You can look up the result in any encyclopedia: all three astronauts made it home alive. But from the moment Jim Lovell (played by Tom Hanks) utters those fateful words -- "Houston, we have a problem" -- until the astronauts are safe on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima, you'll be on the edge of your seat in genuine suspense, hoping that somehow the seemingly inevitable catastrophe will be averted. Though a certain license has been taken with the truth (Ken Mattingly, for example, was not the one who devised the "power-up" procedure), Apollo 13 is largely faithful to actual events and sets a new high-water mark for putting real-life drama on the big screen. Director Ron Howard mixes the action in orbit with scenes back at NASA, detailing the frenzy and triumph that occurred on the ground as well as far above it. The acting is solid, the special effects spectacular, and the period and technical details recreated with single-minded accuracy. In fact, no documentary footage was used at all; every shot, effect, and model was new. Howard went to astounding lengths in his quest for realism. To achieve actual zero-gravity, for example, the cast and crew flew more than 500 parabolic flights in NASA's KC-135 airplane; each flight earned them only 23 seconds of weightlessness. The beauty of Apollo 13 is that it actually fulfills the cliché of "bringing history alive." For the millions of Americans who will never experience the national obsession of the Space Race, who will never understand how the country's pride could hinge on a few scared men in a jury-rigged tin can, or who will never list astronauts among their childhood heroes, Apollo 13 offers the unique opportunity to understand that glint in their parents' eyes.
by Matthew Doberman review