According to a recent survey, most Americans old enough to
remember have forgotten about the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission to the
moon. Let me confess from the beginning that I remembered only vaguely
that something happened. Apollo 13 was the mission that hit disaster
APOLLO 13 is director Ron Howard's tale of that jinxed journey.
Howard is an extremely talented director who specializes in comedies
such as PARENTHOOD and SPLASH and in realistic tales that are told
almost in real-time like THE PAPER and BACKDRAFT. In APOLLO 13 he
attempts realism approaching documentary style.
The movie is based on the book "Lost Moon" by Jim Lovell who led
the Apollo 13 mission. In the movie he is played by the ever popular
and brilliant Tom Hanks. The rest of the crew consists of Fred Haise
(Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon). The key member of the
backup crew is Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise). The tale of the wives is a
secondary plot and focuses on Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan). The
crew at the NASA control center is lead by Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), but
is filled with a great second, third, and fourth string cast. Every
actor was carefully chosen. Nevertheless, the science and engineering
of what they did was the real star of the movie in my book.
The story is set in 1970. Apollo 13 was the second time human
beings attempted to walk on the moon so, of course, Americans were
bored stiff and did not care. In today's vernacular, they had been
there and done that. I refuse to relate any more since it is the story
itself that makes the movie. The story is incredible.
Other than the story and the perfect casting, the only other part
worth mentioning is the period makeup and costumes. For someone who
was in grad school at Berkeley at the time, it was great fun seeing
again the heavy eye shadow, frosted lips, and strange hair styles on
the women and the too tight white shirts with ties, black horned rim
glasses, and big sideburns on the men. You also see lots of dirty
smoking - think of it as a long antismoking ad given how vile they made
Although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, almost cried a couple of
times, and was fascinated by the innovative engineering solutions they
came up with, I found much wrong with the picture, and I expected to
like it more than I did. First, I had a major problem with Ron
Howard's directing. From start to finish the energy level in the
picture was way below an acceptable threshold. Every action seemed
drawn out and too low key.
The editing by Daniel P. Hanley and Michael J. Hill was another
area needing improvement. It was exactly 45 minutes into the show
before anything of interest happened. I know because I was watching my
watch wondering when the movie was going to get started. Viewing this
first part was about as much fun as watching a Cricket match. Nothing
happened, and it took forever. The editor could have easily set up the
picture with 15 minutes tops. Even after it started clicking, there
were many scenes where the astronauts would slowly push button lots of
buttons, and we were forced to slowly watch them.
Finally, given the subject matter, one might expect some
incredible cinematography. Cinematographer Dean Cundey's images were
okay, but nothing special. The music by James Horner was totally
forgettable - another opportunity lost.
APOLLO 13 runs 2:11 which is too long given the pacing. It is
rated PG for some mild cussing and for frightening situations. I think
it would be fine for any kid old enough to understand what is happening
which I thinks means 9 or older. I recommend the show for its history,
science, and engineering and for the fascinating story, and I award it
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes