Running time: 2 hour 20 minutes
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan
Spoiler alert in effect.
I’ve been meaning to watch this film for quite some time now. It’s one of those classics that will live as an iconic film, with arguably an even more iconic quote. After recently watching Hidden Figures, this felt like an appropriate ‘sequel’ film to watch. With Ron Howard at the helm, the film is a dramatisation of the fateful Apollo 13 mission to land on the moon, the third NASA launch intended for a lunar exploration. Considering it was made more than two decades ago, I was very impressed with the special effects and technicality of it. It never felt tacky or unrealistic, and I could see the effort made into making it as real and correct as possible. At times, it almost felt like a documentary, because of the detail and jargon they used, and I really appreciated that, because space travel IS complex and it needs to be detailed to convey the magnitude of the situation. Even though I knew the outcome of the mission, it didn’t detract from the entertainment value of the film, and every scene felt just as tense and exciting if I had not known the ending. It’s the sign of a skilled director and an ensemble cast.
The story follows Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), an astronaut who was initially scheduled to fly on the Apollo 14 mission, but due to an ear-infection contracted by a member of the Apollo 13 mission, Jim and his two other crew members, Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), are assigned to Apollo 13. Jim aspires to set foot on the moon, as he missed out during his last mission on Apollo 8. As the three of them prepare, Ken is (incorrectly) diagnosed with the measles, and therefore Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) is called up from the back-up crew to join the mission at the last minute. The launch goes well and everyone relaxes as the crew have fun recording themselves floating around in the module which is supposedly being broadcast live on TV (however, it never made it to air because no TV station would buy it). When Jack is asked to perform a routine stirring of the oxygen tanks by the people down in Houston’s Mission Control Centre, a fault in the tanks led to an explosion, with oxygen now leaking out and sending the spacecraft out of control. The rest of the film then documents how the crew, along with the help and expertise of those in Houston, manage to steer a crippled spacecraft safely back to Earth. It honestly amazes me how people can overcome so many obstacles under such intense pressure. Not just the crew, but also the engineers, technicians and everyone in Mission Control. They had to come up with creative and practical ways to make use of what they had and the circumstances to ensure the safety of the crew. The writing helps to convey the tension and the technicality of the problem without being overly filled with incomprehensible jargon. It tells you enough to understand the problem and be true to the story, but not too much as to alienate and confuse the audience. The pacing is ideal to keep the tension in the right places, while also allowing for humour to relax the audience. It’s a dramatisation, so of course things are simplified, and dialogue can often be a bit cliche, but it’s a film. It’s purpose is to entertain and then educate, so you have to capture the audience’s attention first.
The fact that this film was released in 1995 makes it all that more impressive. Ron Howard had pretty much replicated the real Lunar and Command Modules for Apollo 13, as well as the Mission Control Centre. To simulate the weightlessness of space, he had the actors flown in a KC-135 airplane, which could create a period of weightlessness on board. All this extensive research and production definitely pays off, because as an audience member, it feels real and authentic, which is the backbone of a movie set predominately in these locations. If it feels poorly-constructed and tacky, the film could only be half as good as what it could be, and this would be a disservice to the story and to the actual astronauts and crew who went through this.
The acting was of course superb, as expected from an all-star cast. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan were the stand-outs for me. Ed and Kathleen went on to be nominated at the Academy Awards for their supporting roles. The stress, tension and concentration were clear on all their faces, and the fact that there were lots of close-ups meant their acting had to be spot on. The gravity of the situation (no pun intended) had to be mostly conveyed through their facial expressions, and they had react to all these events happening around them as if they really were stuck in space.
Overall, Apollo 13 definitely lived up to my expectation and presented a very thrilling and tense 2 hour 40 minute adventure, that was unbelievably based on true events. The writing, acting and production all combined together to deliver a truly outstanding quality film of its time, and will live on for many generations.
1. How does this rank amongst other space films?
2. Do you consider this a classic film?