Friday, December 29, 2017

"Apollo 13" (1995)

My family didn't go to movies much when I was a kid.  We preferred to rent videos so my parents could manage the content a little better -- watch them before the kids, fast-forward through iffy scenes, or stop them to talk things through with us.  So at the age of 15, I had seen only 4 or 5 movies in the theater.  I'd seen one with friends in the spring of 1995, but I hadn't seen a movie in the theater with my parents since 1988.

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 Sinese), 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.

29 comments:

  1. I loved reading this post. I can see how this would be a really Big Deal, for you and your brother both <3

    Yeah. People in Memphis never cheer/clap during the movie, either . . . one exception being during The Last Jedi, opening night, when a Thing happened and the whole theater kinda went nuts for a few seconds. But that's the only time I can think of. I guess certain movies are just special that way.

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    1. Jessica, people here in VA sometimes clap. There was clapping after some of the musical numbers in Greatest Showman and at the end of the movie, but mostly it's just at the end of a good movie. And only rarely then. Rogue One the first time I saw it got some clapping, I remember.

      Speaking of Last Jedi, I'm heading to the theater to see it FINALLY in like 6 minutes.

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  2. Yes! LOVE this movie... My favorite parts have to be the whole back-on-earth crew scenes too; especially when they're sorting that whole pile of stuff to figure out a new filter(?) and I love how (after the huge disappointment at the beginning) Ken Mattingly plays such a vital role in bringing them home safely. And the flight director, Gene Kranz, makes a big impression -- his leadership and how he holds everything together etc.

    (Also, Tom Hanks is one of my husband's favorite actors and this was the first one he showed me, so it's kinda special for that reason too. :))

    Hee. Last but not least, I found your theater/air conditioning tale particularly funny... We didn't go hardly at all either, but in summer 2015 we went to support an indie film and the theater's air conditioning went out. In Missouri. In like 90 degrees or something. But they gave us complimentary tickets and that's how we were able to see Cinderella on the big screen. So thus it all began. ;D Seriously epic.

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    1. Heidi, yay! Yes, them creating the new air scrubber out of that pile of stuff is just amaaaaaaaaaaazing. My brother and I were always building new stuff out of old junk, so that part really resonates with me. I still love repurposing things.

      Gene Kranz is so amazing. And Ken Mattingly getting sidelined and then him being on earth being exactly where he needs to be to save his crewmembers -- I get goosebumps just thinking about that. Mattingly is probably my favorite character in the whole movie, though I really like Jim Lovell and Fred Haise too. This is the first movie I saw Tom Hanks in, and I've been a fan ever since!

      And hahaha! A reverse a/c theater story! Too funny.

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  3. Oh, I've seen this movie! Or at least, most of it, when it was on TV once. It was pretty good!

    You know... I don't THINK I've ever been in a cinema where people clapped for a movie. Maybe once, but that also could have been just in a dream of mine. ;P (I get confused, sometimes, as to whether something was a dream or reality. Maybe I've seen Inception too many times.)

    Also, I still don't understand how people want to be astronauts. Like, I don't have a problem with that, but I just literally cannot see anything positive about being stuck on a small ship in outer space, away from family and friends for years, doing... not much. It honestly sounds like a nightmare. :P (I think I'd rather be a sailor.)

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    1. Gabby, awww. I hope sometime you get to be at a showing where people clap. I just remembered that duh, every time I've been to an encore presentation, like Singin' in the Rain and The Princess Bride, people have clapped at the end. Also when I went to those Avengers marathons, there was clapping. Also people sitting through the credits singing along to the ending songs cuz we'd all seen the movie before and knew the words, that was funny.

      I don't think I'd like being an astronaut who went and lived on the space station for years, but short missions would be amazing. I've realized over the past year that I have a great desire to go new places. Not to explore, but to experience them. Most of the items on my bucket list are places I want to go. Funny, huh?

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  4. I was completely taken with your description of the theatrical experience of that first viewing. I got chills.

    My husband and I are huge fans of this film. It is one of Ron Howard's finest. It always amazes me how a good filmmaker can take something well-known from history, and make us feel all of the emotions as if they had never happened before.

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    1. Caftan Woman, wow! I take that as a high compliment. I really did tear up while writing it.

      Definitely one of Ron Howard's finest. I also really liked his In the Heart of the Sea, which has a lot of similarities to the stranded-and-must-survive-by-improvising-stuff theme of this.

