1. It Celebrates Intelligence and Grace Under Pressure
Ron Howard’s film is a celebration of their iron will and strength of character. These are heroics of the highest order.
2. It’s Flawlessly Paced and Edited
Jaws, The Princess Bride, or The Silence of the Lambs — that don’t hold my complete and total attention like Apollo 13 does. I noticed it most on this rewatch, my first in three years or so: I put the DVD in the drive and proceeded to stand in front of my television for about an hour before realizing that I hadn’t yet looked away. It’s the opening scene at the Lovell’s, the one that simultaneously introduces the key characters and the camaraderie of astronaut culture. It’s the heartbreaking moment in which Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) is told that the flight surgeon has grounded him. It’s the exhilarating launch sequence, a textbook example of visual effects done with creativity and style (more on that in a minute). And it’s not just the action or the actors’ charisma — its that every moment has purpose and narrative propulsion. Apollo 13 is a 140-minute film with zero fat on its bones. For example: NASA boss man Deke Slayton (Chris Ellis) calls Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) aside to tell him that he’s going to be commander of Apollo 13. Slayton says, “Hey, Jim. Can I talk to you?” The film then cuts to Lovell arriving at home, where he tells his wife Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan) that he’s got the job. This is conservation of detail, of momentum, a conscious effort not to waste the audience’s time. More than any other factor, it’s perfect storytelling that keeps a movie’s engine humming.
3. It Trusts Us with the Technical Stuff
Creed’s final battle). Apollo 13 finds a subtle and remarkable compromise: It dives head-first into processes and details as they become important to the characters and uses their emotional urgency as a kind of exposition. It’s a way of letting the audience ride along with the drama and, in some ways, almost feel like we’re helping solve the problems. Even many of the explanatory news reports on Earth are archival, which avoids any exaggerated melodrama that might betray a lack of trust in the audience’s intelligence. In the end, we’re not just watching these three men struggle to survive; we’re struggling with them.
4. It Demonstrates Remarkable Attention to Detail
5. A Successful Failure