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Overall Rating
4.1

Awesome60%
Worth A Look: 16.52%
Average: 8.7%
Pretty Bad: 3.48%
Total Crap: 11.3%

6 reviews, 79 user ratings


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Apollo 13
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Compelling, but lacks a certain oomph."
4 stars

Ron Howard's 'Apollo 13' promises to be a riveting history lesson. The facts of the aborted Apollo 13 mission in April, 1970, seem like God-given movie material.

Three astronauts -- family men Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), plus cocky bachelor Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), a last-minute replacement for the original third crew member -- go up in space with visions of Neil Armstrong dancing in their heads. Early in this second moon shot -- on April 13, in fact -- an explosion disables their capsule. It's uncertain whether they'll have enough oxygen, water, and energy to make it back to Earth alive. The men have to improvise solutions as problems arise, while NASA engineers on the ground do what they can, which at first isn't much.

Apollo 13 has a satisfying grand sweep. Ron Howard sets up the trappings of the NASA techno-brotherhood, and he knows how to whip up massive, stomach-freezing effects, as he showed in Backdraft, with its flames roaring out at us like the wrath of a dragon. He knows how to put us inside a pressure cooker. And since movies, unfolding in a horizontal, rectangular world, are an inherently claustrophobic medium, I expected Apollo 13 to paralyze the audience with nauseated horror at being locked in this capsule -- floating in an infinite inky void yet enclosed in a tight metal tube. But none of this really comes through. Partly it's because these men aren't very nervous about being shot up there to begin with, so that undermines our nervousness. It's all old news to them. They're stoic, they deal well with stress; like Tom Wolfe's knights of the right stuff, they have an unspoken pact not to express fear or doubt. And so you feel the force of the movie slowly leaking out.

The story, adapted by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert from last year's book Lost Moon by Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, abounds in real-life ironies. After 1969's famous giant leap for mankind, America is rather blasé about a return trip -- until things start going wrong, at which point the media camps out en masse on Lovell's front lawn. (As Lovell's wife Marilyn, Kathleen Quinlan spends the movie sitting in the house, staring at the TV, and fretting.) Howard picks up on an intriguing unsung-hero aspect of the story: Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise), the experienced pilot Jack Swigert replaced -- he would have gone up if not for a suspected case of measles -- stays on the ground and goes through one flight simulation after another, looking for a way to bring the capsule home on minimal energy. Mattingly's story would make a good movie in itself; he gets all the stress of the mission and none of the actual elation of being near the moon. He's the original virtual-reality hero.

Howard couldn't have cast three more likable actors as the imperilled spacemen. What's amazing is how little of their personalities comes across. Even Kevin Bacon, a suave Casanova whose idea of a come-on is a smirking demonstration of a lunar module sliding into dock, is too close to Dennis Quaid's hell-raiser in The Right Stuff (and none of these boys is a hell-raiser). Physically, the performances look strenuous. The sequences in the capsule were filmed in real zero gravity, aboard the Vomit Comet used in astronaut training, and sometimes the actors look a little green around the gills. But the stars, and Tom Hanks in particular, are running on autopilot. Like the men they're playing, they seem to have convinced themselves that the only thing that matters is the problem at hand; once the pressure's on, there's no room for such frivolity as inventive acting. (I kept expecting Bill Paxton to flip out as he did in Aliens -- "Game over, man!" -- but no such luck.) Hanks has an effective way of speaking in a dead, neutral tone when Lovell is frightened, but it seems like an actor's choice. Hanks is trying to be true to the real-life, brave Lovell. The actors are smothered by history and good intentions.

Apollo 13 is so much more self-possessed, so much clearer in a basic narrative sense, than almost every other blockbuster this summer that I didn't trust my initial, complacent enthusiasm for it. Of course it looks great next to Batman Forever or Johnny Mnemonic -- what movie wouldn't? There was one moment during Apollo 13 when I felt an Olympian surge of adrenaline: the countdown to the launch. Everyone in the audience stopped breathing. (The launch itself doesn't live up to it. And I must point out the sonic inaccuracy, perpetuated by Star Wars and countless other space operas, of the exterior shots of Apollo 13 in orbit: We shouldn't be hearing exhaust or explosions in the airless vacuum of space -- we shouldn't be hearing anything. A surprising lapse in a movie otherwise slavishly devoted to The Facts.) I also liked the DIY solution devised by Mission Control for the carbon-dioxide problem. The movie is terrific on nuts-and-bolts stuff -- the disposal of waste, the instruction manuals magnetized to the capsule walls. But nuts and bolts aren't the same as drama. I hate to say it, but in format Apollo 13 is Speed in space, and without Speed's kinetic audacity.

