From the Earth to the Moon

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

HBO;
Drama;
$39.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated;
Stars Tom Hanks, Lane Smith, Nick Searcy, Stephen Root, Mark Harmon, Tony Goldwyn, David Andrews, Tim Daly, Bryan Cranston, Dave Foley, Paul McCrane, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Cary Elwes, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Brett Cullen, Tom Verica, Tom Amandes, Adam Baldwin, Gary Cole, Dan Lauria, Dan Butler, Joe Spano, Rita Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, David Clennon, John Slattery, Tchéky Karyo, Jay Mohr.

With programs about America’s space program getting a minor boost from the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the timing was perfect for HBO to finally release 1998’s From the Earth to the Moon on Blu-ray.

The 12-part miniseries is a docudrama covering the inception and implementation of the goals of the Apollo Program to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth, all the way through Apollo 17, the final lunar landing mission.

Even more than 20 years later, From the Earth to the Moon remains one of what I would term the “big three” movie depictions of the space program, along with The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 (a group First Man could have added too had it not been so uninspiring and myopic in its scope).

In fact, the success of Apollo 13 is probably the main reason the miniseries even exists, as it was made under the same production house as the film, with director Ron Howard producing. Tom Hanks, who starred in Apollo 13, also serves as one of the producers of the miniseries, in addition to writing and directing a couple of the episodes. He also serves as a host, providing a brief introduction to each episode.

At the time it first aired, the landmark miniseries was so impactful that it went on to easily capture the Emmy and Golden Globe for Outstanding Miniseries, as well as lay the groundwork for Hanks in 2001 to spin the World War II miniseries Band of Brothers (and, in 2010, The Pacific) out of his time working with Steven Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan.

From the Earth to the Moon is unusual as far as a typical miniseries format goes. Instead of a long narrative broken into chapters, it plays more like 12 mini-movies about specific missions or moments in the space program, each distinct in its style and structure, but designed to fit together to tell the story of project Apollo as a whole. This is accentuated by the fact that, while there are a number of recurring characters throughout the episodes, and most are played by the same actor, there are a few examples where a part is played by someone else. A number of actors from Apollo 13 appear here as well, although in different roles than the film. There are also a few recurring elements to tie the various episodes together, such as Lane Smith playing a fictionalized newscaster in the vein of Walter Cronkite.

While the previous DVDs of From the Earth to the Moon don’t look terrible when upscaled to an HD monitor, a Blu-ray version was still highly anticipated by fans of the show and space enthusiasts alike. However, the product we ended up with has turned out to be something of a mixed bag, for a variety of factors.

Foremost among them was that the show was made in the mid- to late-1990s, on the cusp of the transition to high-definition. As such, the show and its extensive visual effects were originally mastered in standard-definition for the old 4:3 television aspect ratio. Thus, a true high-definition presentation of the miniseries would require a possibly expensive re-construction of the visual effects, which likely explains why the Blu-ray took so long to produce. Episodes weren’t even available through HBO’s on demand platforms until they were remastered.

The upgrade turned out to be somewhat controversial among fans of the show, with HBO opting to create new CGI visual effects in most of the sequences. The new shots are a step up in brightness and clarity, but inconsistent in terms of quality and accuracy compared with the real-life spacecraft. Rather than give the show a modern visual update, the CG team’s goal seems to have been more to re-create the feel of the model shots from two decades ago, which makes them feel a bit hokey in their movements at times.

From the Earth to the Moon was re-framed for 16:9 for its 2005 DVD re-release, and that decision has carried over to the Blu-ray as well. What that means, though, is that some of the top and bottom of the original image has been lost in the re-framing, which doesn’t affect too much of the presentation but does stunt the impact of a couple of shots. The footage has been remastered for HD and the results are mostly beautiful.

However, the footage hasn’t been completely remastered, and there are still a few spots were it shows its age with upscaling on a few of the old VFX shots. At times, these shots are also marred by a visible tracking band as if from an old videotape. Most of the upscaled footage seems to occur where the visual effects were composited with live-action elements (for example, transitions that fade from a person looking at a model to the ship in space, or men looking out windows).

Reconstructing these with new visual effects would have complicated the process of recompositing and editing the remastered footage back together to match what was originally done, so it’s one of those things that’s both easy to gripe over and easy to understand why it wasn’t done, depending on which side the viewer wants to come down on.

Ultimately, it’s better to have the Blu-ray than not, all things considered. For example, outside of how it’s presented in the episodes, HBO still hasn’t done right by the show’s excellent music with a proper soundtrack release. A multitude of composers were used to give each episode its own unique score, but the only official album that has ever been released consists of just the main theme and a handful of vintage songs used throughout the show.

Finally having a digital copy of the show is pretty cool, too.

The only extra carried over from previous DVD releases is a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette. There’s also a new 11-minute featurette about the remastering process. Most of the lost bonus materials were gimmicky database-type files or videos of speeches that can be pretty easily found online.

