Picks and Pans Review: Apollo 13

UPDATED 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/03/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Kathleen Quinlan

Tense as the best murder mysteries and as kinetic as the most exciting action films, this space adventure is as thrilling as movies get.

Even though Apollo 13 (see page 70) is based on real events and the ending is thus a foregone conclusion, imaginative directing by Ron Howard and extraordinary acting make for a combined barn burner, flag-waver, tearjerker and edge-of-the-seater.

Hanks plays Jim Lovell, the astronaut in command when Apollo 13 blasted off on April 11, 1970, aiming for a moon landing. His crew was Jack Swigert (Bacon), a last-minute replacement for the measles-exposed Ken Mattingly (Sinise), and Fred Haise (Paxton). Harris plays the NASA-based mission controller, Gene Kranz, and Quinlan is Lovell's devoted wife, Marilyn.

Howard displays a stalwart respect for the courage and resourcefulness of the astronauts and their earthbound support team as the mission is stymied by a capsule explosion that prevents a moon landing and threatens the lives of the crew. Using camera angles that accent the claustrophobic confines of the space capsule and the closeness inside the Houston control room, Howard absorbs the audience into the drama.

Quinlan, as a wife who respects her husband's daring and explorer's spirit even as she fears their possible consequences, helps ground the film too, as do the young actors playing the Lovells' children, Miko Hughes, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd and Max Elliott Slade. Even Jean Speegle Howard, director Ron's real-life mom, humanizes the story as Lovell's aging mother, frustrated because her nursing home's TV set is broken and she can't watch coverage of the mission.

As the Apollo 13 astronauts face first the danger of freezing in space, then the danger of incineration on reentry to Earth's atmosphere, Howard builds the tension, intercutting actual news footage of the event as anchored by such commentators as Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, Frank Reynolds and Jules Bergman. Those familiar faces add to both the nostalgia and the movie's ulterior motive. Not only is Apollo 13 great entertainment; it is a magnificent brief for re-invigorating the space program. (PG)

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