Apollo 13

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In 1970, the Apollo 13 was launched, headed for the moon. But this ill-fated flight would never reach its goal. Instead, its crew would have to handle another crisis - one which endangers not only the mission, but their very lives. But this movie is no sci-fi epic. Based on actual events, Apollo 13 depicts real history.

When an explosion rocks the service module, the crew soon realizes that the oxygen tanks aboard the Command Module Odyssey are leaking, forcing Mission Control to abort the landing. The crew shut down Odyssey and power up the Lunar Module Aquarius (which normally could only support two men for a few days) to act as a lifeboat as they slingshot around the dark far side of the moon. Only ingenuity and the ability to keep their wits about them will allow them to get home safely...

Based on Jim Lovell's book on his experience, Lost Moon. In an interesting example, he shot the book idea past publishers, publishers got excited and sent it to filmmakers who immediately started bidding on it, and then someone called Lovell and said Imagine Entertainment was going to make a movie based on it. He hadn't finished the book yet!

Director Ron Howard, producer Brian Gazer, and star Tom Hanks went on to produce the HBO miniseries From the Earth To The Moon.

Make sure you listen to the commentary track by the real Jim and Marilyn Lovell.


Tropes used in Apollo 13 include:
  • Almost Out of Oxygen: Averted; due to multiple planned moonwalks (which would have required venting the entire LEM), they have plenty of breathing oxygen, but they also have too much CO2 in their air. They need to MacGyver a carbon dioxide filter in order to avoid Hypercapnia. See Duct Tape for Everything, below.
  • Artificial Gravity: Inverted; zero-gravity sequences were filmed on NASA's KC-135 plane, nicknamed the "Vomit Comet."
    • The three actors playing astronauts in this film have, in fact, more hours in the "Vomit Comet" than any actual astronauts!
  • Badass: It's a movie about NASA. Nothing more needs to be said.
  • Badass Boast: "If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it."
  • Big Yes: The entire world's reaction, in general, when, after more than 4 minutes of radio silence...

Hello, Houston, this is Odyssey. It's good to see you again.

  • Billions of Buttons: So many, in fact, that NASA sent the commander of Apollo 15 as a button wrangler to make sure they did it right.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Apollo 13 was called a "successful failure", in that they returned home safely, but did not land on the moon as originally intended.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the film Jim Lovell's son asks him about the Apollo 1 fire, he tells his son that one of the problems was that the door would not open. Later, when Mrs. Lovell tells him that something went wrong, he asks, "Was it the door?"
    • During the in-flight broadcast, Jack Swigert mentions that he forgot to file his taxes. Later, he's informed that the president granted him an extension on his taxes, since he is "most decidedly out of the country".
    • Ken Mattingly gets bumped from the flight of Apollo 13 because of exposure to the measles. Later, as they're preparing to reenter the Earth's atmosphere, Mattingly takes CAPCOM. Lovell asks him, "Are the flowers blooming in Houston?" Mattingly replies, "Uh, that's a negative, Jim, I don't have the measles.", as he glares at the flight surgeon.
  • Captain Obvious: CAPCOM, which was just doing its job, but the astronauts were understandably tense.

CAPCOM: Aquarius, watch that middle gimbal. We don't want you tumbling off into space.
Jim Lovell: Freddo, inform Houston I'm well aware of the God-damned gimbals!
Fred Haise, Sr.: [calmly] Roger that, Houston.
Jim Lovell: I don't need to hear the obvious, I've got the frappin' 8-ball right in front of me!
INCO: Hey, we're on VOX!
CAPCOM: Aquarius, Huston. We have you both on VOX.
Fred Haise, Sr.: You want what, you want us to go to VOX?
CAPCOM: You have a hot mic, we are reading everything you say.

