'Apollo 13' Review By slysnide

Edge of your seat suspense in an out of this world drama.
  • Story
  • Acting
  • Directing
  • Visuals
At 13:13 UTC on Friday April 11th 1970, Apollo 13 took off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida. On Monday April 14th at 3:07:53 UTC, approximately 200,000 miles from Eath, upon stirring the Hydrogen & Oxygen Tanks, an explosion left the spacecraft crippled, unable to land on the moon, and with barely enough power to make it back. What ensued was a drama of epic proportions as NASA's brightest teamed up for the next 84hrs 59mins 48 seconds to figure out the problem and how to get the three astronauts home. Their harrowing journey was played out with numerous updates 'round the clock and 'round the world until its heart stopping final moments.

Directed by Ron Howard and based on the book by Commander James Lovell Jr, "Apollo 13" is the best "technical jargon" drama ever. Constant edge of your seat suspense from the moment the explosion occurs to the final moments awaiting contact on Earth. Having first seen this in theaters when I was 7, this film had thus an even greater impact on me as the best I'd seen by that time. Hard to top that suspense when it's played out through encyclopedic rhetoric consisting of jargon that most viewers wouldn't care to understand fully. For while the basics are centered on in the film, how everything works isn't explained, thus leaving the viewer to get off their asses to read up on the stuff themselves to learn a thing or three. Major props for that!

Tom Hanks stars as Commander James Lovell Jr, bumped up from commanding Apollo 14 due to inter-departmental squabbling which bumped two other crews off the flight. He keeps his cool throughout, and seems like Average Joe on a spaceship in how relatable and down to Earth he is. As usual, Hanks doesn't disappoint with these types of characters.

But at home, his wife Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan) and children are nervous wrecks who try and console Lovell's mother Blanch (Jean Speegle Howard) by having Neil Armstrong (Mark Wheeler) and Buzz Aldrin (Larry Williams) watch the unfolding drama with her. How Kathleen hasn't been seen much is beyond me given her performance here as Marilyn, whom wasn't open to superstitions until the mission, especially after her personal omen of ill fate on the morning of the launch.

Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton star as John Swigert and Fred Haise Jr respectively. Swigert was the one who uttered those now infamous words: "Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here," which was improperly translated simply as "Houston, we have a problem" which became an international catchphrase. And Swigert having not trained with the crew becomes a source of contention for the sake of dramatization aboard the spacecraft, which Lovell himself states never occurred. Haise on the other hand was a happy go lucky kind of guy whom also seemed like Joe Schmo, and was easily likeable, or rather relatable as they're all likeable of course.

Ed Harris does a damn good job in one of his best performances as Flight Director and Leader of White Team, Gene Krantz. He took center stage in leading the effort to save the astronauts rather than the mission. In the film, he's portrayed as an intimidating guy who clearly gets the point across to his subordinates that he could care less what something was built to do, but rather cares about what it can do. He frequently looks to EECOM Sy Liebergot (Clint Howard) for affirmations and status reports over the various team leaders who argue about how to approach the crisis. Harris gave the best performance of the ensemble cast, doing major justice to Krantz, and captured the essence of why he's still today ranked the second most popular space hero.

Gary Sinise is Ken Mattingly, whom was originally in Swigert's place as pilot of the command module until preliminary medical tests showed he'd been exposed to the measles. Oddly enough--despite how that actually turned out--it very well may have contributed to saving the astronauts' lives, as it was Ken's meddling in the simulator for hours on end which solved one of the crisis' most insurmountable problems with aide of the 27yr old 'steely eyed missile man' John Aaron (Loren Dean). In reality however, the work he did to solve said problem was actually resolved by him and several NASA brainiacs rather than just him. But according to Lovell, Mattingly's portrayal of the task on film accurately portrays what would've been happening to resolve that crisis. This is my second favorite character both in the film, and that Sinise has played. And he also did Mattingly justice accoring to the real guy.

Dean Cundey proves once again to be one of the best cinematographers in the business. From his unique innovative shots in "Halloween" (1978), to his equally innovative take on the "Back To The Future Trilogy" (1985/1989/1990), to his fantastic shots of animatronic wonders in "Jurassic Park" (1993), his work here is among his best. Avoiding boring pans or too many still shots, he sleekly moves the camera around mission control like one of the guys there with the exception of a few crane shots. And in zero-g the photography places you aboard the spacecraft with the astronauts rather than as some still videotape. Or rather, you're their small camcorder they took aboard, just accidentally left on. And my personal favorite being the photo real portrayal of the eerie photograph of the damage the explosion did to the service module which floated away into the dark reaches of space.

Even the special effects exceeded beyond expectations for 1995. Surpassing the effects of the original "Star Wars Trilogy" (1977/1980/183), and topping the effects of "Titanic" (1997), not once do you feel like you've been taken out of the movie by unreal footage of the spacecraft flying through space. Coupled with the musical score by James Horner which adds to the drama and fantastic imagery rather than creating faux feelings of danger or excitement, one can't find anything to bash this production for besides some exaggerated dramatization of real events.

Overall, Ron Howard shined brightest here as director, creating a situation where tons of encyclopedic rhetoric is constantly thrown at you, but never disappoints or bores you. The combination of minds behind this production make it the best of 1995, excelling far beyond the vastly exaggerated take on history that was "Braveheart." This is certainly a drama for the ages that'll never get old, and is a testament to the trials and triumphs of NASA that should be cherished for generations to come.