A director like James Cameron, whose nerve-destroying The Abyss made me vow never to go more than five feet underwater, would have made us sick with stress up there in that capsule. He would have risked melodrama, and probably would have toppled right into it with a mighty crash, but at least he would have gambled. Apollo 13 actually would have been perfect for Cameron's temperament and talents. Ron Howard has talent but no identifiable temperament, and he isn't a gambler. Taking his camera into zero gravity, he makes us feel the strange giddiness of weightlessness. Howard is the ideal man for a space movie -- he's a weightless director.

'Apollo 13' has its gripping bring-the-boys-back-home narrative drive going for it, and Howard's monklike attention to detail sometimes pays off. It's a solid and honorable piece of work, but to think it was a great movie you'd probably have to have a thing for control panels.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=712&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/30/06 13:15:20
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User Comments

9/19/13 Annie G Fact is stranger ... pretty historically accurate film. 5 stars
5/25/12 Ed Totleben Jr Great take on NASA's most dramatic moments 4 stars
6/06/11 AEB It made me feel like I was there for one of the most dramatic space events ever. 5 stars
3/22/11 Alun The most believeable acting and dialogue I have seen in a movie 5 stars
2/05/11 Jeff Wilder Ron Howard crafts one of his best movies with this one. Hanks is better here than in Gump. 5 stars
12/24/10 Helena o ke kai It was my 20th viewing...I NEVER WATCH A MOVIE TWICE. Great 5 stars
7/06/09 Frisian Boy Awesome movie! One of the best I know!!! 5 stars
6/12/09 Mike Quinn An awesome movie it made me want to go out and join the space program 5 stars
6/11/09 rabnilraj soooo long it was the worst movie ive ever seen.... 1 stars
8/27/08 catherine One of the best movies ever made, by one of the best actors ever to live 5 stars
8/25/08 PAUL SHORTT VAPIDLY CHRONICLES THE MOST DRAMATIC SPACE FLIGHT IN HISTORY 4 stars
8/12/08 Shaun Wallner I love space movies! 5 stars
1/05/08 Pamela White A few good men make history 5 stars
11/04/07 Guy Hoevenaars The mission was a failure YET such a success of human ingenuity. Great story, Superb film 5 stars
2/19/07 mb Good movie. 4 stars
2/17/07 David Pollastrini too long but still good 5 stars
1/17/07 Matt Unembellished and brilliant, one of the best films ever 5 stars
1/17/07 James Classic 5 stars
9/22/06 Marge This movie is a good one..even when Kevin Bacon is in a towel...:D 5 stars
8/16/06 Sepi53 Almost perfect motion picture!! 5 stars
7/13/06 EZ K-Dog is insane!!!!!! This movie is incredibly awesome!!!! 5 stars
5/20/06 MP Bartley Gripping, intense and emotional. Howards only good film. 5 stars
5/13/06 Lucy This film Inspired me to want to be 1 of the first women to walk the moon!!! 5 stars
10/03/05 CaDizzle In the Top 10 movies of all time, anyone who says different should be shot! 5 stars
9/09/05 Elinna Yau Its was OK and it got even more exciting 4 stars
5/20/05 dwarzel Better if we didn't know beforehand how it comes out 3 stars
4/06/05 Ethan Great story, great acting, riveting film 5 stars
2/20/05 A A 1 stars
10/24/04 susan tavis this movie is one of the bestmovies i have ever seen, i have seen it over 5 times. 5 stars
6/22/04 T. Maj Wonderful homage to duct tape 4 stars
6/13/04 John solid all the way but never really original or exiting 3 stars
5/31/04 Nobody Astounding! One of the best films ever. 5 stars
4/18/04 Alan Solid, dramatic story telling 4 stars
1/15/04 Samuel amazing film, with a fine cast, and a great director! 5 stars
11/03/03 nw breathtaking powerful true story - well acted 5 stars
