MATTHEW LIEDKE COLUMN: Before the Apollo 11 mission in 'First Man,' go ahead and revisit 'Apollo 13'
"I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?"
Those are the words said by Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell at the end of "Apollo 13." Of course, following the real life fateful mission, there would be more trips to the Moon. However, when it comes to Hollywood, it's been some time since the moon, or its surroundings, have been the setting for a major motion picture. Instead, films have shown mankind orbiting the Earth (2013's "Gravity"), landing on Mars (2015's "The Martian"), or leaving the Solar System all together ("Interstellar").
This coming weekend, though, audiences will return to the Moon in "First Man." Directed by Oscar winner Damien Chazelle, the movie stars Golden Globe winner Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and tells the story of Apollo 11 and the first Moon landing.
Before checking out that movie at the theater, though, I recommend taking a look back at the 1995 film "Apollo 13." If you're wondering whether or not it holds up, I can assure you, it does.
The mid-90s feature is based on the true story of the Apollo 13 spacecraft. Launched in 1970, the mission for the craft was to land on the moon, but a technical error made that impossible and led to a new objective of getting the crew home safely.
A bright spot that's easy to point to with "13" is the cast, including Golden Globe winners Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise and Ed Harris, as well as the lead man Hanks, who's won two Academy Awards in his career. With help from some other great performers such as Bill Paxton and Kathleen Quinlan, the cast comes together rather nicely in this ensemble piece.
What's most impressive is how well much of the cast works together, considering they don't share much screen time. Sinise's Ken Mattingly and Harris' Gene Kranz are all on Earth in the movie, while Paxton, Bacon and Hank's characters are the crew in space.
With good editing and a nice balance of time dedicated to both the NASA control center on Earth and the crew in space, though, an audience can get a well-rounded view of all that was going on during this mission. As a result, the drama and intensity of the situation is well displayed and immersive.
More elements helping engage the audience are both the top notch special effects, and the wonderful score by James Horner. The latter is especially important to the picture, from the scene where the crew boards Apollo 13, to the lift off, to the dramatic moments where things go wrong and the film's climax, the music complements events on screen perfectly.
Director Ron Howard deserves a lot of credit for this final product. His career has had its ups and downs, but when his game is on, he's as good as any director.
Howard's style often ups the emotional ties and drama and "Apollo 13" is no different. So, unlike the three films listed earlier, "Apollo 13" features more theatrics, but that actually works here.
Back in 2015, I praised the movie "Spotlight" for being a film that had excellent precision to the story of the reporters investigating the situation and having no melodrama or sensationalism. The complete opposite is true with "Apollo 13," this is a film that feels right to have these aspects.
The uplifting emotional highs are well deserved, because they capture the pride and inspiration that I can only imagine must have been felt by the public when the space race was going on and the Apollo 13 crew made it back safely. In my view, "Apollo 13" wasn't just recreating a historical event, but was also recreating the emotions of an entire nation, and it pulls it off.
The drama of Jim Lovell's regret of not walking on the moon but his resolve to get back to his family, his crewmates working diligently under harsh conditions, and the reactions from his wife on Earth all help build up the tension and engage the audience further. This is also true with Sinise's character, who wasn't allowed to go on the mission but still helps with the rescue process.
These aspects all together form a wonderful cinematic experience where even if you know the ending, you're still invested. To this day "Apollo 13" remains an inspirational and even patriotic film that showcases human ingenuity and the spirit to collectively work together to accomplish something, even in the face of adversity.
It's worth remembering and especially worth re-watching with the story of Apollo 11 right around the corner.