Apollo 13 Movie Review
I scarcely know where to start writing about Apollo 13, the long-awaited story of the catastrophic 13th mission of the Apollo space program. I went in expecting a whole lot from Howard and his star-studded cast (Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton), and they delivered in full, the star being Hanks as usual, who brings his usual strength and subtle forcefulness to the role of Jim Lovell, the 4-time space shot veteran who never managed to set foot on the moon.
The story of Apollo 13 is simple and well-known to many Americans: on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 military time, the Apollo-Saturn 13 spacecraft was launched, carrying a crew of 3 men, bound for America's third landing on the moon. A third moon landing was by then rather blasé to the American public--so dull and common as to not even warrant broadcast on television. On the way to their destination, however, on April 13, an oxygen tank exploded, making a moon landing impossible and the return flight home one of the most grueling experiences imaginable.
The meat of Apollo 13 concerns this return trip: cutting off all the systems to save power and almost freezing to death in an unheated space module, struggling to improvise a carbon dioxide filter to keep from asphyxiating, almost guessing at course corrections thanks to an unusable computer, the newfound media interest that comes along with any tragedy, and the pain that comes with come getting so close to something you just can't have.
Hanks is a latter-day master of expressing this emotion. As they fly by, unable to land, we see Hanks gaze longingly out over the lunar surface he so desperately wants to walk upon. The pain is clearly visible: so near yet so far. The rest of the cast is also superbly matched to their roles (with the notable exception of Kathleen Quinlan as Lovell's wife, who sleepwalks through the film). Harris is terrific as seething flight director Gene Krantz, determined to keep the men alive when everyone else has given up, and Paxton turns in a surprisingly emotional role as Fred Haise, who becomes ill on the mission but pulls through anyway.
Overall, Apollo 13 is one of the best films of the year, right after Shallow Grave. Howard's seamless use of special effects (none of the film is stock footage) blends perfectly with the 1970 kitsch of tie-dyes, metallic gold cars, and Dick Cavett. What he finally delivers is something he's been shooting for during his entire career as a director: a painstakingly detailed, in-depth look at the mission and the people in it, never trivializing their struggle, while generally avoiding sensationalism as well. All the while, Howard manages to entertain.
Apollo 13 gets my blanket recommendation. You know, I was never overly superstitious about the number 13 in the past. If nothing else, this movie has certainly changed that.
"Apollo 13, this is Houston. We don't care about your problem. We're eating tacos."
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