would give the projector-bot one final little caress, just a wee twist on the focus ring to get rid of that irritating little blur you see around the words in the opening credits. 

For Apollo 13, I found myself thinking, "Hey, that's sharp! No, wait a minute...that's *sharp*!" Like a *razor*, it's sharp. Even before the rockets take off and we're just looking at Tom Hanks at a party watching the first moon landing, there's no fuzziness anywhere. And this is blown up from 35 mm! What digital-pokery could make this possible? What world of fantasy and ice cream is this?

Folks, it's our world. Lap it up.

And what about the movie? It's pretty good, not bad at all. Apollo 13 was originally released in 1995, so it's had time to sink in by now. "Houston, we have a problem" has already come through and faded out as a tiresome catch-phrase. It's not like we don't know how Apollo 13 is as a movie.

Certainly, it feels right to watch Apollo 13 on the big big screen. We've seen enough Mir IMAX movies and Shuttle IMAX movies and space IMAX movies; space is IMAX turf, and Apollo 13 is the biggest space disaster movie of our time. The slide from space documentary to space drama is smooth enough, seems to go click okay.

Apollo 13, despite having been nominated for Best Picture, is a movie of simple pleasures. It's got a great cast --Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon as the hapless trapped astronauts, with Ed Harris and Gary Sinise (back when he was good) down on the ground (and Lord, did they look young and skinny back then).

Then we've got the rocket-y stuff. It just wouldn't be an IMAX space movie without some wightless footage, which Apollo 13's got in spades, courtesy of filming a bunch of 30-second sequences in NASA's Vomit Comet weightless simulator. There's just something winningly un-digital and simple about Kevin Bacon squirting blobs of real-life weightless juice into his mouth, Bill Paxton flicking off his shades to spin across the cabin.

And, of course, there's the story, a sturdy beating-the-odds tale where we get to see scientists and engineers in action as what they are: problem solvers. Sure, these guys are hardcore nerds, with actual pocket protectors and slide rules, but they've got some seriously tough technical problems to tackle, and we get caught up in it. Hell, any movie that can make drama out of switching an air filter is a success.

Folks who've seen Apollo 13 probably don't need to rush out and see the IMAX version. But for anybody who hasn't seen it and wants to,  this is the time and the way to do it.