One of my favorite Ron Howard movies of all-time, Apollo 13 does a tremendous job of telling the story of a “successful failure” for NASA in 1970.
The true story of the crew and their families of the Apollo 13 moon mission made a truly dramatic and thrilling film, anchored by an amazing cast of actors. The cast included Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as the three-man crew of the Apollo 13, Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, respectively. The cast also included Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Xander Berkeley, Christian Clemenson, and Jean Speegle Howard.
In 1970, the Apollo 13 mission launched with the intention of landing on the moon. The space program had started to become less interesting to the public at large with the space race with the Russians over. Still, the mission was scheduled. Two days prior to the departure, intended pilot Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) was grounded because of his potential exposure to measles. Replacing Ken with Jack Swigert, Apollo 13 continued on its path.
Unfortunately, during the routine stirring of the oxygen tank, an explosion severely damaged the space shuttle and put the astronauts’ survival into question. Working with a desperate purpose, NASA tried to return the crew safely back to earth.
There are a couple of thing to say about Apollo 13 right off the bat. First, this movie does a remarkable job of creating tension and anxiety in a situation where we already know turned out to be a success. As the crew was making their reentry through the planet’s atmosphere, I was on the edge of my seat despite knowing that they made it in real life. In fact, every time I have watched this movie, I have tears in my eyes when they make it back. The film and its crew do an unbelievable job of building that uncertainty despite our prior knowledge. A big part of that, I think, has to be the score from James Horner. It does a fantastic job of amping up the mood of the film for the audience.
A second major win Apollo 13 has going for it was how it was able to take what could have been boring technical sections and turned them into exhilarating scenes. Whether it be Ken Mattingly in the simulator or Jack restarting the engines, these technically charged moments were thrilling as any.
The special effects of the film are great. It does some of the best work at portraying the environment of outer space and its effects on the characters. The film looked great, but it was not over-the-top with its effects. The effects played well into the story of this crew and their survival tale.
The use of real-life news footage was expertly woven into the film, and the movie brilliantly transported us back in time to 1970s, not only in word, but in tone. Everything about this film felt accurate and of the time, which is an achievement.
Apollo 13 is a tremendously entertaining and engaging movie that holds the audience’s attention with a great script, powerful actors and characters who are using their intelligence to solve literal life and death problems.