This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: APOLLO 13
Year: Universal, 1995
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
On April 11, 1970, Apollo 13 took off with the intention of putting men on the moon, but an accident in space left NASA struggling to get the crew home alive. An emotional, joyous story of bravery and teamwork under dire circumstances, APOLLO 13 retells the historical events.
Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Ken Mattingly have trained as a team for years, but when Mattingly is exposed to measles on the eve of the launch of Apollo 13, NASA replaces him with the relatively inexperienced Jack Swigert two days before launch. The new team works admirably through takeoff. But an explosion in an oxygen tank destroys their hopes of landing on the moon and leaves the crew stranded with little power or oxygen.
While Mattingly races to NASA to simulate conditions on the craft in an effort to bring his former team back safely, the three astronauts must come to terms with the loss of their dreams, then with fevers, near-frozen conditions, and poisoning by carbon dioxide. The world watches along with the families of Apollo 13's crew as the men attempt to make it back alive.
Best For Ages:
9-12: This movie is both long and intense, and may bore some young viewers while frightening others. On the other hand, it has engaging characters and a happy ending.
13 & up: Teens and adults will be inspired by the cooperation and courage demonstrated by the three stranded astronauts and their families back home.
Educational Value: Demonstrates how astronauts prepare for missions and how scientists improvise when things go wrong. Real news footage adds to the historical feel. A lesson in courage, devotion and selflessness.
Entertainment Value: Outstanding performances by Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise balance first-rate special effects. The stirring score and use of popular music from the era enhances the theme.
Sex: Some innuendo about "re-entry." One astronaut jokes about getting the clap.
Profanity: Angry cursing during scenes of great emotional intensity. Slang terms for bodily functions.
Emotional Intensity: Astronauts must face the probability that they will die. Families suffer in wait.
Frightening Situations: An explosion on Apollo 13 nearly sends the vessel off-course. Carbon dioxide poisoning nearly kills the crew. Their capsule re-enters Earth's atmosphere with a failing heat shield. An astronaut's wife has nightmares about him dying in space.
Questionable Behavior: Characters consume alcohol and many smoke.
Mature Themes: Officials at NASA lie to the astronauts when they don't have answers to their predicament.
Gender/Racial Issues: All the scientists at NASA as well as in the astronaut training program are white males, an unfortunate fact in 1970. The wives of the astronauts come across as stereotypical homemakers.
People can safely use phrases like "stirring drama" and "makes you proud to be an American" about APOLLO 13 without feeling like they're spouting cliches. The true-life story makes for an emotionally wrenching movie despite the fact that the conclusion is widely known.
The astronauts are portrayed as heroes in every sense. They are patriotic, courageous, selfless, and devoted. Each of them must balance loyalty to individual team members against loyalty to the team's mission, and they all keep remarkable lids on their tempers despite extremely trying circumstances when it's tempting to assign blame. Lovell and Mattingly both make terrific role models, though one might wish their wives were portrayed with more dimension than as the selfless support staff.
On the other hand, it's arguable that too much time was devoted to the families given this film's nearly two-and-a-half hour length; some viewers may become bored during the first half hour, which is devoted to training and preparing for the mission. The educational value of this segment makes it an integral part of APOLLO 13, though one could argue that the drama would be stronger if the crisis began sooner.
Like TITANIC, APOLLO 13 tells two stories - that of the men and that of the disaster - and like that enormously successful movie, it succeeds as both an adventure flick and a human interest tale. An excellent score and special effects make Ron Howard's film work on every level.
Children's Television Reviews