  • Composite Character: Ken Mattingly, in regards to the technicians that came up with the power-up procedure in the second half of the film (he is depicted fairly accurately in the first hour, though).
    • Inverted with the team of engineers who devise the solution to making the Command Module's air filters fit the incompatible slots of the Lunar Module's filters. In real life, only one engineer devised the solution, while driving to work.
  • Conflict Ball: One arises by way of John Swigert trying to bring to the crew's attention to a prediction he made of the module not having a steep enough return trajectory, before hitting his head and cursing out of frustration. The ensuing argument is then realized that they were all thinking slightly less rationally than usual, by Houston alerting them to their high carbon dioxide levels.
  • Continuous Decompression: The dream sequence, apparently based on a real dream Marilyn Lovell had shortly before the launch.
  • Conveniently-Close Planet: The craft was launched in a way to make it easy to get back to Earth -- however this was the first time in human history where actually people were in a crippled spacecraft and had to get back home, and had to deal with the challenges of getting back to Earth and not merely bouncing off the atmosphere or burning up or dying and mummifying in orbit.
  • Cool Spaceship
  • Crazy Prepared: Averted. Some of the things the Apollo 13 crew had to do (such as hook up the carbon dioxide scrubbers from one craft to the other) even the people in charge of planning for really weird stuff hadn't even considered.
    • Jim Lovell himself said in the 1996 documentary shown in the DVD Bonus Features that "...if we had trained for every single possible contingency, I'd still be training for that mission."
  • Danger Deadpan: Because astronauts are just awesome like that.
  • Disaster Dominoes

Walter Cronkite: ...And if anything else goes wrong, they'll be in real trouble.

    • The actual mission included two other course correction burns and at least one additional serious problem, not shown in the movie. Ron Howard said he left these out for fear that the real story would be too melodramatic.
  • Disney Death: Communications black out during re-entry, and all the audience can see is Mission Control and Lovell's family awaiting for contact re-established. After three minutes (the longest a blackout had been sustained before a prior crew arrived safely), still no contact. After four minutes, still no contact. Eventually, there's contact, but the movie makes sure to make every character and every audience member sweat it out.
  • Dream Team: Gene Kranz's White Team.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After he gets scrubbed from the mission so soon before liftoff, Ken Mattingly drinks heavily, switching off his TV in disgust at hearing a talk show host talking about his replacement Jack Swigert. He gets over that after learning about the accident.
    • In reality, Mattingly was at Mission Control when the accident happened, but as you know -- Tropes Are Tools.
  • Duct Tape for Everything: Part of the solution for how they got home. It allowed the air filter for the command module to fit the (incompatible) filter opening for the lunar module, so that the astronauts would not choke on their own exhaled carbon dioxide.
    • The duct tape was aboard the spacecraft in the first place simply as a means of stopping crap from floating around the cabin. It's seen earlier in the movie being used for just that purpose.
  • Everybody Smokes: Mission Control is stuffed to the vents with smokers. Punctuated during the Go/No-Go sequence where the flight surgeon blows out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke.
  • The Film of the Book: Started even before the book, Lost Moon, was finished.
  • Foregone Conclusion: But no less tense and gripping for all that.
  • Good Is Boring: All the networks dropped the Apollo 13 live broadcast -- but took up coverage the moment things went bad.

Marylin Lovell: (arriving at NASA to watch it) Where's their broadcast?
Henry: All the networks dumped us. One of them said we make goin' to the moon as exciting as taking a trip to Pittsburgh.

  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: "I don't need to hear the obvious, I've got the frapping eight ball right in front of me!"
    • The astronauts were not particularly averse to blue language themselves, but on a previous NASA flight (Apollo 10) the use of the phrase "son of a bitch" during an accidental maneuver had set off controversy in the press.
  • Grasp the Sun: When Lovell covered the moon, and later the Earth, with his thumb.
  • The Great Repair: The second and third act.
  • If I Had a Nickel: Raise your hand if you are reassured by this next statement:

Jim Lovell: Well... if I had a dollar for every time they've killed me in this thing [a flight simulator], I wouldn't have to work for you, Deke.

Are we on VOX?!

