Movie Review: Apollo 13 (1995)

Title: Apollo 13
Release Date: June 30, 1995
Director: Ron Howard
Production Company: Imagine Entertainment

This is a movie I have difficult time being objective about since I’m endlessly fascinated by the space program, and because this movie is kind of a spiritual sequel to The Right Stuff, one of my favorite movies of all time.  The movie tells the story about the third Apollo mission to attempt a moon landing in April 1970, which turns into a mad scramble to save the astronauts’ lives after a liquid oxygen tank explodes and causes other tanks to leak.

Tom Hanks stars as Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell (I read Lovell’s book Lost Moon many years ago and it’s an excellent memoir that I recommend) with Kevin Bacon as Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert and Bill Paxton as Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise.  They all do a terrific job of dramatizing the cool under pressure astronauts in a helpless situation.  The real heroes of this film turn out to be Mission Control crew under the leadership of Flight Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris, who played John Glenn in The Right Stuff). A lot of the characters are composites reflecting the facelessness of the hundreds of people who made the Apollo program possible. Among them is Ken Mattingly played by Gary Sinise*, an astronaut who was supposed to go on Apollo 13 but was grounded because of exposure to measles.  Nevertheless, Mattingly spends a lot of time in simulators to work out a plan to return the Apollo 13 astronauts safely.

Ron Howard directs the film competently, perhaps not with cinematic flair, but he gets all the points of the story in an entertaining and fluid.  I didn’t know until recently that they actually filmed the scenes of astronauts in weightlessness in a special airplane used for training real astronauts.  I know they could’ve done this with harnesses but it’s pretty cool that the actors were really weightless for some parts of the film. It adds to the authenticity of the piece. Of course, if you REALLY want to watch a great movie about the Apollo program, the documentary Apollo 11 is a must-see!

* There was a period in the mid-90s when Sinise was in a lot of big movies, and I always liked him, but then he seemed to vanish. Whatever happened to him?

Rating: ****1/2