STARRING: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Emily Ann Lloyd, David Andrews, Joe Spano

1995, 135 Minutes, Directed by: Ron Howard

Description: NASA's worst nightmare turned into one of the space agency's most heroic moments in 1970, when the Apollo 13 crew was forced to hobble home in a disabled capsule after an explosion seriously damaged the moon-bound spacecraft. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton play (respectively) astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise in director Ron Howard's intense, painstakingly authentic docudrama. The Apollo 13 crew and Houston-based mission controllers race against time and heavy odds to return the damaged spacecraft safely to Earth from a distance of 205,500 miles.

Yeah, I know. Apollo 13 is an almost documentary retelling of the events regarding the ill-fated moon mission of the same name.

Hardly science fiction at all. But a mere six years before the events chronicled in this movie, rescue missions of astronauts stranded in space were the staple diet of a lesser-known film (which I never saw) called Marooned. Besides, the theme has been exploited in many a science fiction movie, television show, novel or short story.

Which brings me to this review. The future isn't what it used to be. Although I was way too young to have witnessed the moon landing, as a kid I grew up basking in the glow of that great event. Back then everybody believed that one day you'd go to the moon for holidays in much the same way one would go to the Coast for the summer holidays today.

Devouring the works of Arthur C. Clarke, Heinlein and Asimov, this wasn't just fantasy. It was something that everybody believed (check the accounts of space travel in 2001: A Space Odyssey).

"As a kid I never suspected that while we could go to the moon, nobody would want to.  . . ."

Which brings me to Apollo 13. There is a scene in which Tom Hanks shows some VIPs around Cape Canaveral and tells them about the amazing computer system they have. Heck, I thought, I have a PC that is several times more powerful and advanced than that one right on my desk at home!

The future isn't what it used to be. In one scene a woman compares the Apollo rocket to a washing machine sitting atop an enormous fire cracker and blasted off into space. Basically the truth we realize watching this movie. The technology was crude and primitive (compared to what we have today), but heck! They were going to the moon and nothing was going to stop them!

When JFK said that they were going to put a man on the moon everybody not only cheered, but they also believed him! When George Bush Sr. said the same about putting a man on Mars they also cheered. But nobody believed him . . .And that's what Apollo 13 brings across beautifully: the future isn't what it used to be.

Back then interest in the space missions was already waning. A planned telecast of the astronauts never took place because the big networks on earth weren't interested and nor were their viewers. Interest in the mission only picked up when it was clear that it was turning into a disaster. The same pattern has been followed in the years that followed. Media interest in the much scaled down space missions was only piqued when things went wrong, when the Challenger shuttle exploded or the Hubble telescope didn't work. 

The sense of wonder was gone. When I was a kid I never suspected that while we could go to the moon, nobody would want to. The Arthur C. Clarke universe was replaced by the William Gibson version: as we approach the coming millennium there is little left but survival in a hostile world. As the Native American chief said: This is where we stop living and start surviving.

For reliving this long forgotten go-and-get-it gung-ho mentality and excellent reconstruction of the sense of wonder that surrounded those early space missions Apollo 13 is worth seeing.


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