Back in the days when summer school was more than just for struggling learners, where you got learn about different topics not necessarily taught during the school year, I was lucky enough to take Astronaut Class. This was not it’s real name, I’m sure it was suitably named for it’s theme, but it dealt primarily with what it was like to be in an astronaut in outer space. And I LOVED it. For a girl who grew up spending more time staring at the sky than she did the ground, it was perfect. (This being of course before I realized how much Math was involved in becoming an astronaut, and that car sickness is only a hop, skip, and a jump away from space sickness).
This class was no doubt triggered by the recent release of one of the best space themed movies out there, Apollo 13 (1995). It was realistic, it was gripping, and it accurately recreated one of the most intense, insane voyages in the history of manned space flight.
Directed by Ron Howard and featuring such greats as Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris, it follows the actions of the Apollo 13 crew, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert. These men, whose journey to walk on the moon takes a slight detour when a routine task causes devastating effects on their rocket, must overcome insurmountable odds just to return to Earth.
The best part of the whole movie is that it’s true. While there are definitely instances of artistic license, overall, it mimics the events of that April in 1970 when the world watched and waited to see if three men, trapped in a broken spinning tube out in the vastness of space would be able to make it home alive.
While the movie is rated PG (the definition of which has definitely changed over the years), it is in fact suitable for most audiences. By today’s standards, it is a tame movie. There is no gore, not much in the way of sex, no criminal mastermind. The world does not teeter on the brink of destruction nor does a city get crushed by over eager superhero/villains. The characters enjoy a beer or two and employ some slightly colorful language (but to be fair, wouldn’t we all?) when their ship starts falling apart. In some ways, Disney’s Zootopia has more action/adventure than Apollo 13 does.
What it does have is breathtaking cinematography. Striking shots of the moon and of Earth against a backdrop of stars instill a deep awe and fear over the vastness of space, forever cemented in the minds of it’s viewers from panned out shots indicating just how precarious an astronaut’s fate is. Whatever help they need must come from within that tiny spacecraft and their own ingenuity. While much of the movie is spent either in the doomed rocket, or back in Mission Control, it is never a boring ride.
At 2 hours and 20 minutes long, the pacing should have dragged. There should have been moments where you would want to pick up your iPad, or go and grab something to eat from the fridge. For someone who has a habit of watching movies repeatedly, eventually even I hit the point where I do get up since I’ve seen it so many times. Where I can devote my attention to something else and still pay half attention to the movie. That is something I cannot and will not do with this film. Even though I’ve seen it many times, each time is like watching it anew. Something different always pops out at me as there is a cast of dozens all working frantically in the background each trying to do their part to get that crew home. There is always something or someone to watch. And each time, I wait with baited breath for the signal to be reestablished after splashdown. Even though I know they survive, between the amazing music by James Horner, the brilliant cinematography, and the genuine talent of their actors, it’s easy to be drawn into the story.
Adults: If you have any love of space and you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you! If you don’t like space but do like Tom Hanks, then this is still an absolute must. If you can’t live without explosions, then shop elsewhere. It is a drama through and through and despite it’s lack of things that go boom, will keep you on the edge of your seat. A bit intellectual for a mindless evening, but definitely worth the watch.
Kids: Budding astronauts will love seeing how to live and work in space. And luckily enough, it’s tame enough for all to watch without producing nightmares of alien invasions. Yay!