Friday, April 6, 2012

100 Movies - No. 97: Apollo 13

97. Apollo 13 (1995)
Drama, History, 140 minutes
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton

"Houston, we have a problem."

Are you old enough to remember the space race and the first time an American set foot on the Moon? The Apollo 11 crew achieved that feat in July, 1969 and were followed by Apollo 12 in November, 1969. Apollo 13 attempted the trip in 1970, but an accident early in the mission prevented the landing. Instead, the mission became one of survival. Would the three astronauts make it back to Earth?

Jim Lovell (Hanks), Fred Haise (Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Sinise) were set to make the trip, but Mattingly was replaced by Jack Swigert (Bacon), because it was feared that Mattingly might develop the measles on the trip. Gene Kranz (Harris) was in charge of Mission Control on the ground.

I remember the broadcasts of the Apollo 11 trip, but the American public were not particularly interested in seeing live footage by the time the Apollo 13 mission took place. We see the crew filming each other for TV, but they don't know that the pictures aren't being shown live. That all changed the moment the accident occurred. Instead of being a boring event, lives were suddenly at stake. TV crews scrambled to cover the unfolding events.

Hanks, Harris, Paxton, Sinise and Bacon are at their best in Apollo 13. We see the importance of trusting in the overall ability of the team, both in space and back in Houston. Director Ron Howard does a good job of showing how events aboard the ship affected things on the ground. The accident gave both teams several problems to overcome and it wouldn't have happened if either team had failed to contribute.

It's hard to imagine three men sitting in a confined space holding our attention for over two hours, but that's exactly what happens. You may not know how the original events unfolded, but the tension builds effectively even if you know how the story will end.

The overall look of the movie feels authentic. Shots of space are particularly effective. It's almost impossible to listen to the sound of the launch without feeling moved in some way.

The movie is structured in such a way that we feel that the three astronauts have something to lose other than their own lives. The first 30 minutes show Lovell interacting with his wife, Marylin (Kathleen Quinlan), and their children. We also see other crew members and it gives us a glimpse of their personalities. This segment is so effective and adds a lot to the remainder of the movie. Howard makes us feel as though we are back in 1970 and that we are part of Lovell's family or immediate friends.

If you like Apollo 13:

There are plenty of movies which take place in space, but 2001: A Space Odyssey captures the same feel as Apollo 13 for some of the film. It shows in detail how astronauts adapt and what some of the dangers of space flight can be.

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  1. Great review, Steven. Other films that show a man of group of men in a small space for almost the entire movie and manage to hold your attention are Buried and 127 Hours.

  2. I haven't seen Buried, but loved 127 Hours.

  3. When asked what my favourite movie is, I say Apollo 13 - I remember seeing with my dad (a pilot) and now many yrs later the sense of adventure this film creates touches my heart! Great review too.

    1. Thanks Mathew,

      Yeah, I think they captured that sense of adventure very well. I am glad you have good memories associated with it.