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Since the hourlong episodes work fine as standalone pieces as well as within the context of the whole, here’s a capsule review of each one:

1. Can We Do This?
At the height of the Cold War, the need to beat the Soviet Union to the moon requires a rapid expansion of NASA’s manned space program, which kicks off with Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital flight in 1961. The depiction of Shepard’s flight is pretty much the only content repeated from The Right Stuff, as the miniseries was designed to work as a companion to previously released space movies (and establishing Shepard’s flight here becomes important for a later episode). The bulk of the episode is devoted to the Gemini program, with particular emphasis on the Gemini 8 and 12 missions, the latter mostly because it was the final flight before kicking off the Apollo program. Gemini 8, which was also depicted in First Man, was the first docking of two spacecraft, though the mission ended early after a stuck thruster caused a nearly uncontrollable spin that could have killed the crew of Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott. The depiction of the mission here makes it easier to understand what’s going on than the visceral you-are-there approach chosen for First Man. The most memorable shot of the Gemini 8 sequence is a nice pan out of the window that keeps the ship stationary while the background is spinning, but on Blu-ray the shot is hampered both by being cropped for widescreen and because it appears to be one of the upscaled shots, making it a bit fuzzy.

2. Apollo One
This is one of the more dramatic episodes as it deals with the fallout from the deadly Apollo 1 fire in 1967. The death of three astronauts brings a lot of pressure on NASA to justify the pace of the Apollo program, and the political ramifications are enormous, as Sen. Walter Mondale (played by a pre-“Mad Men” John Slattery) would rather direct funds to causes he sees as more worthwhile. We also see the tolls taken on the support teams who have to come to grips with the causes of the fire.

3. We Have Cleared the Tower
Mark Harmon plays astronaut Wally Schirra preparing for the launch of Apollo 7 to put the space program back on track after a year and a half, while a documentary crew chronicles the efforts to make sure the first manned Apollo mission is a success. However, the episode doesn’t stick around for the mission itself, where in real life the crew became sick and irritable and never flew in space again.

4. 1968
The episode departs from a conventional narrative to frame the voyage of Apollo 8, the first manned flight to lunar orbit, as the highlight of an otherwise turbulent year marked by war and assassinations.

5. Spider
The mini-series veers a bit into the more technical aspects of the lunar missions by focusing on the options for flying to the moon and the engineering and construction of the lunar module, culminating in the Apollo 9 and 10 flights to test it out. The opening credits of the episode are accompanied by the theme song for the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson supermarionation sci-fi series “Fireball XL5,” which I mention only as a means to say that the song appears to have been re-recorded for the Blu-ray, possibly as a requirement for the new fuller sound mix. The episode as originally aired and on DVD used the actual theme song from 1962.

6. Mare Tranquillitatis
This episode covers the historic landing of Apollo 11, with training for the mission presented as a flashback framed by a pre-flight news interview from astronauts Neil Armstrong (Tony Goldwyn), Buzz Aldrin (Bryan Cranston) and Michael Collins (Cary Elwes). This episode, along with the Gemini 8 bits from the first one, are likely now to be most compared with the depiction of the events in First Man, and aside from the technical realism of the visual effects I think they compare favorably. The music by James Newton Howard in inspiring and uplifting, and the episode spends a lot more time on the training, particularly in Buzz Aldrin’s ambiguous lobbying to be the first man on the surface and his angst over being relegated to No. 2 (a perceived slight that might still fuel the real Buzz to this day in both his relentless ambassadorship of the space program and a self-promotion streak that has seen him punch landing deniers, shout at the moon on “30 Rock,” and meet Optimus Prime on the big screen). Aldrin is played here by a then-unknown Bryan Cranston before not only “Breaking Bad,” but “Malcolm in the Middle” as well. Also, for all the talk of however First Man did or did not depict the American flag on the moon, it should be noted that this episode ends with the explicit shot of Neil and Buzz planting the flag.

7. That’s All There Is
This is probably my favorite episode, which recounts the mission of Apollo 12 with a lighter tone and a healthy sense of humor. As close to a comedy as the miniseries can muster, the episode is told from the perspective of Al Bean (Dave Foley). His close friendship and rapport with crewmates Pete Conrad (Paul McCrane) and Dick Gordon (Tom Verica) gives the episode a real “good ol’ boys in space” vibe that’s just ends up being a lot of fun. McCrane as mission commander Conrad is the most notable of the miniseries’ casting switches, as old Hanks buddy Peter Scolari played Conrad in the first episode (and was reportedly unable to reprise the role due to scheduling conflicts with his “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” TV series). McCrane’s easygoing irreverence is such a great fit for the episode that it’s hard to imagine Scolari and his more straightman nature having the same chemistry with the other members of the crew here.

8. We Interrupt This Program
Since Apollo 13 had just come out a few years earlier, and was made by the same people, the natural question arose of how the miniseries would handle its retelling of the ill-fated mission. Rather than retread the drama depicted in the film, however, the miniseries focuses on the media coverage of the event. The result is the weakest episode in the bunch, and easily skipped on rewatch. The decision to make the episode more of a companion to the film was really more a matter of necessity, as the Apollo 13 story was pretty definitively told in the 1995 movie (so much so that it’s easy enough to just watch the movie at this point in the miniseries before, or instead of, this episode). The miniseries version has some nice bits of trivia about the mission that the movie didn’t have time to delve into (such as considerations about disposing of nuclear fuel that was supposed to be left on the moon), and it works fine as a standalone dramatic story about the changing nature of the media in the 1970s. But as an episode of a miniseries about the Apollo program, it falters because it ultimately becomes more about the story of a generational rivalry between fictional newsmen (one played by Jay Mohr) using Apollo 13 as the backdrop, instead of the other way around.