5/17/03 George Jung Don't like it, don't hate it. It's like the movie had no reason to exist. 3 stars
2/26/03 Francy Breathtaking music, fine actors, careful direction. Be nice to yourself. See. 5 stars
9/23/02 George Shut up, trendwhores, this movie rocks. 5 stars
9/07/02 Ramblin Wreck Can't wait to see this in glorious IMAX!!!! 5 stars
8/05/02 KMG BORING TYPICAL TOM HANKS VEHICLE. 3 stars
6/28/02 Justin Kiss my ass, if you hate this movie! 5 stars
6/26/02 Film Guy a FANTASTIC movie Tom Hanks gives the preformance of his carrer 5 stars
5/15/02 Blake This movie SUCKS on ice! 1 stars
4/06/02 Justin Tom Hanks is excellent in his performance! 5 stars
3/14/02 Rockitman007 What a great movie! 5 stars
3/03/02 jennyK It was good. 3 stars
2/03/02 dan K-Dog, you are the biggest idiot on the Internet 5 stars
12/31/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) Tom Hanks can act. It might get slightly boring here & there, but it's basically cool! 3 stars
9/06/01 Gary Nothing more than a flashy, oversized, superficial money project. Utter shit. 1 stars
8/31/01 Henry Ginsberg Superbly made. 5 stars
5/24/01 Erik North Great movie--even better because it is based on a true story, and well-done to boot! 5 stars
5/21/01 R.W. Welch Authentic and well acted though not quite up to The Right Stuff. 4 stars
5/17/01 Leia The mission might have been a successful failure; but the movie was a successful success! 5 stars
2/16/01 James Truly captivating and exciting. 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla intense, exellent, and i want my dad to see it, and you too!!!! 5 stars
11/13/00 The EVIL Penguin Remember: There is NO sound in space 3 stars
10/27/00 stevie ward loved it! 5 stars
8/23/00 K-Dog Killer K-Dog you are a fucking moron. Pull your head out of your pimply ass and leave this place. 5 stars
7/22/00 Tyler Peterson No comments on this site will change the fact that this is the best movie ever made. 5 stars
3/10/00 David Rogers Three words...Boring...Boring...Boring. 1 stars
2/21/00 Stay Puft Marshmellow Man Brill/sprite619004, stop being a queer. Braveheart was MUCH better than this horse SHIT! 2 stars
1/19/00 amanda sorry, loser aussies, the last time you were in space was...never! 5 stars
11/29/99 Crystal Fleming Good drama 5 stars
11/06/99 Anthony Ellis 2 hours of "We Americans are just sooo wonderful". This movie was boring patriotic crap! 1 stars
9/06/99 godsdog Good suspense,spacecoast folks will like it. Why is patriotism such a bad thing, people? 4 stars
7/23/99 E.H. Phenomenal and good to see over and over again 5 stars
7/07/99 Ben Leostein Rating: ***˝ (out of ****) Category: "Very Good" 4 stars
6/14/99 Dylan a two hour long yawnathon. 2 stars
6/04/99 lucasd jackson it was a true story,but it was not exciting at all 3 stars
2/19/99 nun uf yur businness this movie really opened my eyes to what really happens up there.the whole cast was awesome 5 stars
2/01/99 Vick Di Brecci Forgettable crap. Hence... 2 stars
1/03/99 Jules Good, but no Right Stuff 3 stars
11/27/98 Mr.Pink Boring, patriotic bullshit!!!! 1 stars
10/27/98 Silent Rob Just misses 'F.A.'. Expertly crafted and engrossing telling of a true heroic story. 4 stars
9/16/98 Lonatic Boring. 2 stars
9/06/98 Admiral Mung Bean Soda (+/- 12db) 3 guys in a can. Already knew how it ended. Fuck Tom Hanks. Watch a documentary,much better 3 stars
9/05/98 Jon Awesome 4 stars
9/02/98 Johny A Fine Film 4 stars
8/28/98 Mister Whoopee Good flick. Kath Quinlan can do no wrong in my eyes. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-Jun-1994 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Mar-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  31-Aug-1995 (PG)




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