Writing movie reviews means you have to watch a lot of movies and if you’re not careful you can sometimes get caught up in the fantastic tales of fictional heroes and heroines as they either fight for the lives of others or their own. Apollo 13 however brings us all back to earth, literally, with a true tale that even to this day seems almost too incredible to believe.
Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) are experienced astronauts. They’ve all been in space and yearn for a chance to walk on the moon. Working hard they are preparing to make that dream come true as the crew of Apollo 13, the third due to land on the moon. While public interest in NASA may be fading along with its funding from congress, these men are celebrities in their own right, driving fast cars, living in big houses with their nuclear families and being recognised on the streets. Life for an astronaut seems perfect.
Sadly things start to go wrong even before they get off the ground. Ken is taken off the mission after blood tests suggest he may develop measles while on their way to the moon. In steps rookie, Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) which puts the crew, who have spent many months training together, a little on edge.
Looking back at the Apollo missions it’s fair to say that many of us are still in awe at how they were achieved. OK, so they were all part of the Capitalism vs. Communism space race with initial massive funding, but once the US landed on the moon NASA had a fight to secure further interest in their programme. We of course know how that story went but we also know about the disasters that have sadly seen the loss of 18 men and women who gave their lives in the name of exploration over the years.
However, when disaster strikes during the Apollo 13 mission you wonder how they even managed to get into space in the first place. Yes, the technology used was the latest most advanced on the planet back then but by today’s standards the computer power was akin to that inside a kid’s calculator, and yet we often still can’t seem to get a train to run on time.
These explorers, adventurers, heroes really did put their lives in the hands of remarkable technology and from the moment the rocket takes off, breaking free of the earth’s gravity with sheer brute force, director Ron Howard straps us in a seat right next to them.
If you’ve seen his similar work (Backdraft, Ransom, Frost/Nixon) you’ll know Howard brings an autobiographical touch to these stories that is often hard to do on screen. He paints the full picture, where we don’t just see the effects of the story on the main characters but we also share the emotional anguish of the astronaut’s families as they wait helplessly with pride and worry, wondering if they’ll ever see their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers again.
The attention to detail is exceptional with replicas of mission control and the lunar module being built from scratch. One lunar module was even built inside a Boeing KC-135 reduced gravity aircraft so real shots of weightlessness could be achieved. With brilliant performances by all, notably Hanks, Paxton, Sinise, Bacon and Flight Director Ed Harris, whose scripts follow much of the actual mission dialogue, along with the use of genuine news footage, it’s easy to understand what it must have been like either stuck on earth helplessly waiting or actually trapped in that cramped compartment floating through the vacuum of space, sitting there waiting for mission control to tell you your next move and tell you if the next button you press will seal your fate.
So what happened to the Apollo 13 mission? Well, even if you do already know there are no spoilers here, but the movie went on to be nominated for nine Academy Awards (winning two), five BAFTAs (also winning two) as well as being nominated for four Golden Globes. It’s a fantastic film that gives an incredible story the respect it deserves and we’ll never tire of watching it.
Best line: “Houston, we have a problem.”