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Comments (27)

  1. slysnide

    Now I feel dated. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  2. Dan

    Well, I like our "new kids on the block" group :P. It's got a good mix of you geezers and us new guys/gals.

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  3. slysnide

    I was referencing Indy's explanation to Marion about his age old looking wounds while on the Bantu Wind in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." :P But you're right, the years count, especially 3yrs ago when all the awesome guys were here. This tight group we got now, that's about a 1/4 if not 1/5 of who we had back in 2008. God I miss the old days...but don't worry, these new days rock too, just not as hard. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  4. Dan

    Who knows where I'll be this time next year. There will be no catching up for any of you at that point haha.

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  5. slysnide

    It's not the years, it's the mileage. ;)

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  6. Dan

    It's not good enough :P

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  7. slysnide

    What's it matter? You've surpassed us all to god status in what for me will eventually equivocate to being 1/6 the time. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  8. Dan

    F*ck, I'm just barely past my 1st year. I'm such a noob :P

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  9. slysnide

    It seems we all were enticed enough by the Joker hype to join the site. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  10. Diaigma

    And there's nothing wrong with that.
    Funny, this is my 3rd year too! :D

    4 years agoby @diaigmaFlag

  11. slysnide

    Thanks guys.

    @Diaigma: I too am glued to the site, but don't find the need to enter every random conversation on news stories or forums. Of all the stories on MW, I'd say 25% interst me enough to comment, and perhaps milk a conversation out of it. Most times no however, hence my 2,300 posts in what'll be 3yrs next month. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  12. TheDude1

    Wow this was a very good review of a movie that is also a favorite of mine. Nice work Sly.

    4 years agoby @thedude1Flag

  13. Diaigma

    And my name is Diaigma, a recovering MovieWeb addict . . .

    Nah . . . I'm pretty much glued :P

    Great review, @Sly, though I'd give it a 4.

    4 years agoby @diaigmaFlag

  14. Dan

    Hello, my name is Supes, I am a MovieWeb addict.

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  15. slysnide

    @Supes: Yes, when the LEM passes over where they would've landed on the moon, he visualizes what it would've been like. As for the specific dates, I recalled some and given the specific nature of the jargon throughout, I jotted down other exact times. It's just the result of being isolated here for 3.5yrs now. I just remember the most random stuff. :P And congrats on your God status. Quite a feat to accomplish in a year. Jeez, and this is my 2,296th comment in what'll be 3yrs next month. :P

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  16. Dan

    I imagine this movie holds a particular weight with you, @Sly, in that you appreciate exact dates and times and all that "technical jargon". I've noticed a habit of yours, that you spit out very specific times and what not when describing events or when you did something. It's like the movie was written with an audience of @Sly's in mind.

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  17. Dan

    This is certainly one of the best non-corny dramas out there, for all the reasons you've described in your review. Couldn't ask for a more sincere, serious cast than Apollo 13's. I haven't seen this movie in years now, but it sounds like it's time for me to get reacquainted.

    Wasn't there a scene in the film, where Hanks' character day dreams of actually landing on the moon though? I thought there was.

    4 years agoby @dan1Flag

  18. slysnide

    @Moviegeek: Thanks.

    @Narrator: To me, "Braveheart" also seemed to be comprised of not too many scenes deveoping the reasoning behind the whole thing. Wallace granted was far different with extremely different motives in his day, but it seemed the whole inspiration for his plight in the film came from that incident in the village, albeit, horrible, but still not much for the whole revolution to begin. And the romantic tie in with Marceau's character left me thinking...why? She had no real reason to side with him, but what/ev. It just kinda ticked me off like "The Patriot" which was a piss poor rip off Cornwalis in the revolution. It's like, if you're gonna come along and be the first to adapt this story, full knowing that millions will see it, then don't jerry rig with everything to such extremes for the vastly uneducated movie going public. Besdies that, it seemed sorta rushed. Screamed more of a miniseries than movie. I've since revised that comment to read "exaggerated take on history that was Braveheart."

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  19. moviegeek

    Great review!

    4 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  20. the Narrator

    Fantastic review @Sly. However, I would never call Braveheart a piece of crap. Sure it was over-exaggerated, and over-dramatized, which is why it's "based off a true story". It was one of the finest films of that decade, and in my opinion, it was the finest film of that year where everyone involved put everything they had into the film. I didn't really get that with Apollo 13, however it was still a great movie. Other than that, fantastic review, and as always, you did your research.

    4 years agoby @narratorFlag

  21. Daveactor7

    @Sly lol yeah.

    4 years agoby @daveactor7Flag

  22. slysnide

    @Dave: LOL. He directed that?? haha. I guess he wanted to broach that genre a la Splash. ;)

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  23. Daveactor7

    @Sly agreed "The Dilemma" his most recent film was just terrible

    4 years agoby @daveactor7Flag

  24. slysnide

    Thanks guys.

    @Dave: I agree about Ron Howard. I didn't mind his adaptation of Dan Brown's material, but he showed the capacity and audacity he has here, having shot a true story in zero-gs. :P Yet he hasn't come close to rivaling it. And that's not really cuz of the drama of the story. There are plenty of other dramatic events to draw great flicks from, but it came from their willingness to go the distance to make a good flick.

    4 years agoby @slysnideFlag

  25. K.Guy

    Cool review.

    4 years agoby @kguyFlag

  26. Daveactor7

    Director Ron Howard is getting worse nowadays :(

    4 years agoby @daveactor7Flag

  27. Daveactor7

    Going on my best reviews list. Same rating i would give it and fantastic review as always. :D

    4 years agoby @daveactor7Flag