Almost thirty years since its release, Ron Howard’s film Apollo 13 remains a gripping and inspirational film. The dramatization of the infamous space disaster sports an all-star cast and a magnificent soundtrack by James Horner. Though it has the feel of a sci-fi thriller, this film recounts a real-life episode that caught the world’s attention in 1969 – and it continues to captivate viewers to this day.
Apollo 13 follows astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jim Swigert (Kevin Bacon) as they embark on NASA’s third mission to the moon. A damaged coil deep within the system cripples the spacecraft, sending the astronauts drifting through space. With their craft damaged, all three astronauts must use their wits and limited resources to get home, knowing that the tiniest mistake can cost them their lives.
Ron Howard’s film has many sci-fi elements to it. We learn about the inner workings of the Apollo module and how NASA ground control works with astronauts in space. While the film has a lot of scientific and technical talk, it keeps things simple and easy to understand.
Apollo 13 certainly tackles heavy subject matter, and those with claustrophobia will definitely feel its impact. Yet, the film is far from a dreary watch. One emergency after another is softened by lighter moments that keep the tension from being overwhelming. The astronauts find time to reflect on life back at home, and every challenge they overcome brings much-needed relief.
Moreover, the performances in Apollo 13 are absolutely outstanding. Hanks, Paxton, and Bacon hold our attention aboard the doomed spacecraft while Kathleen Quinlin delivers a stellar performance as Jim Lovell’s wife, Marilyn. She maintains her composure in front of the family and the press while showing vulnerable moments when she’s to herself.
Gary Sinise also delivers a knockout performance as Ken Mattingly, the third Apollo 13 pilot who was replaced due to concerns about his exposure to measles. Although left behind, Mattingly’s role becomes crucial as he searches for ways to operate a damaged ship. Sinise has just the right amount of passion and focus to make his character work, and we cheer for him as he fights for his teammates stranded in space.
If anything, Ed Harris stands out in this film for his rock-solid role as Gene Kranz, the Apollo mission coordinator. Kranz is a gruff, no-nonsense individual who easily shows bursts of anger and passion, yet Harris keeps his character’s emotions subdued and even finds moments to smile in the hardest of times. Harris’s performance is nothing short of amazing, and he gives us an effective portrayal of what effective leadership looks like.
In many ways, Apollo 13 is a piece of cinematic art. The film came about during a revolution in digital technology, and this technology lent itself to scenes of Apollo 13’s journey. A decent portion of the film was also shot in zero-gravity simulators, namely KC-135 airplanes, to effectively recreate the weightlessness of space travel. These effects hooked audiences back in 1995, and still look impressive today.
Above all, the film’s power comes from its timelessness. Although filmed in 1995 and set in 1969, Apollo 13 will resonate with anyone in today’s digital and space-focused age. Apollo 13, as an event, was a disaster in and of itself. Even so, Hanks’ character is left only asking when we will go back to the moon. Despite all that they endured, the heroes of that story remain optimistic for the future, and that’s the ultimate message of Ron Howard’s film – to never give up.
There’s much to acknowledge regarding Howard’s Apollo 13, and viewers of all ages will find inspiration from this one. I myself saw this film in 6th grade and was easily captivated by the story. Thirty years later, the film remains a suspenseful and tear-jerking watch. Anyone seeking an exciting and uplifting true story about individuals overcoming the greatest odds will relish Apollo 13, and it is a story that should not be forgotten.
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