Archive for the ‘Apollo 13’ Category

Apollo 13

January 15, 2007

(Originally published in The Gleaner of Rutgers University-Camden.)

“Houston, we have a problem.”

In the early seventies, this was one phrase that sent chills down the spines of the collective American consciousness. Just a few short years after the United States had made its way to the moon, one of our lunar missions, Apollo 13, was in serious jeopardy. Like the Kennedy assassinations and the original lunar landing in 1969, most Americans have been able to look back at this time period and remember exactly where they were when they heard the news.

For people of the current “Generation X” label, this is a true-life tale whose ending is not necessarily obvious. We all remember the result of Lee Harvey Oswald’s and Sirhan Sirhan’s bullets, of the opening chord of Woodstock in 1967 and the closing notes of Altamont in 1969. We know all about these events because they have been highly publicized. But the problems that Apollo 13 ran into are not nearly as well-known — and this air of mystery is one of the most crucial ingredients in this magnificent action-drama.
Ron Howard, who brought us Backdraft, The Paper, and Parenthood, scores once again with a movie that is not only thrill-a-minute and eminently believable but is also peppered with a compelling cast. Tom Hanks is the leader of the astronauts, the steely mission commander with the lovely wife and kids who seem almost superfluous to the man’s life. This is another tailor-made Oscar role for the acclaimed Hanks, but don’t look for any nominations from the Academy in the Best Actor category. There are so many other fine performances in the movie that Hanks’ work is not the central point of the film. He is supported by Kevin Bacon (Flatliners, Murder in the First) and Bill Paxton (Terminator, Aliens, True Lies). This is easily the finest performance of Paxton’s career, and he should be awarded a Supporting Actor nomination. Bacon is his usual steady self, giving his character a multilayered edge.

But it is not merely the crew of the lunar ship who are compelling. The diligent ground crew in Houston, working feverishly to find a way to save enough energy on the ship so the astronauts may return to the atmosphere safely, is memermizing. Led by Ed Harris (The Abyss, Jacknife, Milk Money), the crew includes a grounded astronaut (Gary Sinise) who, it was felt by officials, was not good enough to make the mission. Harris and Sinise are so galvanizing in their performances that it would come as no surprise if either one received a Best Supporting Actor nomination this year. Harris, sounding Patton-esque, rallies his troops to find a way to get those men back home. “We’ve never lost a man in space, and we’re sure as hell not gonna do it on my watch,” he proclaims.

There is precious little to dislike about Apollo 13. The acting is among the best you’ll ever see. The special effects are peerless. And the direction? Ron Howard gets better every time. The only fault is that the female characters are virtually non-existent; they are included only to look scared and weak. But then again, that’s probably how real life was way back then.

Apollo 13: A+