Apollo 13
"Whenever anyone complains that Hollywood movies are nothing but expensive effects imposed upon bland product, remember Apollo 13."

Lost in space is a sci-fi standard. What else can go wrong out there? Real life doesn't work like that. As Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), flight director at mission control, says, "Failure is not an option."

When three astronauts are trapped in a weightless capsule 200,000 miles from home, with oxygen running out, carbon dioxide levels rising, power sources shut down, condensation building up and temperature falling, every detail is a matter of life and death, every decision possibly fatal.

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Apollo 13 is a team effort, devoid of star performances and rich in character. CGI effects could have faked the whole thing. They don't. What happened on Jim Lovell's 1970 aborted moonshot is recreated to exact specifications. Even NASA's control room at Houston was built to scale on a Californian studio lot.

It is a stirring example of what Hollywood can do in the hands of a director who is not prepared to compromise authenticity, nor shy away from spending what it takes to achieve a perfect assimilation of the real thing. The tautness of the screenplay, the understanding of the objective, the belief in the project, the integrity of the players and the quality of the technical crew add flavour to the mix.

Ron Howard has made a two-and-a-half-hour movie of almost unrelenting tension. The script does not let itself become bogged down in astronautical jargon, nor clogged with prelaunch family sentiment. The team is introduced without fanfare, the science treated with respect and the pace never allowed to falter. Tom Hanks plays Lovell, bringing an air of familiarity to a situation that is far from normal.

Once the accident occurs and an explosion cripples the spacecraft, it becomes NASA's business to bring the boys back. Howard crosscuts between the trapped men, one of whom has a high fever, and mission control, where rigid minds are forced to improvise under intense pressure, and home scenes of unbearable fortitude, not to mention the persistent, intrusive TV coverage.

The ensemble cast is magnificent, with Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell), Gary Sinese (astronaut-in-waiting) and Harris particularly memorable. Whenever anyone complains that Hollywood movies are nothing but expensive effects imposed upon bland product, remember Apollo 13. It is a very fine piece of work.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2005
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Oscar-winning drama about an ill-fated moon mission.
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Scott Macdonald *****

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Bill Broyles, Al Reinert

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd, Miko Hughes, Max Elliott Slade, Jean Speegle Howard

Year: 1995

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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