Looking Back At APOLLO 13 - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At APOLLO 13

Martin Rayburn has a problem.
Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies. Arriving at a time when Tom Hanks was the Hollywood golden boy, the film was robbed at the 1996 Oscars (although it's hard to argue against Braveheart's accolades) when Hanks didn't receive as much as a nod for Best Actor, after previously winning that gong two years running, and neither Ed Harris or Kathleen Quinlan took home awards for Best Supporting Actor/Actress despite well-deserved nominations. In the end Apollo 13 won just two of its nine potential categroies, both for backroom boys. Perhaps it was because Hanks, in the role of Commander Jim Lovell, was surrounded by so much talent in such a strong ensemble film that his performance, despite brilliant and understated, could not shine as brightly as his turn in Forrest Gump or Philadelphia. Because unlike those two previous Hanks movies, and with the greatest respect to both those pictures, just about every actor in this film feels as if they were born to portray their respective roles. Movies like that come along once in a lifetime, as do the real-life events that took place during the 1970 mission to the moon depicted in this docudrama.

Although only a few years old, I was aware of the original Apollo 13 incident and it is one of my earliest news memories (although I have no recollection of the first moon landing as it happened). For the uninformed, astronauts Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise (played in the film by Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton) are the crew of Apollo 13, America's fifth manned mission to the Moon, which was intended to be the third to land. En route, an on-board explosion deprives their spacecraft of much of its oxygen supply and electrical power, which forces NASA's flight controllers to abort the moon landing and turns the mission into a struggle to get the three men home safely.
I know that there are some historical inaccuracies within the storyline and time of events depicted within the film, and of course I was privy to a lifetime's knowledge of the outcome, yet despite repeated viewings it's hard not to be enthralled with the intricacy of the plot and all of the characters. It's a feeling for me that never dampens, thanks in no small part to the special effects, stunning attention to both 1970s detail and the Apollo spacecrafts Odyssey and Aquarius. The feeling of weightlessness realised on screen incredibly well also helps build the realism of the piece.

The claustrophobic paradox of infinite space adds to the real-life drama which takes place within the Apollo modules, and director Ron Howard should be commended for the way he portrays this on film. Take for instance the corridor control burn, where the astronauts have to floor the engines and get the LEM back on course, it makes me feel so tense every time. The scene where condensation from the instrument panels drips down on Lovell, Heise, and Swigert leaves you with a sense of actually feeling the water droplets yourself. And the dramatic build-up of the broadcast delay from re-entry, which could easily feel like a tacked on Hollywood ending in a less skillful director's hand (and, again, I know the dialogue is not 100% accurate here) does not in any way. It's only as the static gives way to Hanks as Lovell saying "Hello Houston... this is Odyssey... it's good to see you again" that you realise you've held your breath along with the rest of mission control. That exhale feels like a moment of triumph. 
Howard perfectly juxtaposes the dark, bleakness of space with the white, clinical look of NASA's Houston Mission Control. Here Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and Chris Ellis portray the real-life Flight Director Gene Kranz, the grounded Apollo 13 prime Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly, and Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton respectively, each with great respect and admiration. The trio are as much, if not moreso, the heroes of the story. Failure is not an option, as one of the taglines of the film states, but it's quite ironic that given the events that are unfolding 384,000km above, it's here on Earth where Apollo 13 presents its most fantastical elements - within the solution's devised to get the crew home safely. And yet, again, it's all quite true.

I have watched Apollo 13 countless times on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, but the film needs to be witnessed properly on the full-screen. Seen in a theater, Apollo 13 wraps you in and rockets you back to 1970 then puts you in a fourth chair in the Command and Lunar modules. I was fortunate enough to see it again on the big-screen in 2010 and once again I sat enrapt. I'd urge anyone, whether you've seen the film before or know the story inside and out if you ever get the chance to see Apollo 13 in a cinema (and given our current situation, who knows if they will still be a viable business) do so. Go out of your way to do so. You will not be disappointed. It will take you to the moon and back.

Well, almost to the moon.

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