9. For Miles and Miles
This is a solid episode about what happened to Shepard after his 15-minute sub-orbital flight and circumstances that led him to command Apollo 14 and eventually walk on the moon (and play golf there, too). Grounded by an inner-ear disease, Shepard takes a behind-the-scenes role at NASA helping other men prepare to fly to the moon, before a groundbreaking new surgical technique gives him the hope of a cure and a shot at his own lunar mission. Shepard is played with gravitas by Ted Levine, aka Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, with the always-welcome Gary Cole as Ed Mitchell, his lunar module co-pilot.

10. Galileo Was Right
Another episode for the science geeks, this one focuses on how astronauts who were pilots by nature trained to be geologists and lunar explorers standing in as the eyes of the scientific community that remained back on Earth. David Clennon gives a standout performance as geology professor Lee Silver, who trains the crew. The emphasis is on the training for Apollo 15, the first mission to use the lunar rover. Of course, left unsaid in the episode and the miniseries is the scandal the crew caused by taking unauthorized postal covers on the mission that were later sold by stamp dealers, leading to their dismissal from NASA.

11. The Original Wives Club
Sally Field directed this detour about the wives of the nine men in the second group of American astronauts, and the struggles of their home lives as their husbands were away training and flying missions (not to be confused with the 2015 The Astronaut Wives Club miniseries that dealt with the wives of the original Mercury astronauts). The wives are constantly dealing with the twin pressures of fame and the potential that their husbands may never come home, a circumstance that becomes all too real in the wake of the Apollo 1 fire. The episode is placed here because it uses a framing device involving Apollo 16.

12. Le Voyage Dans La Lune
The finale is appropriately epic in scope as it breaks from the established format and abandons the Hanks introduction in favor of a documentary-style recap from Blythe Danner. From there, the episode is structured to contrast the innovative French director Georges Méliès (played by Tchéky Karyo) directing his 1902 masterpiece Le Voyage dans la Lune (aka A Trip to the Moon, or the old silent movie that everyone’s seen in which a spaceship hits the man in the moon in the eye) with the Apollo 17 mission, which involved the only trained geologist-astronaut to walk on the moon. Hanks pops up playing Méliès’ assistant. What makes this episode particularly interesting in retrospect is that the Méliès scenes make for a nice precursor to Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo, which depicts the director as an old man.

The denouement of the episode (and the series) includes some updated visual effects depicting the landing sites after the missions, with all the equipment resting in place. The new effects offer a nice Easter Egg about the Apollo 11 flag.

The miniseries offers a nice recounting of America’s adventures on the moon, but it’s a shame there wasn’t a follow-up that explored some of the other aspects of the space program hinted at in the episodes. Like, maybe what the Russians were planning for their own lunar voyages. Or a companion movie about the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz flights, which marked the real end of the Apollo era.

A depiction of Apollo-Soyuz, a 1975 mission involving craft from the two Cold War powers docking in space, would have provided a particularly apt epilogue given it would have shown Deke Slayton (played by Nick Searcy throughout the miniseries) finally getting into space. This would have paid off one of the most underplayed arcs of the miniseries, as Slayton, selected for the Mercury program but grounded by medical politics, ends up becoming the man who picks the crews, and helps Al Shepard bounce back from a situation not dissimilar to his own.

Even years after the original miniseries, there’s no reason HBO couldn’t do such a follow-up now. After all, it worked for “Deadwood.”

Season Six of ‘Strike Back’ on Disc, First Season of ‘Euphoria’ on Digital Coming From HBO in August

Season six of “Strike Back” on disc and numerous programs on digital, including the first season of “Euphoria,” are coming from HBO Home Entertainment in August.

Strike Back Season 6 will bow on DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 6. When a Russian bomber crashes in the South China Sea, the covert special-ops soldiers of Section 20 — Thomas “Mac” McAllister (Warren Brown), Samuel Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson) and Gracie Novin (Alin Sumarwata) — are sent to investigate. There, they cross paths with Katrina Zarkova (Yasemin Allen), a rogue Russian operative with questionable loyalties. Under orders of the new commanding officer, Col. Alexander Coltrane (Jamie Bamber), Section 20 pursues stolen contents of the Russian jet across Southeast Asia.

Due on digital Aug. 12 is the documentary Song of Parkland. When Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama teacher Melody Herzfeld heard the fire alarm on Feb. 14, 2018, she was in rehearsals with her students for their annual children’s musical. Moments later, a Code Red sounded. Herzfeld rushed her 65 students into a storage closet while a shooter killed 17 teachers and students nearby. Filmed in the months following the shooting, when the Florida school community is grappling with the tragedy, the documentary chronicles the dedication of Herzfeld and her theater students as they return to school and resolve to continue with their production.

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Also coming Aug. 12 on digital is The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti, which captures the 78-year-old NFL Hall of Famer by taking viewers through his journey as a linebacker, lawyer, sports agent, broadcaster, executive and philanthropist. The son of a baker from the south end of Springfield, Mass., Buoniconti’s early inner drive propelled him to find great success on the field and in the workplace. But after his son’s crippling accident in 1985, he dedicated the latter part of his life to philanthropy and soon after co-founded The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Today, thanks in large part to his singular devotion, more than a half-billion dollars has been raised for spinal cord research.

