Outer Space is breathtaking, but it is also extremely dangerous, even if people have forgotten that fact!
Screenplay By: William Broyles Jr. & Al Reinert
Directed By: Ron Howard
At some point in time people lost sight of the wonder and grandeur of space travel, of NASA, of manned space missions, of anything involving Outer Space that isn’t a science fiction story. The first twenty minutes of Apollo 13 go about instilling that feeling of wonder about space travel and all it entails into the audience once more. After the first twenty minutes Apollo 13 proceeds on a mission to blow your mind with the grandeur, the experience, the all encompassing entity that is Outer Space and the Herculean efforts to get there. Manned space missions happen nowadays and people don’t even notice, they don’t register as a blip on the radar. One of the many great ideas hammered home by Apollo 13 is that we need to stop ignoring the fantastic that is right in front of us. Pay attention to the efforts of NASA, and all astronauts and space programs everywhere, because they are accomplishing so much with so little, while their methods and achievements make science fiction pale in comparison.
Beyond that sense of awe and wonder that Apollo 13 achieves, there is also a horror about the film. The three astronauts- Lovell, Haise and Swigert- are in a claustrophobic state. They live out some of the most horrifying moments anyone could ever face. They can’t move, they are restricted in every action they take. They have limited resources at their fingertips, and every action they take is watched and judged by outside sources. Even though you may not realize it, from the moment the cryo stir goes awry the viewer is launched into a horror suspense tale of the highest order.
Apollo 13 looks beautiful from a cinematography standpoint, with some of the most brilliant use of lighting and background you will ever see. This isn’t just in the various Outer Space shots, or in the internal shots of the Aquarius or Odyssey, but in shots leading up to the launch itself. One shot in particular of the three astronauts walking across the boarding platform while an illuminating sun filters over them as the camera pans away is a work of art. To go along with the beautiful cinematography there is also the tremendous model and CGI effects. The launch is an awe inspiring event unto itself, so much so in fact that it becomes an experience for the eyes and ears. After the spine tingling launch we are treated to effulgent shots of the Odyssey/Aquarius in Outer Space. This is where the cinematography and the CGI/model work reach levels that still have yet to be surpassed to this day.
It’s a testament to the varied strengths of Apollo 13 that we are this far into the review and nary a word has been written, or typed as the case may be, about the story of Apollo 13. The story is simple, and that is why it works so well. Ron Howard avoids any irritating subplots or Hollywood add-ons. Apollo 13 is about this space mission, the effect it has on their families, the plight of the astronauts and the men who attempt to bring them home safely. Deep focus is given to all three aspects of the story, not one feels shortchanged and none of the three feel dishonest. The strength of Apollo 13’s story is its simplicity and Howard’s ability to stay with that simplicity.
Last but not least would be the work of the entire of Apollo 13’s cast. Tom Hanks is on the ball in Apollo 13, the consummate leader and the voice that we associate with to feel the pain and loss of dreams destroyed. Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon are great in their unique ways. Paxton infuses Haise with the know it all attitude that astronauts have become famous for. While Bacon shows us in Swigert a man who hides behind bravado to avoid his own fears. The men at mission control are all unique and eclectic, providing a well rounded nature to the film. But, the performance that stands out most of all is that of Ed Harris as Gene Kranz. He says very little, but he doesn’t need to, his facial expressions and reactions say it all. Ed Harris has always been a great actor, but this may be his finest performance.
Ron Howard is a much maligned director, and while he has churned out a few less than stellar films, I can’t help but feel dismayed at the bashing of his directorial skills. Apollo 13 is his greatest achievement, among some other truly great films, and it is a film that any director would want on their resume. Apollo 13 ends up a transcendent experience, capable of awe, suspense, horror and human drama. Don’t let this film pass you by, just like the space program it’s more than worthy of your time and rapt attention.