Growing up in Orlando, Florida, I was highly attuned to NASA’s space program. Our family were frequent visitors at Cape Canaveral’s Kennedy Space Center, where it was my privilege to actually touch a Saturn 5 rocket and I got to watch many a Space Shuttle launch up close. I was regrettably born too late to witness the events in Apollo 13 myself, but Ron Howard‘s attention to detail and extreme accuracy in depicting the events makes it possible for me to feel as though I was there. This movie has withstood the test of time and made the phrase “Houston, we have a problem” permanently part of pop culture’s lexicon.
Although the misfortunes of Apollo 13’s mission are already a given historically, the film still kept me on the edge of my seat and holding my breath not an inconsiderable number of times. The performances from Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan (Marilyn Lovell) are superlative and passionate, making the characters come to life in a very real way. The movie richly deserves its 34 awards, including two Oscars, and was nominated for 7 more Academy Awards including Best Soundtrack (sorry, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score). The composer was James Horner, a luminary in the world of movie soundtracks who died tragically in a plane crash earlier this year. He is responsible for some of the most memorable music in movies including:
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- An American Tail
- The Land Before Time
- Field of Dreams
- The Mask of Zorro
- A Beautiful Mind
Many of these were nominated for and won their own awards. The score he composed for Apollo 13 is somewhat reminiscent of his work in the movie Glory, a similarity which first twigged me to the fact that he had created them both. Call it his musical signature, if you will. There’s a graceful and quiet nobility to the score which is much more powerful than if it had been loud and bombastic. As a musician myself, it pains me a great deal that the world has lost such a gifted composer.
At the film’s premiere, Ron Howard, who maintains this is his favorite film of those he’s directed, asked the audience to write reviews of the movie. One of them emphatically stated there was no way the crew would have survived the mission in real life. Evidently the author had no idea it was based on a true story. The history books call Apollo 13’s mission the ‘Successful Failure’. They never landed on the moon but instead plunged into an epic drama that captivated the world, an incredible story of survival against overwhelming odds, making the name of the spacecraft Odyssey all the more appropriate. Tom Hanks‘ brilliant performance as mission commander Jim Lovell earned him an asteroid (12818 Tomhanks) named in his honor, and some of the shots of the moon and the earth were actual pictures courtesy of the Apollo 8 mission. This fabulous movie remains one of my all-time favorites and yes, I still get chills and hold my breath every time I watch it. One day it will be my very great pleasire to watch another human set foot on the moon and it can’t come soon enough for me. – BETHANY
For more on this iconic movie, launch yourself to the Internet Movie Database
Displaced astronaut Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) watches the launch of Apollo 13. In Forrest Gump, Gary Sinise’s Lieutenant Dan tells Forrest (Tom Hanks) that if he ever becomes a shrimp boat captain, he, Lt. Dan, will become an astronaut. Sure enough, they’re both astronauts!
NASA, in the person of Buzz Aldrin, asked permission to use the movie for training purposes. – source- IMDB.com trivia
Ed Harris playing flight director Gene Kranz, working through the problem of how to get the crew of Apollo 13 home alive.
NASA’s KC-135A, also known as the Vomit Comet, which achieves a near weightless experience for passengers by flying in a steep parabolic arc. Many of the weightless scenes in Apollo 13 were actually filmed here, achieving a level of realism that would have been impossible otherwise, short of actually filming in space.
It’s been a goal of mine to one day see the Earth from space, ever since I heard Captain Picard’s speech about it in Star Trek: First Contact. Most astronauts say it’s the most incredible experience and they would do most anything to go back.
There are a surprising number of actors who were in Apollo 13 that have since gone on to become recognizable names. Here are a few surprising faces you might recognize. If you know you’ve seen them before but can’t remember where, click on the hotlink which will show you what other things that actor has been in.
Xander Berkeley as NASA liaison Henry Hurt.
Brett Cullen, credited as CAPCOM 1.
Ned Vaughn as CAPCOM 2. These poor guys didn’t even rate a name!
Rance Howard as the Reverend. I don’t think he even gets a single line. He can also be seen in the picture of Marilyn Lovell above.
Bryce Dallas Howard is credited as Girl in Yellow Dress, during this scene with Marilyn Lovell.
Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment (unless otherwise credited in clickable form)