Friday, July 24, 2015

Apollo 13 (1995)

I admit it, I don’t often give Ron Howard the director his due. The man made some really entertaining movies and handled some impressive and large-scale films. While he doesn’t have a distinctive visual style, his movies are always well crafted and often entertain. But one of my favorites has to be this glimpse into an incident that occurring during the Apollo moon missions that I never heard about… until this movie came out. Way to got high school history!

Astronaut Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) is finally going to go to the moon. With Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) at his side, they are going to make the Apollo 13 mission of 1970 one to remember. Little do they know that is going to be infamous instead of famous.

During their approach toward the moon, alarms go off followed by a horrifying sound and shaking of the module. The astronauts spring into action and find that technical and mechanical problems abound. Their oxygen is fading fast and key components of the ship are damaged beyond repair. Forget going to the moon, these three men have to worry about being able to get back to Earth. Luckily mission control has Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) on deck to help them out. But as the hours go by and the peril increases, the world waits to see if the Apollo 13 mission will be a tragic loss or a heroic victory.

Good Points:
  • Howard captures the look of the era very well
  • The film does a wonderful job building tension and anxiety
  • The amazing cast does a fine job brining the movie to life

Bad Points:
  • No surprises here if you know about this historical event
  • Lacks some of the artistry of something like The Right Stuff
  • Tom Hanks is in it… one of 1 million movies he made in the 1990s

Just about everything in this movie works. It builds up anticipation for the Apollo 13 mission and allows you get to know the main characters. Then it puts them in peril and doesn’t let up until the final few minutes of the movie. It is a wonderful exercise in tension and suspense. But more than that, it shows how dangerous space travel was (and still is) and how it takes a huge team of people to pull off these amazing journeys. Visually the film holds up remarkably well, and despite a rather workmanlike approach to the material, this is one of Ron Howard’s best films.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 5
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 5
Total:  5

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.   


  1. Ron Howard is a likable film director even though, I agree, his he doesn’t have distinctive style other than being workaday competent – and likable. I’ve liked everything by him I’ve ever seen. Not much more than that, but that’s still pretty good. So, I like "Apollo 13" too.

    I was in my senior HS year during the Apollo 13 mission, and, as you might imagine, it dominated the news. However, until afterward NASA didn’t let on just how touch-and-go it really was. The makeshift CO2 scrubber was mentioned, for example, but that it was a matter of life-or-death was not. The mission influenced the curtailment of the Apollo program by reminding everyone of how risky it was – complacency about risk seems to be a recurrent problem in space ventures of all types.

    1. Why are mis-types invisible until after a comment is posted?

    2. I don't know why the mis-types hide, but they always seem to. :)

      Yeah the risk in space travel seems to be brought home every decade or so, doesn't it? Strange how we end up taking it for granted and then you see something like "Apollo 13" or "Gravity" and it all comes back how dangerous space travel is and how brave and well trained all astronauts need to be.

  2. I enjoyed Apollo 13 at the cinema, but don't really have the desire to watch it again necessarily. That might be a criteria, either wrong or right, on which I gauge how much I enjoyed a film--particularly if I go ahead and buy a copy to add to my library. That may change as I have stopped buying as many DVDs due to space, and also due to Netflix. If I want to watch it again, I can just rent it again. Funny how the future updates our behavior.

    For me Howard's best films were A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, perhaps due to the human interest stories inherent in the stories. That may be his approach to film over style, which generally I prefer or at least an equal balance of style and substance.

    Splash, Cocoon, and Willow are pretty good films too. I haven't seen either in a long while. I think the last one I watched was Cocoon. It held up pretty well. Never saw Cocoon: The Return, though Howard didn't direct it.

    1. "A Beautiful Mind" was a really good one. I've just got this thing about Russell Crowe... something about him rubs me the wrong way. He's a very good actor and all, but I'm never super excited to go see one of his movies, or revisit them.

      But "Apollo 13" really held up well. With some distance between me and the 1990s, I'm more willing to accept Tom Hanks in movies. I just got real sick of seeing him in what felt like every big name dramatic film of the 90s. Again, he's a really good actor, but just got overexposed for me (kinda like how I feel with Johnny Depp these days).

  3. I agree about Depp. He still might surprise me, but seems limited in his range. If you haven't seen Capt. Phillips with Hanks. Even if you know of the incident, I think you'll find it an exciting and intense film. And that's all I have to say about that. :P