Apollo 13

on June 30, 1995 by Christine James
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Ron Howard has tackled diverse subjects in his directorial history: from mermaids ("Splash") to aliens ("Cocoon"), journalists ("The Paper") to firefighters ("Backdraft"), prostitutes ("Night Shift") to parents ("Parenthood"), and auto workers ("Gung Ho") to medieval midgets ("Willow"). About the only predictable aspect of Howard's filmmaking is the obligatory cameo casting of brother Clint Howard. In Howard's latest project, the new frontier is the space program (and Clint is a Mission Control worker).
"Apollo 13," based on the book "Lost Moon" by astronaut Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, replays the true-life experiences of Lovell (Tom Hanks) and his Apollo 13 crew (Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton), whose voyage to the moon in 1970 was aborted mid-journey due to an explosion in the ship's oxygen tank. The mission became a life-or-death chal-lenge to get the team home.
Enemies of anything-that-can-go-wrong-will, race-against-time plotlines should be warned that this film is the embodiment of the genre. Of course, it's all factual, but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and the unending onslaught of seemingly insurmountable problems is a little overwhelming and unbelievable. There is a long stretch of slow-paced dragging as crisis after crisis develops and we wait and wait for the outcome. The barriers are especially frustrating to modern-day audiences accustomed to Star Trek levels of technology, in which space travel is taken for granted as a routine means of transportation. You wonder why they can't just beam themselves back to Earth. There's little patience for these seemingly primitive predicaments, and we await the real emergency, when the deadly alien emerges screeching and hissing out of the shadows, or the spacecraft gets sucked into a black hole and winds up in another dimension. Not having enough electrical power or air to breathe just doesn't seem like a good enough reason to be imperiled anymore. When various solutions that would befuddle even MacGyver are finally figured out, the explanations are glossed over in high-tech language that leaves heads spinning. The audience is scientifically browbeaten into blindly accepting that it makes any sense whatsoever.
For two-thirds of the film, we don't see enough of the characters to become that involved in caring about them, which contributes to the tediousness of some of the scenes in which they're endangered. But, toward the end, when we've gotten to know them and their dreams a little better and have seen the worried glances and tears of their families back on Earth, we finally connect with them and are concerned about their fate. The pace picks up considerably at this point, and the film becomes the heroic adventure that was intended. Starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert. Produced by Brian Grazer. Drama. A Universal release. Drama. Rated PG for language and emotional intensity. Running time: 140 min.
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