Apollo 13 (1995)

Director:  Ron Howard
Cast:  Tom HanksBill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris
Plot:  True story of the moon-bound mission that developed severe trouble and the men that rescued it with skill and dedication.

Genre:  Adventure / Drama / History
Awards:  Won 2 Oscars - Best Film Editing, Best Sound.  Nom. for 7 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score.
Runtime:  140min
Rating:  PG for language and emotional intensity.

Starring a superb cast including Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris, Apollo 13 is a dramatic account of the 1970 NASA space mission to the Moon that met with a critical problem midflight, putting the lives of the astronauts in very grave danger. 

But they managed to return back to Earth out of sheer determination, bravery, and luck, with coordinated help from a much focused ground team.  Capturing the attention of the world at that time, the survival of these astronauts was one of the great moments of the 20th century.

This is unmistakably a film about the triumph of the human spirit, of Man’s innate determination to survive no matter how bleak the circumstances are.  Directed by Ron Howard, Apollo 13 stands tall among other exemplary examples of inspirational cinema, and despite many of the sequences being rendered with CG visual effects, it remains to be an affecting human story of substantial worth. 

Deservedly nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture, Apollo 13 also features a splendid score by James Horner, who also scored for Braveheart (1995) in the same year.  Ron Howard is a fine director, albeit without a unique style to call his own.  Although he is quite inconsistent with his output, Apollo 13 ranks as one of his top films alongside considerable efforts such as A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Frost/Nixon (2008). 

His lucid switching among sequences in space with Jim Lovell (Hanks) and his men, sequences in the chaotic ground control station with Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), and sequences shot from the perspective of the astronauts’ worried loved ones gives the film a kind of understated wave of human drama that rises and falls complementary.

The most exhilarating sequence from Apollo 13 is without doubt the launch of the rocket.  The visual effects are respectable for a mid-nineties film though it seems more dated with each viewing.  It is the sound mixing, however, that truly transforms the film into an extraordinary experience, as if the viewer is brought to the site of the launch. 

Despite viewers knowing how the story ends, Howard manages to create one of the most nail-biting climaxes in American nineties cinema – the anticipation of the astronauts’ pod emerging in the sky after more than three minutes of transmission silence as it cuts and burns through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The joy and sheer relief of everyone matched by the soaring main theme of Horner’s score after the emergence of the pod will make even the most emotionally-hardened viewer pump his or her fist into the air.  Apollo 13 is a rare Hollywood film that gets onto our nerves and lifts our spirits with equal aplomb.  Watch it for that experience.


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