Maria Full of Grace, also due on digital Aug. 12, follows 17-year-old Colombian Maria (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Pregnant and with a large family to care for, she’s forced to leave a demanding job after an altercation with her boss. Needing work as soon as possible, she encounters charming Franklin (John Álex Toro), who offers her a dangerous job as a drug mule. With cocaine pellets in her stomach, Maria flies to New York for the drug drop-off, but finds her new line of work may be far riskier than it initially seemed.

Boycott, also coming on digital Aug. 12, is a dramatization of the live of Rosa Parks (Iris Little-Thomas), who defiantly refuses to take a back seat on the bus. She sets into motion a tumultuous string of events centered around the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala. Using archival footage to establish the strained atmosphere of the era, this dramatization of that chapter of the Civil Rights Movement’s history shows her interactions with such major figures as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jeffrey Wright), Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) and Ralph Abernathy (Terrence Howard).

Coming on digital Aug. 12 also is In the Gloaming, a drama that marked the directorial debut of Christopher Reeve. It follows 33-year-old AIDS sufferer Danny (Robert Sean Leonard) who returns to his parents’ home in the New York suburbs to spend his final days. While his father, Martin (David Strathairn), finds it difficult to accept his son’s sexuality, and his self-concerned sister, Anne (Bridget Fonda), avoids the issue, his mother, Janet (Glenn Close), forges a deeper and more honest relationship with her dying son.

Due on digital Aug. 19 is Los Espookys Season 1. It follows a group of friends who turn their love for horror into a peculiar business, providing horror to those who need it, in a dreamy Latin American country where the strange and eerie are just part of daily life. The group is led by the noble, kind, and naïve Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), and joined by Ursula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), a tenacious dental assistant who eventually handles the logistics and execution of all projects; Ursula’s sister Tati (Ana Fabrega), who juggles several (very) odd jobs while acting as the group’s test dummy; and Renaldo’s longtime best friend Andrés (Julio Torres), the brooding heir to the chocolate empire, who unlocks secrets to his past while avoiding his trophy boyfriend, Juan Carlos (José Pablo Minor).

Next up on Aug. 19 is VICE: Special Report: The Future of Work. Hosted by VICE News correspondent Krishna Andavolu, with contributions from correspondents Gianna Toboni and Michael Moynihan, the special looks at how entire industries are being disrupted and how these changes are creating ripple effects throughout the global economy. VICE’s correspondents sit down with a wide variety of experts, including Nobel Laureate economists, CEOs, and workers whose jobs will radically change in the years to come. They document how industries that long seemed immune from automation, such as fast food, contract law and long-haul trucking, are rapidly being automated, with workers replaced by AI and algorithms.

Also on Aug. 19 on digital comes Year and Years, following the day-to-day lives of the Lyons family beginning on one crucial night in 2019. The story chronicles one family’s determination to survive the future as society changes faster than ever before, focusing on Stephen Lyons (Rory Kinnear), a financial advisor, who serves as the family’s peacekeeper; his wife Celeste (T’Nia Miller), an ambitious accountant; his brother Daniel (Russell Tovey), a housing officer; Edith (Jessica Hynes), their radical, calculating and potentially dangerous sister; Rosie (Ruth Madeley), their spirited youngest sibling, who was born with spina bifida and is a single mother of two; and their grandmother, Muriel (Anne Reid), the family’s opinionated matriarch.

Euphoria Season 1, coming on digital Aug. 26, is an American adaptation of the Israeli show of the same name. It follows the troubled life of 17-year-old Rue, a drug addict fresh from rehab with no plans to stay clean. Circling in Rue’s orbit are Jules, a transgender girl searching for where she belongs; Nate, a jock whose anger issues mask sexual insecurities; Chris, a football star who finds the adjustment from high school to college harder than expected; Cassie, whose sexual history continues to dog her; and Kat, a body-conscious teen exploring her sexuality. As the classmates struggle to make sense of their futures, the series tackles the teenage landscape of substance-enhanced parties and anxiety-ridden day-to-day life with empathy and candor. It stars Zendaya.

Also due on digital Aug. 26 is Share, a cautionary tale about social media. It follows 16-year-old Mandy, who, after discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, must figure out what happened — and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Rhianne Barreto leads as Mandy, alongside Charlie Plummer (“Boardwalk Empire”) as Dylan, Poorna Jagannathan as Kerri, J.C. MacKenzie as Mickey, Nicholas Galitzine as A.J., Lovie Simone as Jenna and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Tony.

Season 2 of ‘Big Little Lies’ Among HBO’s July 2019 Digital Release Slate

Big Little Lies: Season 2 and Gentleman Jack are among the titles on HBO’s home entertainment slate for digital release in July.

Available July 8 for digital download is Gentleman Jack. Set in 1832 Halifax, West Yorkshire, Gentleman Jack focuses on landowner Anne Lister, who is determined to transform the fate of her faded ancestral home, Shibden Hall, by reopening the coal mines and marrying well. The charismatic, single-minded, swashbuckling Lister — who dresses head-to-toe in black and charms her way into high society — has no intention of marrying a man. The story examines Lister’s relationships with her family, servants, tenants and industrial rivals and, most importantly, would-be wife. Based in historical fact, the real-life Anne Lister’s story was recorded in the 4 million words of her diaries, and the most intimate details of her life, once hidden in a secret code, have been decoded and revealed for the series.

