Review: 'Apollo 13' flies high
June 30, 1995
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN)--With the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis and the Russian space station Mir flying as one in an out-of-this-world demonstration of international cooperation, Hollywood is launching a new film that recalls one of the most dramatic (as in life-or-death) chapters in NASA history.
APOLLO 13 (directed by Ron Howard) is a crackerjack movie. It's a PG-rated film that deserves to soar at the box office. Made on a spartan-for-a-Hollywood-spectacle budget of $52 million, it effectively fuses high-tech special effects with a true life story about very human virtues.
Return with us to 1970--the film evokes the era expertly, without nostalgia or political commentary. It's less than a year since the world was transfixed by the landing of the Eagle on the moon. Yet a lot of Americans are beginning to treat lunar trips as rather...ho-hum.
Apollo 13 was launched at 1:13 (that's 13:13 military time) on an April afternoon. On board--astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert. Swigert was a "last-minute" replacement for Ken Mattingly, who was grounded because he'd been exposed to the measles.
Everything seems fine. The film--which includes not a scrap of NASA footage--looks fabulous. And then...disaster.
An on-board explosion on (yes, this is true) April 13th turns the flight into a desperate race against time. Missing a walk on the moon becomes the least of the crew's problems. The astronauts are running out of everything-- oxygen, power, you name it. As one ground control character says: "Let's talk about status. What have we got on the spacecraft that's good??"
It's amazing how much suspense director Ron Howard and everyone involved can wring from a story that basically bounces from nerds on the ground to a sky-high trio of guys pushing buttons. Although everyone (I hope) knows the outcome...it's still edge-of-your-seat time.
The ensemble cast is top notch. Although their characters aren't very well developed, there's solid work from Bill Paxton as Fred Haise and Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert. The emotional core of the movie is Tom Hanks' performance as Jim Lowell. Hanks brings decency, intelligence and an All-American integrity to this role. The fact that he's a professed space program freak lends an additional dimension to his work.
On the ground, there's Ed Harris (remember him as John Glenn in "The Right Stuff?") as flight director Gene Kranz. He crackles with conviction, bringing a jolt of energy to every scene he's in. Gary Sinise registers effectively as Ken Mattingly, who plays a crucial role in brainstorming a solution to bring his buddies safely back to earth. The rest of mission control is populated with an interesting gang of white-shirted geeks and grunts who puff cigarettes, swill coffee and use their heads...brilliantly.
Apollo was basically a guy's program. On the sidelines--sweethearts, mothers and wives. Luckily, Kathleen Quinlan is cast as Marilyn Lovell, who keeps the faith throughout the darkest moments. She's a strong, resourceful female who knows the NASA game.
Ron Howard's direction is good. Aside from a few predictable flashes of sentimentality, he tells this tale in straightforward, techno-tight fashion. The special effects are...special. Most amazing are the "weightless" sequences achieved through filming on what's indelicately called the "Vomit Comet." This is a NASA aircraft that soars to 30,000 feet then dives...creating 23 seconds of weightlessness. The APOLLO 13 film team did some 500 takes aboard this craft. The results are remarkable and heighten the "reality" of the movie to a remarkable degree.
APOLLO 13 may be too complicated for really young kids. Indeed, the techno-babble is often hard to follow (although it starts to make sense after a time). But the values showcased here--team work, intelligence, courage under fire, etc.--make this a highly family-friendly film.
APOLLO 13 is...A-OK. In an era when cinematic heroics seem to be defined by bullets and brawn, it is a pleasure to see a movie in which the good guys triumph by using their brains!!!
To see the latest news from the space shuttle, click here.
Hollywood meets NASA in 'Apollo 13'
JIM MORET, Anchor: "Apollo 13" blasts into theaters on June 30th. The Ron Howard film stars Tom Hanks as the commander of the ill-fated lunar mission. Filming scenes in zero gravity was just one of the weighty tasks faced by cast and crew. To find out how they pulled it off, Sherri Sylvester traveled to the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
SHERRI SYLVESTER, Entertainment Correspondent: Apollo 13 is not a movie made of the wires and string of most space stories. Director Ron Howard enlisted the full cooperation of NASA and achieves the kind of space shots only NASA has known before. The secret weapon?
RON HOWARD, Director: The NASA simulator, which is called the `vomit comet.' And when- when they gave us that clearance, that was a huge breakthrough.
SYLVESTER: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton suit up as the astronauts of Apollo 13, the board the KC-135. Once it is airborne, the cast and crew prepare to shoot their scenes. The plane nears mock 1 speed, hits a curve and zero gravity is simulated. That's when the vomitcomet nickname comes to mind.
TOM HANKS: Well, now, none of us actually spew, to use one of the many phrases for the term, but we all got- we all at one point or another felt really-
KEVIN BACON: Horribly. Oh, yeah. You have to look- pick one point and just stare at that point, and this is the point, right back here. I know this part of his head so well, because he was right in front of me, and I just- for hours, I was just looking at this one little dot on the back of Tom's head.
SYLVESTER: Weightlessness is brief - about 25 seconds per flight.
HOWARD: One of the camera operators threw up all over Bill Paxton at one point.
SYLVESTER: This was a one-of-a-kind set visit for celebrity photographer Annie Liebowitz [sp] as well. She came aboard to get shots of the stars for Vanity Fair.
BACON: She had camera in one hand, vomit bag in the other- just would- just go back and forth between the shots and the throwing- I mean, she must have thrown up-
HANKS: -And when we were back on the ground, we said, 'Hey, Annie, how many times did you throw up?' She said, 'Lost count.'
BILL PAXTON: She could be a war correspondent.
SYLVESTER: [interviewing] There has to be some attitude on a film like this that, 'If you can do this, I can do it, too.'
HOWARD: Oh, without a doubt, you know, but it was not only in the physical side of things. You know, we also cooled the stage down to 34 degrees. That's because the capsule was almost frozen in space.
SYLVESTER: Some miserable weeks of realism resulted, but the cast never asked to just fake the cold.
BACON: It was a pretty sweet day, though, when they turned the-
HANKS: -When it was finally done- [crosstalk] -for the crew themselves, 'cause they were all in parkas and gloves and-
BACON: Everyone was pretty excited.
HANKS: The joke was, 'Did you get your lift tickets yet?'
SYLVESTER: The combination of Hollywood ingenuity and NASA know how may ultimately make Apollo 13 fly at the box office.
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