Hi there, friends! How about some more Blogiversary Bash goodness? Today’s fantastic post is comin’ atcha from Tom of Digital Shortbread–and you must be sure to congratulate Tom because he just celebrated his third blogiversary! How awesome is that?! Here’s to many more years, my friend! It’s no wonder that Tom has kept up his site for three years since he has so much great stuff–new film reviews, throwback reviews, bite-sized reviews, a segment dedicated to James Franco roles (the aptly named “Franco Files”), and so much more. Follow him! Anyway, Tom’s here to talk about one of his favorite films, so I’ll turn things over to him!
My, it feels good to be back here yet again on the Silver Screen Serenade. And yes, yes I think I will help Cara out and submit something to this festive occasion. After all, you only celebrate your Blogiversary once (a year), right?? 😉
So for me to properly participate, I’ve had to think long and hard about what kind of film I’d like to enter as something representative of what I love about film. It could be a very strong, original story that is simply a unique experience (Christopher Nolan’s Inception sounded very tempting for the longest time), or it might just be something finally revamped and tweaked to the perfect degree so as to finally capture the essence of the thing it’s modifying (Nolan again comes to mind, what with his beyond-ridiculously fantastic Dark Knight legend, a comprehensive set of films that all-but revitalizes Batman in all his brooding glory. . .).
Indeed. . .what to do, what to do?
Well, I think it makes perfect sense to discuss something that I can wax poetic about. . .it only seems appropriate to let the floodgates of movie reviewing passion open here! Therefore I’m turning my attention to another director whom I hold in extremely high regard, the legendary Ron Howard (a.k.a. Richie Cunningham), Hollywood’s golden boy with a red beard. Now, all I have to do is narrow the title down to one. . .and this is a director with a good number of quality titles to his name. But there’s no doubt about it that one stands among the rest as his masterpiece, and that is none other than his exploration of space and his recreation of the April 11, 1970 space disaster that nearly claimed the lives of three experienced astronauts.
Apollo 13 sits atop the pile of Ron Howard films for me. It’s hands-down the finest and most impressive compilation of technical mastery, emotional gravitas and unique and powerful storytelling — well, all that, plus a dream-cast that quite possibly bears the distinction of being Howard’s best ever. This is not even mentioning the incredible dramatic event upon which this rewarding film is based. Similar to the catastrophe of September 11 and any number of human-caused disasters, the six chaotic days of the seventh ever manned space mission played out with all the elements of your worst nightmare coming together in the most horrendously shocking way possible. Worst part: you ain’t waking up from it.
It’s pretty easy to get into this tense psychological state in part because of Ron Howard’s incredibly inspired direction. Using a combination of tight spaces — the lunar module of the craft becomes not only the astronaut’s home and possible coffin but it succeeds in transporting the viewer from their couches and immediately to the fringe of the final frontier of outer space. The other half of the credit is owed to exceptional performances from a powerhouse trio in Tom Hanks (who plays Jim Lovell), Bill Paxton (Fred Haise), and Kevin Bacon (Jack Swigert); Swigert riding an incredible high being the first on a short list of stand-by pilots who somehow gets his big chance after original flight member Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) came down with a case of the measles. . .supposedly. . .and is forced to withdraw from the mission.
Now, granted, Apollo 13 doesn’t develop in any particularly eye-catching way or do anything with the design of the drama to garner it extra special affection right off the bat. Its drama and emotional appeal has to still be earned, and Howard is one of the best in the business in terms of helping his audiences buy into the worlds they are watching develop. And in particular, the characters that inhabit them. This time, he thrusts the main ones out beyond the world we are all familiar with and into a situation impossible to fathom likely for even those who have been to these places. (I suppose it helps in no small way that Howard managed to coax Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin — the real deals — into appearing on screen for a few minutes to solidify the film’s objectivity and anchor the spectacle.)
While we’re provided ample (and amusing) character development in the build-up to the big launch day, it’s clear Howard enjoys taking a bit of dramatic license in spicing up his characters. Swigert is very much a ladies man and Bacon loves every second of explaining away the mysteries of the universe for the sake of another memorable evening on earth; Hanks brings his typical “goddamn-I-love-that-man” factor to the screen with Jim Lovell, whose chemistry with on-screen wife Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan) remains unwavering even as the pair spend the majority of the film separated; and Bill Paxton is solid in his more conservative role as the Biloxi, Mississippi-born pilot.
Howard spends the second act diligently cranking up the tension as things go from bad to horrendous beyond the safety of our atmosphere. The results of a busted oxygen tank during a routine equipment-checking procedure bring almost irreparable damage to the ship the crew were intending on landing on the moon with. It’s the kind of failure crews and experts could spend lifetimes inadvertently avoiding as they spend that time accounting for every other possible disaster. In fact, that’s precisely what had happened years prior to the actual launch — it was a defect in the design of the ship, turns out. The remoteness of those odds is an irony not lost upon Richie Cunningham. His understanding of the facts has a gravitational pull similar to that of a black hole. Almost nothing gets by him.
His attention to detail and character development are what make Apollo 13 such a polished and affecting journey that even non-science-minded viewers have grown to appreciate on a very deep level. With my curiosity for all things space exploration-related, I consider myself far more susceptible to the film’s allure, but there’s no denying the quality of this re-telling of a very remarkable day in history of the United States Space Program in a general context.
Packed with solid performances — one of the best coming from Ed Harris who portrays then-NASA Flight Director and manager Gene Kranz — and lifted to the upper-echelons of dramatic appeal given the film’s refusal to stray from the reality of this highly unusual event, Ron Howard’s mid-90s test piece tests the limits of the human spirit. It’s a remarkable journey that I can’t stop watching to save my life. Houston, we have a problem.
Recommendation: Yes, yes and more yes!!! I absolutely endorse this film (you don’t say!) not only because it’s delivered by Hollywood’s nicest red-bearded man, but it captures the terrifying loneliness and hostility of outer space with remarkable efficiency given the limited camera placements, the lack of technical CGI accomplishment of the day, and the fact the story largely remains focused on taut dialogue interchanges between the spacecraft and ground control. This is a film you can really buy into if you’re a fan of convincing human drama. It doesn’t get much better than Apollo 13 for my money.
Running Time: 140 mins.
Quoted: “We just lost the moon. . .”
8.999 destroyed oxygen tanks out of 10
Thanks so much, Tom! Gees I haven’t seen this one in ages. Think I’ll be needing a rewatch now. 🙂 One last guest tomorrow (*sniffle*)! See you then!