Apollo 13 makes for an interesting comparison to Philip Kaufmans film of Tom Wolfes The Right Stuff (1983), which was also a factual account of the US space program. The Right Stuff saw the American space program in terms of testosteronally-hyped cowboy antics and motivated most of all by a desire to achieve political one-upmanship over the Russians. No such self-questioning assails Apollo 13 however. Apollo 13 comes with a four-square solidity where the astronauts are good All-American boys and the space program is serving the noblest of human and patriotic endeavours. The exercise is conducted with considerable solemnity the camera angles focus on the faces of the films ordinary heroes as they nobly contemplate the vastness of their endeavour and reverentially pans past the American flag and so on. Although, as fitting with this era of post-Vietnam War, post-Watergate social disillusionment, Apollo 13 is ironically a film not about the victory of the space mission but rather about asserting the triumphant heroism of the mission that failed.
Director Ron Howard is probably most well known as Richie Cunningham in tvs Happy Days (1974-84). Nowadays Ron Howard has become a successful director, having made films like Far and Away (1992), The Paper (1994) and the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind (2001) and Frost/Nixon (2008), as well as genre entries like Splash! (1984), Cocoon (1985), Willow (1988), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), The Missing (2003), The Da Vinci Code (2006), Angels & Demons (2009), Inferno (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). One gets the impression Ron Howard is very much the same person as Richie Cunningham in real life, a simple and uncomplicated middle-class American boy who likes Mom and apple pie. All of Howards films have a honest cleanshaven simplicity to them and seem filled with the greatest reverence and respect for traditional values. In in all of this do consider if a film about say a US military operation were conducted with such flag-waving and heroic reverence as Apollo 13 is, would it not be considered one of the most shameless pieces of patriotic propagandism?
Apollo 13 is not a bad film by any measure indeed, it is probably best film in Ron Howards otherwise rather stodgy and prosaic oeuvre. Howard is very effective at bringing out the simple human strengths of the characters. The drama once it gets up into orbit is gripping. The effects visualisation of the capsule in orbit creates a genuine feeling for the vastness and emptiness of space, unlike most spaceborne science-fiction films. All give capable performances, although these are somewhat mitigated by the relative blankness of the characters. Tom Hankss Academy nomination, considering the lack of challenge his fairly nondescript role requires, was most certainly overrated and unnecessary. The one who triumphs the best is the always reliable Ed Harris.
Ron Howards Imagine Entertainment, with Tom Hanks as producer, returned to make the excellent cable mini-series From the Earth to the Moon (1997), which expanded out and told the stories of the other Apollo Moon landings.
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Special Effects at this sites Best of 1995 Awards).