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Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 was a blockbuster hit recreating the historical, nail-biting mission many call NASA’s finest hour. Despite the historical significance of this event, the majority of reviews felt that the film was altogether dull, lacking suspense and character development. Others also commented on the lack of historical context. Instead of representing the culturally clashing and chaotic times of the 1970s, Howard depicted an extremely homogenous, "harmonious and lily white" America in the words of John Powers of the Washington Post. While Howard may not have gotten it right in portraying what occurred outside the mission, all admitted he did a spectacular job recreating the story as it unfolded inside NASA. The filmmakers were given unprecedented access to NASA facilities and brought on a technical consultant in order to accurately recreate this mission without using a single piece of actual footage. Stanley Kauffmann of the New Republic sums up this dichotomy quite well: “Just because of this picture's accuracy, it's important to draw a line. On one side are the facts, of ingenious engineering and exceptional courage; on the other, the film as film. And as film, Apollo 13 is dull.”

Blake, Richard A. "Lift-Off -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard." America 29 July 1995: 30.
Contrary to the majority of other reviewers, Blake posits an extremely positive opinion of the film. Specifically, he praises the filming, acting, and recreation of the "spirit of the era." Blake comments on the "triple perspective on the action" created by the movement between three main settings: the "crippled space craft, Mission Control in Houston, and the family residence of Jim Lovell, commander of the mission." Finally, Blake encapsulates his positive thoughts on the movie in his final line, "Apollo 13 is a wonderful summer movie. Kids will love the action, adults the character development and we codgers the memories. Come in Ron Howard. This is Movie Control. All systems are go. You're A.O.K."
Chaikin, Andrew. "Crisis in Space: The Heroic Flight of Apollo 13." Popular Science 247.1 (July 1995) 1995: 50-56+.
Chaikin gives a detailed play by play of the film, allowing us to remember the main events, but he does little to critique the film itself. However, he does provide us with some insight into the cause of the explosion and the events that followed in the Apollo program. He reveals that "less than eight months later, in January 1971, Apollo 14 lifted off with three redesigned oxygen tanks and other improvements, to complete the mission that Lovell's crew had been denied and begin the scientific exploration of the moon in earnest."
Corliss, Richard, and Jeffrey Ressner. "Hell of a Ride." Time 3 July 1995: 50.
The Time article is captivating. Corliss speaks highly of Ron Howard's film, and, what's more, the importance of films like these; his article makes everyone want to watch. It discusses the technical accomplishment of the film crew, replicating almost everything with incredible accuracy and detail, without lifting a single frame of film from NASA footage. Corliss also lauds the actors in the film, most notably Tom Hanks as Lovell, who conveys humanity and the notion of "ordinary Joe-heroism." This is point that Corliss seems to really want to hit home in his article: everyday people can do extraordinary things, and this film pays tribute to those "endangered American virtues of individual ingenuity and team spirit." In this era, with all the chaos of Vietnam, campus shootings, the Civil Rights Movement, "For inspiration there was nowhere to look but up."
Crouch, Tom D. Rev. of Apollo 13 by Ron Howard. Journal of American History 84.3 (1997): 1180-82.
Not surprisingly, Crouch focuses on the social and historical implications of the film. Overall, he praises the film; more specifically he applauds its attention to accuracy and detail in recreating the mission, the chord it struck with the American people, and interest it restored in NASA. Crouch states, "Even the awards did not begin to suggest the enormous impact of Apollo 13 . . . or the extent to which it had touched deep chords in the American psyche." Despite this general praise, Crouch is critical of the lack of historical context and reflection of societal issues in the film. There is no reflection of racial or sexual diversity, women's liberation, or the Vietnam War. Taken together, Crouch states, "Ron Howard has given us a universal tale of heroism and determinism. A deeper and more profound connection to the times would have transformed it into history."
Kauffmann, Stanley. "Survivors -- Apollo 13 Starring Tom Hanks, Ed Harris and Kevin Bacon." New Republic 31 July 1995: 26.
Kauffmann discusses the film from two points of view: on a technical basis and as a film. Specifically, he states, "on one side are the facts, of ingenious engineering and exceptional courage; on the other, the film as film. And as film, Apollo 13 is dull." Unlike many other reviews that point to the known ending as a reason for the lack of suspense, Kauffmann makes the necessary point that a "known ending" exists in any historical film and thus cannot be the sole cause of the film's dullness. Instead, he attributes this partially to the fact that "there are no characters, no room for any substantive character development. Everyone knew and millions adored the people in the Star Trek series and in Star Wars. . . . But Apollo 13 is staffed with human puppets." So, while Kauffmann praises the film as technically marvelous, revealing that not one piece of NASA footage was used, he is less than impressed with it as a film.
Murray, Charles. "Hollywood Gets One Right -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard." American Enterprise 6.5 (1995): 14.
AEI fellow Murray spent the better part of five years around "Apollo people" in the course of writing his book about the program. Thus, his review offers the opinions of those actually involved, in addition to his own. He states, "when you read that the Apollo people approve of Apollo 13, it is not just flackery. They really do." Because an actual Mission Control specialist from the Apollo program was hired as a technical consultant, he felt this film got it "as right as any movie is ever going to in portraying an event where much of the drama cannot be captured visually." Murray does note a few misrepresentations in the film, such as those actors playing Glynn Lunney or representing the Grumman Corporation. However, he refers to these as merely "nitpicks." Murray ultimately praises director Howard, "who pulled off something that no one else has done in the last quarter--century: getting large numbers of Americans to appreciate the splendor of the Apollo program, the one achievement of this century that we can be sure will still be part of the history books a thousand years from now."
Pawelczak, Andy. "Film Reviews -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard and Starring Tom Hanks, Kathleen Quinlan, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon and Ed Harris." Films in Review 46.7-8 (1995): 54.
The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures describes the Apollo 13 mission as an "Odyssean" journey home; not one of exploration but homesickness and obstacles. Despite the dramatic turn of events in this mission, reviewer Pawelczak felt that the drama in the ship was less than compelling. He states, "the astronauts are too passive--all they really have to do is keep their heads, endure and carry out the directions of the whiz-kids at Mission Control--and their interpersonal relations are minimal." Despite the "American pragmatism and patriotism" this film celebrates, this reviewer's ultimate conclusion is, contrary to the "movie's theme and the best intentions of all involved," that it succumbs "to the doldrums of the technological drama which all but submerges the human factor."
Powers, John. "The Wrong Stuff." Washington Post 9 July 1995.
Powers comments on the lack of historical context and societal realism in the film: "this particular true story seems tailor-made for today's conservative mood -- its Angry White Men and its nostalgia for a homogeneous America that never was." It doesn't include the rebellious and tumultuous nature that was the American 60s and 70s but "turns history into a soothing fairy tale." Furthermore, Powers criticizes the character and plot development, wondering why the movie fails to "ask even the rudimentary questions about the astronaut's inner lives." He goes so far as to say, "the movie's never better than when no human being is on screen." So, while the accuracy of the mission was intact, Powers would have enjoyed more profound character development and accurate reflection of this chaotic, historical period. He closes his review by saying, "this is a movie that comes back from space carrying nothing for an audience to take home with it. Hollywood, we have a problem."
Romney, Jonathan. "Making do and Getting by in America -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard and Starring Tom Hanks." New Statesman & Society 22 September 1995: 29.
Romney offers a cultural critique of the film. He is of the opinion that the film has "less to do with our fascination with space than with a collective nostalgia for a time when space was fascinating." He claims the film and general culture domesticated the idea of space as soon as Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon. He unapologetically calls the story "an account of human bravery so everyday and pragmatic it's altogether banal. It's a story of failure snatched from the jaws of defeat--a story in which nothing really happens." Romney does mention the unprecedented access to NASA facilities in making the film, also mentioned in other reviews. Despite this one positive note, Romney's overwhelming feeling is that "Apollo 13 is a non-drama." We know the outcome and "when the astronauts are saved, there's no catharsis, surprise or moral payoff--simply the feeling we'd have if we were stepping out of a fun capsule at Universal City. We heave a sign of relief and head for the cold drinks stand."
Simon, John. "Spaced Out -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard." National Review 28 August 1995: 48.
While the film is a "technically accomplished piece about technology and true life adventure," it lacks suspense because we know the outcome. This critique was also made in several other reviews. On a positive note, Simon praised the "understated script, direction and acting." Unfortunately, he felt that the heroism and ingenuity portrayed through these elements was "undercut when all this centers on buttons, knobs, and switches, on a technology I find it hard to get with." Lastly, Simon lamented the absence of any discussion regarding the cause of nearly losing these three astronauts.
Travers, Peter. "Movies -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard and Starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon." Rolling Stone 13 July 1995: 116.
A positive review. Travers specifically praises Howard's decision to "lay off the manipulation" in order to tell the "true story of the near-fatal 1970 Apollo 13 mission." He also commends the acting in the film, going so far as to say that Tom Hanks' "acting as the unassuming Lovell ranks with his most impressive work." Finally, Travers critiques the boredom that settled in American culture during this era, following Neil Armstrong's initial landing on the moon. He states, "boredom was never in the picture for those who risked their lives exploring a dream. In honoring a failed mission, Apollo 13 celebrates the rebel part of the American character that won't accept boundaries."