Due for digital download July 22 is Big Little Lies: Season 2, which follows the exploits of a collection of mothers in the tranquil seaside town of Monterey, Calif. Everything seems the same. The mothers continue to dote, the husbands support, the children remain adorable and the houses are just as beautiful. But the night of the school fundraiser changed all that, leaving the community reeling as the “Monterey Five” — Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Renata and Bonnie — bond together to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. The new season explores the malignancy of lies, the durability of friendships, the fragility of marriage and, of course, the vicious ferocity of sound parenting. The digital release also includes the behind-the-scenes bonus feature “The Lies Revealed: A Conversation With the Cast of ‘Big Little Lies,’” featuring cast members Meryl Streep, Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern.

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Coming via digital download July 29 is Ramy Youssef: Feelings. In his first HBO stand-up comedy special, Youssef shares candid anecdotes about his life as an Egyptian-American comedian, writer, actor and director. He shares his thoughts on a number of subjects, including the best day of the week to pray, his father’s immigration story and connection to Donald Trump, his complicated love for Lebron James, whether dogs are really man’s best friend, and how sometimes he wishes he had never had sex. The exclusive presentation was taped in front of a live audience at the landmark Chicago Cultural Center

Available now for digital download are Deadwood: The Movie, Warrior and Master of the White Crane Fist.

Continuing the story begun in David Milch’s Emmy-winning HBO series, Deadwood: The Movie follows the characters of the series, who are reunited after 10 years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought. The release includes the bonus featurette “Deadwood: The Unspoken Subject.”

Based on the writings of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Warrior is a crime drama set during the brutal Tong Wars of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the second half of the 19th century. The series follows Ah Sahm, a martial arts prodigy who emigrates from China to San Francisco under mysterious circumstances. After proving his worth as a fighter, Ah Sahm becomes a hatchet man for the Hope Wei, one of Chinatown’s most powerful tongs (Chinese organized crime family). Over the course of the season, Ah Sahm crosses boundaries inside and outside Chinatown.

Directed by Guo Jian-yong, who also directed the first two instalments, Master of the White Crane Fist is set in ancient China during the late Qing dynasty and tells the story of four constables escorting a criminal crossing paths with a theater troupe and a mysterious priest, setting off a series of events that will lead to the murder of a constable. Amongst them is the legendary Master of the White Crane Fist, who will unravel the consequences of greed, revenge, betrayal and opium smuggling.

Available on demand July 23 is the two-part documentary Leaving Neverland, which explores the separate but parallel experiences of two young boys, James “Jimmy” Safechuck, at age 10, and Wade Robson, at age 7, both of whom were befriended by Michael Jackson. They and their families were invited into his wondrous world, entranced by the singer’s fairy-tale existence as his career reached its peak. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, the documentary crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own.

As previously reported, a remastered version of the space program miniseries From the Earth to the Moon will be released digitally July 15 and on Blu-ray July 16, details of which are available here.

HBO Releasing Remastered ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ on Blu-ray

HBO is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing with a re-release of its Emmy-winning 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

The 12-part docudrama told the story of the NASA and the space program in the 1960s and 1970s, from the Mercury and Gemini missions, to the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire, the Apollo 11 landing, and the subsequent lunar landings ending with Apollo 17.

The episodes have been remastered for high-definition, and the standard-definition visual effects have been replaced with new CG effects based on reference models from NASA.

The 12 remastered episodes will be available on HBO Go, HBO Now and HBO On Demand beginning July 15, the first time the series has been available through the apps. In addition, HBO2 will air a marathon of the miniseries beginning at 8:45 a.m. July 20, the 50th anniversary date of the Apollo 11 landing.

A Blu-ray edition of the remastered episodes will be released July 16 with Dolby ATMOS audio and an exclusive “Inside the Remastering” featurette.

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The miniseries was produced by Imagine Entertainment following the theatrical success of Apollo 13 in 1995, and went on to win the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries.

Executive producer Tom Hanks hosts the episodes, and the cast includes David Andrews, Adam Baldwin, David Clennon, Gary Cole, Matt Craven, Brett Cullen, Tim Daly, Cary Elwes, Sally Field, Dave Foley, Al Franken, Tony Goldwyn, Mark Harmon, Tom Hanks, Peter Horton, Chris Isaak, Tcheky Karyo, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Ted Levine, Ann Magnuson, DeLane Matthews, Jay Mohr, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Pollak, James Rebhorn, Stephen Root, Alan Ruck, Diana Scarwid, Peter Scolari, Nick Searcy, Grant Shaud, Lane Smith, Cynthia Stevenson, Jobeth Williams and Rita Wilson.

‘Game of Thrones’ Complete Series Due on Blu-ray Dec. 3 From HBO

Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection, including all eight seasons of the fantasy saga, will be released in a limited-edition Blu-ray set Dec. 3 from HBO Home Entertainment.

Game of Thrones: Season 8 will also come out Dec. 3 as a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray (plus DVD) combo pack and Blu-ray Steelbook.

