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When astronaut Jim Lovell sees us landing on the moon,
He dreams of going there himself and gets his chance quite soon.
His lunar mission is moved up to lucky one, thirteen,
And he and Mattingly and Haise all practice their routine.
But days before the launch, they learn that Mattingly’s exposed
To measles, so he must be barred or else nobody goes.
He is replaced by ladies’ man Jack Swigert, and the three
All work together fine, although he’s no Ken Mattingly.
While Lovell’s wife is worried sick about this risky mission,
She sees him off, supporting his celestial ambition.
Lovell, Swigert, and Fred Haise at last launch into space,
And, over days, fly to the moon at just the proper pace.
All seems to go just as it should until they hear a bang,
And Lovell notices a leak that threatens their whole gang.
Their oxygen is leaking fast, and it becomes quite clear:
They cannot land upon the moon, although it is so near.
They get into Aquarius, the module used for landing,
And use it as a lifeboat, which will keep their vessel standing.
Returning to the Earth right through the shadow of the moon,
Jim dreams about how close he’s come, how it’s inopportune,
But now they have to get back home, and NASA’s engineers
Are pushed to solve the problems, and each person perseveres.
From saving the ship’s power to reducing CO2,
The scientists and Mattingly (who’s healthy still) pull through.
Though Haise gets sick and tension’s high, the crew continues on,
Eventually preparing to return from whence they’d gone.
The heat shield’s strength is still in doubt, but Lovell and the rest
Fly in the planet’s atmosphere, and everyone is stressed.
Four minutes later, Lovell’s voice alleviates concern,
And everybody celebrates the astronauts’ return.

Apollo 13 is one of the most authentic and meticulously researched films about manned space flight ever made. The film is of particular interest to my family because my grandfather was himself involved with NASA’s Apollo missions (as well as Mercury and Gemini) and worked straight through several days and nights to assist in bringing those three astronauts home. My mom also participated in the Space Shuttle program and recognized various real names used in the film like engineer Guenter Wendt. The resourcefulness of these unsung heroes is laudably extolled as they come up with solutions that kept the astronauts alive.

Ron Howard’s almost documentary-like direction of the structured proceedings makes the viewer feel like he’s watching actual events, though this effect is tempered by the star presence of Tom Hanks as Lovell, Kevin Bacon as Swigert, and Bill Paxton as Haise. All fill their roles quite well, as does Ed Harris as Flight Director Gene Kranz, inexplicably the only one to earn a Best Actor Oscar nomination. (It was nice to hear his voice in the same kind of role in the recent Gravity.)

While the main characters are well-developed as a rule, particularly Oscar nominee Kathleen Quinlan as the long-suffering Marilyn Lovell, the best parts are the moments of space travel, whether the simple floating of the astronauts (achieved through putting the actors in a plummeting aircraft) to the grandeur of Apollo 13’s spectacular launch. The weightlessness is particularly well-done, and the way it was created is hidden surprisingly well. The film also has some effective moments of poignancy (Lovell dreaming of his lost moon landing) and tension (the Odyssey’s reentry, which manages to be nail-biting even though most probably know the outcome).

The main issue is, of course, the unnecessary profanity, but I also felt that the last half-hour of the astronauts being stranded could have been shortened. I realize that time dragged for the three spacefarers as they waited for NASA’s directions, but, by the time they came back to Earth, I was definitely ready for the film to be over. Nevertheless, Apollo 13 brings to life a nerve-racking time in American history, and Lovell’s ending monologue questioning when we will return to the moon remains as timely now as it was then.

Best line: (Blanche, Jim Lovell’s mother, as she is introduced to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) “Are you boys in the space program too?”

VC’s best line: (Jim Lovell, using German accent) “Ah, Guenter Wendt! I wonder where Guenter Wendt?”

Artistry: 7
Characters/Actors: 7
Entertainment: 6
Visual Effects: 8
Originality: 5
Watchability: 5
Other (language and length): -6
TOTAL: 32 out of 60

Next: #293: Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

© 2014 S. G. Liput