Edge of your seat suspense in an out of this world drama.
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.