Based on the best-selling novel series by George R.R. Martin, “Game of Thrones” holds the record as the most awarded series in television history, earning a total of 132 Emmy nominations and 47 wins to date, and is HBO’s most-viewed program ever, with the final season averaging a record-setting 44 million viewers in the United States, according to HBO. The ensemble cast includes Emmy and Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) and Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont).

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The series release will include the “Game of Thrones: Reunion Special,” a two-part reunion show with cast members from the final season, including Harington, Clarke, Turner and more, as well as stars of previous seasons, including Sean Bean, Jason Momoa, Mark Addy and others. Hosted by Conan O’Brien, the reunion was shot in front of a live audience in Belfast, Ireland, and includes show and behind-the-scenes footage.

Additional bonus content includes deleted and extended scenes, animated histories and lore pieces, behind-the-scenes featurettes, audio commentaries, and the documentary Game of Thrones: The Last Watch by filmmaker Jeanie Finlay.

The limited-edition Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection will be packaged in a wooden shadow box case, featuring panel designs by Robert Ball (the artist behind the “Beautiful Death” series) that summarize the “Game of Thrones” story. Each season is represented by a different layer, showcasing characters and memorable moments from the show. The set also contains a “Hand of the King” pin clasp, which holds all nine custom plated disc sleeves.

Game of Thrones: Season 8

DIGITAL REVIEW:

HBO;
Fantasy;
$19.99 SD; $26.99 HD;
Not Rated.
Stars Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Anderson, Iain Glen.

The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” is certainly its most divisive, setting off a wave of Internet debates as to whether the final run of episodes was worthy of the extensive storytelling that had been laid out before.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the creative decisions made by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in mapping out the final story arcs of the various characters once they no longer draw from the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin, which formed the basis of the first five seasons.

A noticeable shift in the show’s pacing occurred in season six, once it was clear they had to create their own after reportedly receiving outlines from Martin about how he envisioned the saga more or less ending up. After season six, it was announced the show would wrap up in 13 episodes split into two seasons, with seven in season seven and six in season eight.

In hindsight, the argument goes, this timeline was insufficient in setting up the character development needed for the plot twists of the final episodes, leaving the final storylines feeling rushed while retroactively weakening the earlier seasons by both devaluing their story development and making it clear (particularly to readers of the novels) where the show missed opportunities to lay the foundation for the plot points the writers eventually decided to pursue.

The series has spent seven seasons seemingly maneuvering every character into two factions. One is the army gathering at Winterfell to fight the Night King and the White Walkers. This is the faction commanded by Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, who joined forces last season. However, their truce may be complicated by the lingering truth of Jon’s true heritage, which could present an obstacle to Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne.

Meanwhile. Queen Cersei has fortified her hold on King’s Landing through an alliance with Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and a mercenary army.

The first two episodes deal largely with various characters reuniting, setting the stage for the battle against the Night King, which takes place in the third episode. The final episodes involve the battle for King’s Landing and its aftermath.

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So, is the final season as problematic as the darkest corners of the Internet would make it out to be? Well, mostly no, but a little bit yes.

The ire seems to fall into two categories. The first, as mentioned, is the show rushing to get to the end. The second is the specific outcomes for some of the characters, which may have differed a bit from what some of the more entitled fans envisioned in their heads.

As to the second point, such is often the refrain of toxic fandom, and seems misguided. The character arcs themselves are fine and completely understandable, particularly when it comes to the most divisive of the individual stories, that of Queen Daenerys and her quest to reclaim the Iron Throne on behalf of her family.

The show has always been an examination of the dangers of tyranny and absolutism, even when the results of such governance may seem beneficial. The cycle of inherited power is itself the problem, not the potential for harm a new ruler may bring.

That being said, it’s hard to disagree that the final march to the end was a bit rushed, and perhaps could have used a few episodes to show events for the characters to experience that might reinforce their motivations in the final battles.

The final season is fine as it is, as easy as it is for fans to pick it apart, and will likely come to be better regarded once absorbed into the bulk of the show as fodder for binge viewing. While the asinine suggestion of fan petitions to “remake the season with competent writers” is beyond the realm of credibility, it’s hard not to at least entertain the idea of filming a few more episodes of material to expand on the character development, then re-editing them into the final couple of seasons (though, realistically, that ain’t happening either).

The show’s critics are also quick to overlook the many strengths of the final season, which offers some of the most stunning visuals of the series. This includes the purposefully dark and moody third episode, which uses its nighttime setting to great effect give viewers the same sense of unseen dread the characters would experience in fighting off wave after wave of undead armies.

There was some concern about the cinematography being too dark upon its initial airing, but this isn’t much of a problem with the digital HD presentation.

The other aspect of concern in fan circles were all the memes pointing out Starbucks cups and plastic water bottles left on the set for key scenes. The prominent coffee cup was subsequently digitally erased from episode four, but a few water bottles spotted under the chairs in the “Council of Lords” scene in the finale were still visible in the digital copy of the episode, at least within the first few days of its digital release. It will certainly be something to keep an eye out for in the eventual Blu-ray release that should arrive in a few months.

