The subject of Apollo 13 is exactly what the title suggests. The movie charts the fraught 13th Apollo space mission, undertaken in 1970.
The fact that the mission was unsuccessful immediately tells us that director Ron Howard was interested in the human story rather than any celebration of science, and as this film is based on fact, he knew he had the basic structure and just needed to tackle it the right way.
By recreating the mission in excruciatingly accurate detail, the realism is accepted as a true representation and the audience can concentrate on the subject matter.
Howard’s stirring take on the failed moon mission is the kind of epic celebration of triumph in adversity that awards were designed for.
Commander Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) takes the helm accompanied by astronauts Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), as they embark on their flight to the moon, only to have it abandoned partway when an oxygen tank explodes leaving crucial systems damaged and the three men in a desperate battle for their lives.
There’s a loud bang and Lovell gets to utter the famous words: “Houston, we have a problem” (although, in real life, he said: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” Oh well, close enough).
Despite the failure of the mission, the film is essentially a commendation of the space programme and a real American salute to the men and women who risk their lives to fulfil their dreams.
We are exposed to the camaraderie, the rallying and the brave determination of these resolute individuals and we share their heartbreak when they realise it’s not their turn to create history. Instead of walking on the moon they must gather their collective strength and do all they can to return to Earth alive.
They are helped by Gene Kranz (Ed Harris, pictured at right) at Houston Mission Control and, as time ticks by, everyone becomes painfully aware that they are trapped in a volatile metal capsule that could become their coffin.
The zero-gravity scenes in the movie are extremely convincing because they’re real. Director Ron Howard persuaded NASA to let him film on its reduced-gravity aircraft, known as the “Vomit Comet”.
Mary Kate Schellhardt
Emily Ann Lloyd
Max Elliott Slade
Jean Speegle Howard