APOLLO 13 (1995) 

Tom Hanks
Bill Paxton
Kevin Bacon
Gary Sinise
Ed Harris
Kathleen Quinlan
Tracy Reiner
Chris Ellis
Loren Dean

Ron Howard




True Story

Time: 140 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: History/Drama/Space

Won Academy Awards for Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Nominated for Art Direction, Visual Effects, Original Score, Supporting Actor (Harris), Supporting Actress (Quinlan), Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

I have to say that I'm not always a big fan of Ron Howard's work as a director. His films are generally of the safe, easy-to-swallow variety. APOLLO 13 is more of the same, but it's story is so compelling it's hard to resist. It's the perfect film for Howard's skills. It has extreme danger and nail-biting excitement, but with a happy ending. He's able to explore the dark side of space without having to deal with the bummer of death. His obvious love of the subject also adds a great deal to the telling of this story. The characters and situations are treated with the utmost respect, which makes the film somewhat sappy. However, watching the actors perform in a weightless environment is worth the price of admission. Howard's dedication to making this the most accurate space film ever made, makes it a joy to watch. You feel like you're really there, experiencing the initial joy and ultimate horror of these three astronauts trying to make it home.

The film gives a fairly wide range of perspectives – the family, the public, mission control – which really helps to show the sacrifice these early astronauts had to go through. Though there were twelve Apollo missions before theirs, the great potential that something could go wrong always loomed large. In their case, the mission went as poorly as possible without killing them. This "routine" flight became a national sensation, but only after it appeared they weren't going to make it back. They were circling the Earth in a tin can with rocket thrusters. God bless them, but I wouldn't have gotten into that thing even if I was paid a million dollars. These men are built up as heroes, which may seem a bit extreme until you watch what they go through to survive. Early space travel required men to have nerves of steel and took a huge emotional toll on their family life. I would have been a raging alcoholic if I'd been married to an astronaut.

"Let's look at this thing from a...um, from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that's good?"

The story opens with a quick explanation of the space program up to that point, ending the introduction with the first walk on the moon. Jim Lovell (Hanks) is anxiously waiting his turn to return to space. He's hoping he'll get in before the government cuts funding to NASA due to lack of public interest. He can barely contain his excitement when he and his team, Fred Haise (Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Sinise), are called up early to go on the next mission. Jim's wife Marilyn (Quinlan) is apprehensive. She's concerned they won't have enough time to train and the mission's number 13 doesn't sit well either. Jim calms her nerves – thirteen comes after twelve – and dives in with gusto. All goes well until their final physicals. It seems that Mattingly could have the measles and rather than risk him getting ill in space, Jim replaces him with back-up pilot Jack Swigert (Bacon). The day of the launch arrives and everything goes according to plan...at least in the beginning. A simple, routine check throws the mission permanently off track when an oxygen tank explodes, hurtling them through space.

This total system failure places their lives in peril and forces those left on the ground at Mission Control to find a way to bring them home alive. Using the lunar landing module as a safety raft, all they can do is wait for the answers to their problems. With oxygen at a minimum, power shut-down, freezing temperatures and carbon-dioxide building, it takes all the astronauts have not to lose their minds. Tensions are high both on the ground and in the capsule. Their deaths are not an option. Kranze (Harris), head of mission control, and Mattingly, work non-stop with the rest of the men back on Earth to figure out how to keep the capsule viable and the mission on track. It's amazing how exciting these sequences are, considering they consist mainly of men talking to each other. Though you know they survive the fun is in watching them figure everything out. The mission control scenes with Sinise testing the power in the test capsule and the brainiacs trying to figure out how to hook up a square filter to a circular hole are impressive. Failure is not an option. It's heartening to know this spirit once existed in America. Sad that no one cares anymore.

APOLLO 13 may be a throwback to more traditional American values, but it doesn't beat you over the head with them. They are innate in the storytelling and make one sad for the days where space travel was an adventure. The actors find the perfect note in their performances, allowing the audience to get inside the head of someone who's had a extremely unique view of the Earth. The awe and sense of privilege they feel at being in space and the seriousness of their situation is conveyed simply and effortlessly. Yes, we've all seen pictures, but being in space has to be a mind-blowing experience. Being trapped there, a life-altering one. Though only a supporting character, your heart breaks for Marilyn Lovell stranded on Earth with nothing to do but wait and hope. Quinlan doesn't have a lot of screen time, but she makes the most of her role as the proud, but conflicted wife. Harris seems a bit over the top as the commander of mission control, but his character didn't have a lot of options. If they don't solve these problems, the astronauts die. Pretty simple character motivation.

Overall, APOLLO 13 is an amazing tale of triumph over adversity. The acting is great, the special effects are perfect and the story holds together. It's definitely Ron Howard's best directing job and worth all of the critical acclaim. Much like the Hanks produced HBO series "From the Earth to the Moon", APOLLO 13 illuminates, educates and entertains, giving an audience that may not have been alive to witness these discoveries firsthand the chance to experience what this time in history was like. I enjoy this film more every time I see it. If you have the chance to watch the new DVD you won't regret it. The sound is fantastic and the behind-the-scenes extras are great.

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