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Apollo 13 (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

Apollo 13

Apollo 13

APOLLO 13 (1995)

Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd, Miko Hughes, Max Elliott Slade, Jean Speegle Howard, Tracy Reiner, David Andrews, Michele Little, Chris Ellis, Joe Spano, Xander Berkley, Mark McClure, Ben Marley, Clint Howard, Loren Dean, Brett Cullen, Mark Wheeler, Thom Barry, Herb Jefferson, Jr., Neil Armstrong, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jim Lovell, Marilyn Lovell and Walter Cronkite.

Screenplay by William Broyles, Jr. and Al Reinert.

Directed by Ron Howard.

Distributed by Imagine Entertainment.  140 minutes.  Rated PG.

It’s strange that we rarely get movies that truly celebrate good old American ingenuity and thrift.  Apollo 13 is a square and old-fashioned tale of true American heroes which reminds us how cynical the world has become — just because it so obviously loves our country and the good that it can achieve.  It also celebrates a simpler, more innocent time when we were striving to conquer new frontiers and where thousands of people would move heaven and Earth to save three men.

Apollo 13 is based on the true story of an ill-fated moon flight in 1970, less than a year after Neil Armstrong became the first astronaut to walk on the moon.  The crew of three pilots, Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) were tapped to be the third group of explorers to walk on the moon.  The original third pilot, Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise), was grounded at the last minute when a NASA doc became worried that he was exposed to the measles.

At first, the mission seemed anti-climactic.  Even in a new space age, walking on the moon had become old hat quickly and for the first time the networks didn’t bother to preempt shows like Bewitched and The Price Is Right. 

This been-there-done-that attitude quickly faded when a mysterious explosion disabled the rocket, leaving it up to the crew and the men of mission control (led by hard-edged Gene Kranz, played to perfection by Ed Harris) to work against the clock to keep the Apollo 13 from becoming a flying coffin.  The moon walk was scrapped, suddenly the mission changed inexorably to bringing the astronauts home alive.

Therefore, some of the greatest minds in the world had to scramble to solve problems that had never existed, with just their resourcefulness and intuition to guide them.  One mistake could lead to the astronauts being incinerated during reentry or skipping off of the Earth’s atmosphere and tumbling off into space with no power.

Apollo 13 shows a world just starting to get technically proficient.  (A throwaway line about the computer which ran the mission needing to be housed in a large room is all the funnier because it is so accurate that just 35 years ago the most biggest, most powerful computer in the world had far less ability than the personal computer that we now use to surf eBay.)  It also shows the start of the public’s voyeuristic fascination with spectacular tragedy, particularly in a wonderful scene when Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan) has to tell a NASA PR rep to get all of the reporters off of her front lawn.

Mostly, though, Apollo 13 is a celebration of brave and selfless men (and women) who would put themselves in harm’s way for the good of mankind.  And even though most people know from history what happened to the astronauts of Apollo 13, the ending is heart-stopping and surprisingly moving.

Apollo 13 came at the tail end of Tom Hanks’ incredible winning streak of movies that included the smash hits A League of Their Own, Sleepless In Seattle, Toy Story and the back-to-back Best Actor winning roles in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.  And though all of those films are very good, Apollo 13 is the best of the lot. It also was very worthy of another statuette, though the role of Jim Lovell is a lot less flashy than the other characters, it is still a skilled, subtle performance.

Other performances are just as fine, with Bacon, Sinise and Paxton shining as the other astronauts.  The real standout is Quinlan, though, who is amazing as the wife who is trying to put on a brave face for the cameras and her kids while her world is crashing down around her.

Apollo 13 is one of the most patriotic films made in the past decade.  It is also a rousing adventure story.  With so many movies celebrating the mundane and trivial in the world, it is nice to watch one that marks the bravery and pioneer spirit that made the United States great.  (3/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005  All rights reserved. Posted: April 2, 2005.

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