- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available: Apollo 11: Men on the Moon, by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG, $49.99. The crowning achievement of America’s space program in the 1960s is dissected through a three-DVD set that will make hard-core fans of space exploration drool with delight.

Spacecraft Films has pilfered National Aeronautics and Space Administration archives to offer 10 hours of pretty raw footage of Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong along with teams of technicians and scientists as they prepare and execute a feat dreamed of by science-fiction writers.

Through Mauer 16mm camera footage, still photography using a Hasselblad 70mm camera and black-and-white TV transmissions, the series takes viewers from the assembly of Apollo 11’s mighty Saturn V rocket to Mr. Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind to the packing of lunar samples after the successful mission.

Devoid of any moviemaking drama or celebrity narration, the three discs simply convey through the eyes of NASA a dazzling scientific record of the events involved in conquering the moon.

Technical chatter, pre-mission interviews, life on the Columbia command module, astronauts practicing underwater, altitude chamber tests, the disintegration of the service module — the entire process is recorded, down to the May 20, 1969, pad rollout of the entire craft on a 6-million-pound transporter.

Aeronautical types will enjoy listening as a narrator on the first disc talks in a monotone about “translunar injection using a oxygen/hydrogen burn” in the Saturn rocket’s third stage or watching the fiery re-entry of the protected crew into Earth’s atmosphere, featured on the third disc.

The entire second disc is reserved for footage of the astronauts walking on the moon’s surface and collecting samples. Three perspectives are available for viewing along with two tracks of narration for a total of three hours of hypnotic watching.

Also, thanks to the DVD medium, viewers can use their remote control’s angle and audio buttons to quickly juxtapose their choices of 15 separate Apollo 11 launch perspectives and multiple soundtracks during key scenes.

Those looking for more reasons never to leave their surround-sound home entertainment system can purchase additional three-disc sets: “The Mighty Saturns” (six hours of footage, $49.99), “Project Gemini” (six hours of footage, $49.99) and “Apollo 8” (four hours of footage, $49.99) to get an even more complete picture of what it took to get a man to set foot on another planet.

Overall, Spacecraft Films has created the most comprehensive chronicle of U.S. space exploration ever produced, further reinforcing the importance of the digital-video-disc revolution as an affordable way to archive and present history.

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Freaky Flyers, by Midway for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube, rated T: Content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. Under the guise of a cartoon universe filled with wacky racers comes a difficult kart simulation that will turn mild-mannered gamers into Dick Dastardly.

For those unfamiliar with karting in the gaming world, the genre involves a multilap race in which players control a souped-up vehicle with a kooky character that finds and uses bizarre power-ups to thwart racing opponents while traveling through hostile, though usually humorous, environments.

Freaky Flyers pretty much follows this script to a 3-D, aerial-flying T with more than 30 characters eventually available to perform reckless maneuvers and blast each other through the likes of a haunted Transylvania, frozen tundra and gangster-ridden Chicago.

The game excels through its adventure mode, which contains very amusing, though always sophomoric, dialogue, tasty graphic presentations (more than 90 minutes of computer-generated cinematics can be accessed) as well as the paced unraveling of a pilot’s back story, revealed if the player consistently finishes races in the top three.

It frustrates by requiring players to capture bonuses in order to unlock new characters, which severely detracts from any chance of winning a race.

It also deviates from the kart genre in a level requiring the player to protect a fort against a bunch of marauding banditos. This brutally difficult scenario requires the player to destroy seven hideouts as a hysterical mariachi-style tune bellows in the background.

Two players will fare much better not only in the open race mode, but also in a nasty dogfight in which stunts come into play.

Freaky Flyers definitely triggered my imagination with interesting pilots such as the buxom secret German experiment Traci Torpedoes, Windy City mob boss Pauli Atchi and heroic dunderhead Johnny Turbine, but lost me with its sometimes unforgiving complexity.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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