See Also

Denby, David. "Hollywood Babylon -- Batman Forever Directed by Joel Schumacher / Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard." New York 10 July 1995: 50.

Field, Bruce. "Producer Brian Grazer Inspired by NASA Heroes." Film Journal 98 (July 1995): 10-11.

Field, Bruce. "Ron Howard Sees Mission as Human-Interest Story." Film Journal 98 (July 1995): 10-11.

Francke, Lizzie. "Apollo 13." Sight & Sound 5 September 1995: 42-43.

Goldstein, Patrick. "Fly Me to the Moon." Premiere 8 June 1995: 82-88.

Haun, Harry. "Apollo 13." Film Journal 98 (July 1995): 41-42.

Jones, Malcolm Jr. "Out of this world, really." Newsweek 3 July 1995: 54-55.

Kroll, Jack. "Found in the Stars." Newsweek 3 July 1995: 55.

Rafferty, Terrence. "Flying Blind -- Apollo 13 Directed by Ron Howard." New Yorker 10 July 1995: 79.

Silver, Marc. "A Hankering for Space." U.S.News & World Report 31 July 1995: 63-64.

Taubin, Amy. "Moonstuck." The Village Voice 4 July 1995: 54.

Travers, Peter. "Tom Hanks Rides again." Rolling Stone 7 September 1995: 78.

Walker, Martin. "Apollo and Newt." Sight & Sound 5 September 1995: 6-8.