HBOs Moon Shines, But Not Like Apollo 13


Home Box Office's $65 million From the Earth to the
"maxiseries," coproduced by HBO and Imagine Entertainment, is an
uplifting project, although it doesn't quite reach the heights of its inspiration,
Imagine's Apollo 13.

That movie's star, Tom Hanks, who introduces each HBO
episode, is executive producer with Imagine's Ron Howard, Brian Glazer and Michael
Bostick. They've divided the material into 12 mini-movies. Like the theatrical, this
docudrama runs the gamut of emotions, interspersed with authentic locations and terrific
space-flight special effects and camera angles; the effects undoubtedly accounted for much
of the $5.4 million-per-hour budget.

But, HBO, we have a problem.

There's no way that this project, spread across 12
hours and 11 years, can equal the dramatic impact of that single movie. And with 100 major
acting roles, only a few -- like Dan Lauria, James Rebhorn, Kevin Pollak and David Andrews
-- stand out, at least in the four episodes available for preview.

Of the first four hours, the most powerful is the second,
"Apollo 1," re-creating the freak accident that killed Gus Grissom and two
fellow astronauts during a space-capsule test. As this hour shows, that tragedy had
intense emotional impact on NASA and North American Rockwell officials.

Setting the stage, the first episode recalls the origins of
the race with the Soviet Union to prevent a "red moon."

In Part 3, due April 12, the producers try to build drama
for Apollo 7 -- which was basically a "Houston, we have no problem" flight, if
any space flight can be deemed routine. Mark Harmon brings humor to his Wally Schirra
portrayal, but the hour's pace is slowed by telling the story via a documentary
producer, played by Peter Horton.

Part 4, "1968," juxtaposes Apollo 8, on the first
moon trek, with that year's earthbound problems: assassinations, the Vietnam war and
civil-rights turmoil. Unfortunately, the producers choose the annoying technique of
showing the astronauts in color and nearly everything else in black-and-white.

HBO, which started the miniseries with two episodes April
5, will run two back-to-back shows Sundays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. (EST) through May 10.
The first four episodes will get three April repeats each.