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  5. Great article on one of my all time favorite films—the audiences in my hometown reacted the same way in 1995! A perfect movie combining ingenuity and indomitability of the human spirit with faith and “the things that conspire to get you home” as Lovell says...Ron Howard’s greatest movie...and what a cast. Need to watch again to say farewell to the wonderful Bill Paxton, one of his best roles as well.
    Verrry inspiring movie—-and post—-and Blogathon! Thanks Hamlette!
    - Chris

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    1. Thanks, Chris! How cool that you had the same kind of audience reaction. I'm glad that wasn't an isolated incident. It really is one of those perfect bits of filmmaking. And a great way to bid Paxton farewell.

      You're welcome, and thanks for joining in!

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  6. Love your telling of going to see this in the theater! Fabulous story, I can feel your excitement! Gary Sinise is always my favorite character in this movie. Great write-up!

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    1. DKoren, Sinise as Ken Mattingly is probably my fave character as well. First movie I saw him in, or Tom Hanks, or Bill Paxton, and I've liked them so much ever since. Actually, first thing I saw most of the actors in, since 1995 was kind of when I started getting really into new movies. (I'd seen Clint Howard before, though, as he was in some eps of The Andy Griffith Show as a little boy, with his big brother Ron.)

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  7. Looks like I'll have dozens of new movies on my to-watch list before this blogathon is over. ;)

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    1. Eva, yeeeeeees, that's the problem with these blogathons, huh? I hope you can find a way to see this one, it's just breathtaking.

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  8. I got to see this in theater (although I was several years older than you). I was a history major in college so historical movies have always attracted my interest. I was also old enough that I remember the events unfolding on the news as a kid. great review.

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    1. Quiggy, see, this is why we get along so well, huh? I got a minor in history myself.

      Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

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  9. I saw this movie for the first time last year. It was pretty good! I didn't like Kevin Bacon's character, but oh well, you aren't really supossed to, are you? I mean, it's a Tom Hanks movie...

    That was a cameo of the actual Lovell? I had no idea!

    Thanks for hosting this blogathon!

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    1. MC, yeah, it's hard to like Kevin Bacon's character when compared to the others, but you're right, he's there to add tension.

      And yup, that was the actual Jim Lovell. Now you know!

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  10. That must have been an incredible experience to see this film on the big screen, whether you were a seasoned movie-goer or not. I think your parents made the right choice to take you to this one.

    Like Caftan Woman said in her comment, this film makes you feel like you're learning this story for the first time. Even though you know the outcome, it doesn't make it any less tense. You've made me want to see this again. :)

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    1. Silver Screenings, yes, it was so special. I found out yesterday that my parents didn't realize what a big deal it was for me! They read this post and were astonished.

      I actually didn't know the history of Apollo 13 the first time I saw this, so I didn't know at all how it would end up! That made it extra tense.

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  11. Great post. I love this film. It is interesting to watch as it was a true story, and it is also great fun because it features so many fine performances. Ed Harris is the standout for me. The liftoff sequence always makes me cry (I think it's a combination of the beautiful music, and the emotional impact of these men being able to travel up from Earth and embark on such adventure). The men working behind the scenes at Mission Control were the heroes of this story. Maddy

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    1. Maddy, I agree! Every performance is strong, even the minor ones. Ed Harris is definitely excellent.

      I tend to tear up any time I see a liftoff like that, whether it's fictional or real. Something about that power and danger and courage really gets to me.

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  12. Great post. I know I saw this film years ago, but do need to see it again. I love period, historical films and you can't go wrong with Tom Hanks and Ed Harris!

    Seeing films as a child with your parents or family often lead to fond, blurry-eyed memories. I saw a revival of The Sound of Music with my Mom, and Star Wars (the original) with our whole family, Fantasia, and Scrooge with Albert Finney. I will not forget those experiences :-)

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    1. Thanks, Jocelyn! It's so true -- seeing movies with your family is just special, whether it's your parents or your siblings or your kids. I managed to go see a rerelease of The Princess Bride with my brother and my son last year, which was so special.

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  13. Man I miss Bill Paxton and although Gary Sinese is still with us, I miss seeing him on film. I remember really loving this movie and it's been way too long since I've seen it.

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    1. Brittaney, I agree -- Sinese is one of those actors who is always enjoyable to watch, and I wish he would make movies again. Not that his current activities with veterans and troops aren't admirable, of course.

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