I'm just telling you this so you understand what a HUGE deal it was when, in the middle of July, my parents decided to take my brother and I to see Apollo 13 in the theater. My aunt and uncle had told them it was good, and my brother and I were already somewhat nuts about astronauts (no lie, I still kinda wish I was an astronaut), and the air conditioning at my grandparents' house where we were staying was on the fritz. It was mid-July in Iowa. Not a great time for there to be no A/C, especially in one small house with six people, two of whom were ten and fifteen.
So my parents decided to treat us to a night at the movie theater. It was probably my brother's second time ever in a theater, and the first time would have been when he was three. We were beyond excited. Just about out of our tiny minds with anticipation.
This was 22 years ago, but I can still remember that theater so vividly. It was small, much smaller than any of the auditoriums at the megaplex I go to now. But in my memory, the screen was massive. There were quite a few other people there, but it wasn't full by any means -- the movie had been out for a few weeks.
Toward the end of the film (this is a SPOILER if you haven't seen the movie and don't know the history behind it), when the astronauts survive reentry and make contact with NASA again, the people in the movie stand up and cheer and clap and hug and cry.
The people in that little theater, mostly stoic Iowa farmers... also cheered and clapped. I have tears in my eyes just remembering it. I've been to hundreds of movies in the theater since that night, but I have never seen an audience react to a movie so strongly. Sure, sometimes people clap at the end of a film (Connecticut audiences do that a lot, I noticed -- that was cool). But they never cheer and clap in the middle out of the sheer emotional need to respond to what's happening on-screen.
That's the kind of movie Apollo 13 is. The kind that celebrates humanity's ability to rise above tragedy and despair, to achieve things they didn't know they were capable of in order to save someone else, maybe someone they've never met.
The story opens in 1969, with the families of various astronauts gathered the house of Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) to watch the live footage of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. Lovell can't wait to get to the moon himself -- he was on the backup crew for Apollo 11, and is now slated for not the next mission, but the one after that.
Less than a year later, Lovell's prepping for his own mission, Apollo 13. He and his fellow astronauts, Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise), are fine-tuned, honed, so ready for their mission they can taste it. And then Mattingly gets exposed to measles, and NASA takes him off the mission, replacing him with playboy Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon). Swigert and Haise don't get along particularly well, adding tension to the final days of preparation.
Still, the mission starts well, with a breathtaking lift-off. Haise and Lovell's wives attend the lift-off, supporting each other as they watch their husbands leave earth. Mary Haise (Tracy Reiner) is pregnant, due not long after their husbands return. Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan) has been increasingly anxious about this mission, especially the fact that this mission bears the unlucky number of thirteen.
At first, all goes fine. But of course, terrible stuff happens eventually, because otherwise it wouldn't be such a triumphant, glorious movie with people overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles and being all heroic. (I'M TOTALLY SPOILING EVERYTHING FROM HERE ON OUT. You've Been Warned.)
A tiny malfunction in a tiny part of the spacecraft causes an explosion that rocks the whole ship.
And that's when Lovell utters the immortal line that's on the poster: "Houston, we have a problem."
A major problem, as it turns out -- their spacecraft is damaged, it's off course, and they're suddenly short on oxygen. The three astronauts are going to have to figure out how to survive in space, not to mention get safely back to earth again.
Back in Houston, the NASA people band step right up to the task of solving all the problems involved in bringing three men in a crippled ship back home. Flight director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) tells them, "Failure is not an option."
Ken Mattingly gets pulled back in to help run reentry scenarios in their simulators. (And he never gets the measles.)
Lovell, Haise, and Swigert are certainly heroic as they refuse to panic, work together on the various tasks needed to stabilize their ship, and attempt to reenter earth's atmosphere in a crippled space ship. But they really have no choice -- they're stuck where they are and just have to do what they're told.
It's the people on the ground that I find particularly inspirational.
Scientists, mathematicians, programmers, engineers, and other astronauts all dealing with an unexpected situation.
They pour their collective intelligence, knowledge, and creativity into saving the lives of three men that many of them have never even met.
And they succeed. Lovell, Haise, and Swigert return safely to earth. The real Jim Lovell even gets a cameo as the captain of the Naval vessel that retrieves them from the ocean. The events of Apollo 13 really happened, which makes the valiant ingenuity of the people involved all the more remarkable.
Is this movie family friendly? Yes, for teens and up. It's pretty intense throughout, and I think that some scenes would scare kids under 12 or so. There's some language -- more than usual for a PG movie. And there's a bit of mild innuendo here and there. No nudity (one scene of Jack Swigert stepping out of a shower with only a towel wrapped around him, and there's an unseen woman still in the shower, but he's not married), no violence.
This has been my contribution to the Inspirational Heroes Blogathon hosted by myself and Quiggy. Head to this post for the list of other posts revolving around characters who inspire us.