The digital package of the final season also includes a four-minute production featurette, a 17-minute profile of a key season from the third-episode battle, and The Last Watch, the feature-length documentary chronicling the making of the show’s final season that provides an enlightening look at the filmmakers and craftsman who brought it all together.

HBO June 2019 Slate Includes Several Digital Downloads, One DVD

HBO Home Entertainment has announced a slew of content for digital download in June, plus one title for DVD.

Due on digital June 3 and on DVD June 4 will be Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, a documentary about the 28-year-old African-American from Chicago who was arrested for a traffic violation in Texas and found three days later hanging from a noose in her jail cell.

Due for digital download June 10 will be Barry: Season 2. Desperate to leave his violent past as an assassin behind in favor of his newfound passion for acting, Barry (Bill Hader) keeps getting dragged back into his old life by a variety of factors.

Also available for digital download June 10 is My Dad Wrote a Porno, a comedy special based on the popular British comedy podcast in which host Jamie Morton reads a chapter from the “Belinda Blinked” series of “erotic” novels, written by his real-life father under the pseudonym “Rocky Flintstone.” Friends of Morton, James Cooper and Alice Levine, join on stage, providing uproarious commentary.

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Due for digital download June 17 is Momentum Generation. In the 1960s, surfing in America was known primarily as a California- and Hawaii-based phenomenon associated with surf instrumentals and Beach Boys songs. Although equipment and skills evolved, the public’s perception of surfing remained constant until the 1990s, when a group of punk rock-loving teens found its way to a house on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. In Momentum Generation, the core members of that crew — including Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Taylor Knox, Benji Weatherley, Kalani Robb, Ross Williams, Taylor Steele and Pat O’Connell — tell their story together for the first time.

Also available digitally June 17 is My True Brilliant Friend, a documentary that follows young actresses Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace during the filming of the HBO series “My Brilliant Friend,” based on Elena Ferrante’s bestselling book of the same name.

Another June 17 digital release is Home Videos, Jerrod Carmichael’s exploration into aspects of the black experience through interviews with his family. In the first of two specials, Carmichael focuses on the strong black women in his life, returning home to North Carolina, featuring informal, intimate conversations with his family and friends, who speak candidly about subjects such as sex, confidence, beauty standards and feminism.

Coming June 24 for digital download is Chernobyl, a dramatization of the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union. The digital release also includes the companion bonus content piece “Pivotal Moment: The Trial,” which explores the climactic trial scene in interviews with director Johan Renck, writer/executive producer Craig Mazin, and stars Emily Watson and Jared Harris.

HBO Announces Four Digital Releases for May 2019

HBO Home Entertainment has announced four titles available for digital download in May 2019.

Due May 6 is Native Son, the story of Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders), a young African-American living in Chicago who is hired as a chauffeur for affluent businessman Will Dalton (Bill Camp). As Thomas enters this seductive new world of money and power — including a precarious relationship with Dalton’s daughter, Mary (Margaret Qualley) — he faces unforeseen choices and perilous circumstances that will alter the course of his life forever. The cast also includes Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Elizabeth Marvel, David Alan Grier and Sanaa Lathan.

Arriving May 13 is Veep: Season 7, as well as Veep: The Complete Series. The final season of “Veep” finds Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) running for president again and facing new challenges and controversies.

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Also due May 13 is Arthur Miller: Writer, a documentary about the celebrated playwright told from the perspective of his daughter, filmmaker Rebecca Miller.

Coming May 27 is The Truth About Killer Robots, which looks at several automation cases, from a factory in Germany to a bomb-carrying police droid in Dallas, raising questions of accountability and morality. Exploring the provocative viewpoints of engineers, journalists and philosophers, the film goes beyond sensational deaths to examine more subtle but pervasive ways that robots affect humanity.

‘Leaving Neverland,’ New Seasons of ‘Vice’ and ‘Crashing’ Among Titles From HBO in April

April is chock-full of releases on digital and DVD from HBO Home Entertainment, including the controversial Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland.

The two-part documentary Leaving Neverland, due on digital download April 29, explores the separate, but parallel experiences of two young boys, James “Jimmy” Safechuck, at age 10, and Wade Robson, at age 7, both of whom were befriended by Jackson. They and their families were invited into his world, entranced by the singer’s fairy-tale existence as his career reached its peak. Through gut-wrenching interviews with Safechuck, now 37, and Robson, now 41, as well as their mothers, wives and siblings, Leaving Neverland crafts a portrait of sustained abuse, exploring the complicated feelings that led both men to confront their experiences after both had a young son of their own.

Crashing Season 3 is coming to digital April 1. The show’s third season finds Pete reinvigorated — and no longer crashing on people’s couches — as he reenters the New York stand-up comedy world following his college tour. But even though he’s improved, that doesn’t mean he’s at the head of the pack. As Pete edges closer to success one stand-up set at a time, he continues to navigate his faith, dating and the ever-changing comedy scene.

The documentary Student Athlete, due on digital April 8, unveils the exploitative world of high-revenue college sports through the stories of four young men at different stages of their athletic careers, as well as a coach-turned-advocate and a whistle-blowing shoe rep who exposes the money trail. From high-school recruiting to post-graduation, the usefulness of athletes is tied to their ability to produce revenue.

Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas Season 2, coming to digital April 15, focuses on education in America, investigating teacher pay, student mental health, the school-to-prison pipeline and other pressing topics. Cenac visits West Virginia, Oregon, California, Minnesota and other areas around the country to learn how communities navigate issues facing public education. While education serves as the season’s primary focus, the show addresses other issues, including the unionization of fast-food workers and the potential dangers of facial recognition software, as well as comedic solutions to lighter topics, such as how to get more steps in at the office or how to teach kids practical skills, like filing taxes.

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Also due on digital April 15 is High Maintenance Season 3, which profiles everyday people whose stories of success, failure, love and loss intersect across New York, while delving deeper into personal life of The Guy, who is spending less time on his iconic bicycle and more time in “Steve RV,” a set of wheels gifted to him last season. Featuring an intricate web of returning characters and new faces, the new episodes find New Yorkers exploring their relationship with the city, touching on such themes as death, parenthood, sexuality, fantasy and aging.

Vice Season 6, another title coming on digital April 15, continues to explore under-covered global stories with exclusive reports from Iraq, Russia, the Central African Republic and China. Season six also focuses on the domestic issues dividing the nation, providing in-depth reporting on the major debates surrounding gun laws, immigration, economics, education, civil rights and America’s place in the world.

Coming on digital April 29 is Outside the Bubble: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi. The show follows Pelosi as she ventures beyond the coast and sets out on a cross-country trip to engage in conversations with fellow Americans in an effort to gain an unfiltered understanding of other perspectives.

Also due on digital April 29 is Strike Back Season 6. When a Russian bomber crashes in the South China Sea, the covert special-ops soldiers of Section 20 — Thomas “Mac” McAllister (Warren Brown), Samuel Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson) and Gracie Novin (Alin Sumarwata) — are sent to investigate. There, they cross paths with Katrina Zarkova (Yasemin Allen), a rogue Russian operative with questionable loyalties. Under orders of the new commanding officer, Col. Alexander Coltrane (Jamie Bamber), Section 20 pursues stolen contents of the Russian jet across Southeast Asia. They work alongside the Malaysian police to shut down a Triad gang in Kuala Lumpur, uncover a corrupt plot by a wealthy Indian businesswoman running for Parliament and plunge into the jungles of the Golden Triangle in Myanmar, facing off against mercenary drug agents and terrifying warlords as they uncover a conspiracy that threatens to push the world to the brink of global conflict.

HBO is also releasing two titles on DVD in April.

Coming April 2 is My Brilliant Friend. When the most important friend in her life seems to have disappeared without a trace, Elena Greco, a now-elderly woman immersed in a house full of books, turns on her computer and starts writing the story of their friendship. Set in a Naples, their story goes on to cover more than 60 years of their lives as she tries to describe the mystery of Lila, Elena’s brilliant friend and — in a way — both her best friend and her worst enemy.

Written and directed by Daniel Sawka, Icebox, available on DVD April 16, tells the story of Oscar, played by Anthony Gonzalez (Coco), a 12-year-old Honduran boy who is forced to flee his home and seek asylum in the United States. As Oscar attempts to reach his uncle, Manuel, in Arizona, he is apprehended by the Border Patrol and placed in “the icebox.” Faced with a seemingly impenetrable immigration system, Oscar struggles to navigate a path to freedom, with a journalist and his uncle, himself a recent immigrant, as his only lifelines.

Season Two of ‘2 Dope Queens,’ ‘Jane Fonda in Five Acts,’ ‘O.G.’ Among Titles Coming in March From HBO Home Entertainment

Season two of “2 Dope Queens,” Jane Fonda in Five Acts and O.G. are among the titles coming in March from HBO Home Entertainment.

Available for digital download March 11 is Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age, which looks at online dating, offering revelations about the billion-dollar industry. The film features interviews with, among others, Jonathan Badeen, co-founder and CSO of Tinder; Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of Hinge; and Mandy Ginsberg, CEO of Match Group, which owns Tinder, OkCupid and other dating sites.

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Available March 25 for digital download is O.G. Filmed in Indiana’s Pendleton Correctional Facility, an active maximum-security prison, O.G. follows Louis (Jeffrey Wright), once the head of a prominent prison gang, in the final weeks of his 24-year sentence. His impending release is upended when he takes new arrival Beecher (Theothus Carter), who is being courted by gang leadership, under his wing. Coming to grips with the indelibility of his crime and the challenge of reentering society, Louis finds his freedom hanging in the balance as he struggles to save Beecher.

Season two of “2 Dope Queens” will also be available for digital download March 25. The two return in four specials with some of their favorite stand-up comedians, including Rory Scovel, Solomon Georgio, Bowen Yang, Jamie Lee and Pat Brown, along with celebrity guests, to talk music, nostalgia and fashion.

Available for digital download March 25 and on DVD March 26 is Jane Fonda in Five Acts, about the Oscar-winning actress who has lived a life marked by controversy, tragedy and transformation in the public eye. Fonda has been vilified as Hanoi Jane, lusted after as Barbarella and heralded as beacon of the women’s movement.

Finally, due on DVD March 26 is Camping, starring Jennifer Garner and David Tennant as Kathryn and Walt, a not-so-happily married couple. A meticulously planned outdoor trip to celebrate Walt’s 45th birthday is derailed by uninvited guests and forces of nature, turning the weekend in a test of marriage and friendships.