johnlink ranks APOLLO 13 (1995)

As a child, I was mildly enamored by NASA and the exploration of space. I was obviously not born for the moon landings, and I was only four when the Challenger tragedy occured. As a result, I too took for granted how easy it would be to just hop on a rocket and go. When I saw APOLLO 13 as a teenager that impression changed. And although I hadn’t seen this film in over a decade, there were scenes that just stuck in my head. I figured it was time to give it another go.

I watched APOLLO 13 (1995) on 1.29.12. It was my fourth viewing of the film, and first since the 90s.

Ron Howard’s direction in this film is perfection in tension and timing, even if there are movies about space exploration (2001, for example) which may look better. From the time one of the three man crew (Gary Sinise) learns he can’t fly and so will be replaced by Kevin Bacon, nothing seems to go right. Three men, led by Tom Hanks’ veteran astronaut Jim Lovell, become stranded in a small craft, days away from home, with little power, no heat, and minimal control. A team of experts on the ground, led by Ed Harris, are working around the clock to get them back.

As a kid I was riveted by the impossibility of it all. We go into this movie knowing they survived, that history tells us this was not a tragedy. But the mastery in the story-telling here is that the odds are so stacked that it is hard to remember that it will all end positively. Scenes involving the burning of engines feel dangerous, yet it doesn’t hold a torch to the team on the ground suggesting they just whip around the moon and use the gravity to shoot back with little control over the ship’s bearing. This film also has the greatest example, in the history of filmmaking, of how to get a square peg into a round hole.

The relationship of the three on board, especially the tension between Bill Paxton and the newly minted Kevin Bacon, enhances the feeling of despair. Tom Hanks is the glue which holds them all together. I also love that this movie focuses so much on the wives and families, particularly the family of Lovell. Many of these films use the families as pictures of what might be loss, APOLLO 13 allows the family to be front in center, to remind us that the loss of life would have been their loss more than anyone else’s.

The use of media is interesting. There are times where people on the news say things which make you wonder ‘How can they say that with the family watching’ until you realize that this is what happens every day of our lives. For the general public there becomes an empathy, for sure, but it is a sort of detached empathy. This movie has no villain, but I love how Xander Berkeley (of 24 fame) becomes the de facto guy-we-don’t-want-to-see because his NASA media liason is played wish such pessimism, that it feels as though he is constantly sucking all positive energy out of the room.

Made by a different director, this might have looked more spectacular. But Ron Howard is perfect for the human relationships, and that is what drives this story anyway. It isn’t about the explosions, or the spectacles, or the view. We, like Hanks’ Lovell, have seen all that before. Instead it is about people trying to save other people and acting in a heroic manner all in the name of exploration.

Damn, I love how this movie makes me feel!





~ by johnlink00 on January 30, 2012.

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