    • VOX stands for Voice Activated Transmission (what we today would refer to as "speakerphone"). Earlier in the film, we had this exchange:

CAPCOM: Aquarius, watch that middle gimbal. We don't want you tumbling off into space.
Lovell: Freddo, inform Houston I'm well aware of goddamn gimbals.
Haise: Roger that, Houston.
Lovell: I don't need to hear the obvious...
FLIGHT: Andy (CAPCOM), we're on VOX.
Lovell: ...I got the frappin' eight-ball right in front of me.
CAPCOM: Aquarius, this is Houston. We've got you both on VOX.
Haise: You are what? You want us to go to VOX, Andy?
CAPCOM: You have a hot mic, we're reading everything you say.
Everything they were saying was going out over CAPCOM (and over broadcast if the Networks were picking up the feed), so understandably they were concerned about whether they had left their mic open again or not.

  • It Has Been an Honor: "Gentlemen, it's been a privilege flying with you."
  • Lost Wedding Ring: This sequence was only slightly exaggerated for teh dramaz, though the initial Los Angeles Times review criticized this "invention." Marilyn Lovell did drop her wedding ring in the shower, but she was able to retrieve it; still, the experience was less than reassuring.
  • MacGyvering: The engineers and the astronauts had to do this to enable to adapt the lander's completely differently designed air filters with the command module's before the crew suffocates. Unfortunately, the great scene where the engineers run in carrying all the gear that the craft would have and saying they have to make a filter adapter out of that pile didn't happen in real life; an engineer figured it out on the drive to Mission Control when called up for the emergency.
  • Magic Countdown
  • Manly Tears: Gene Krantz sheds some when they regain communication with the Odyssey after the ship has safely survived reentry.
  • Meaningful Name: The Command Module is called Odyssey, in reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it also refers to The Odyssey, which was about a long voyage home.
  • Mid-Air Bobbing: An artifact of the filming process. The actors in the spacecraft really are in free-fall, as mentioned in the Artificial Gravity entry above, but the set is attached to the KC-135; as the plane is buffeted by the atmosphere, the set actually bobs around the actors, making it look like they're shifting about even when they're not touching any walls.
    • A large portion of the spacecraft shots were done on a sound stage in normal gravity, with the actors required to fake weightlessness; however, because the actors had already filmed in free-fall, they were able to adjust their behavior accordingly.
  • Midair Repair
  • Missed Him by That Much: Marylin Lovell did come to Mission Control to see the astronauts broadcast. The explosion happened between her leaving mission control and getting home. Good thing they waited until after the broadcast to stir the tanks.
  • Mission Control: The real kind.
  • The Mutiny: When the astronauts pull their medical leads off, FLIGHT shrugs it off as "A little medical mutiny", because they've been under an understandable amount of stress.
  • NASA
  • Nobody Poops: Jim laments that they can't show how the bathrooms aboard the module work during their live broadcast. We then a get a beautiful shot of his pee spraying out into space.
  • Nothing but Hits: Anytime anyone is listening to the radio, and "Spirit in the Sky" on tape during the mission.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Three minutes of radio silence was the longest any previous mission had gone during a successful reentry. Apollo 13 was out of contact for four. With everything that had gone on up till then, this was the most nerve-wracking four minutes in NASA history.
  • Not Me This Time: Fred Haise has been using the cabin repress valve, which causes a sharp banging sound, to mess with the other astronauts. When the oxygen tank explodes and the entire ship starts shaking, he rushes in saying, "That's no repress valve!"
  • Oh Crap: The moment when everyone, crew and ground control alike realizes that whatever has happened, it's a major problem.

Jim Lovell: Guys, we are venting something into space.

    • Which is absolutely true. According to Lovell in his book, the one thing no Commander on ANY space mission wants to see is his craft "bleeding."
    • And again, when they get their first look at the damage after separating the service module.

Jim Lovell: Houston, we're getting our first look at the service module now. One whole side of the spacecraft is missing. Right by the high gain antenna, a whole panel is blown out. Right up, right up to our heat shield.

In order to enter the atmosphere safely, the crew must aim for a corridor just two and a half degrees wide. ... The reentry corridor is, in fact, so narrow that if this basketball were the Earth, and this softball were the Moon, and the two were placed fourteen feet apart, the crew would have to hit a target no thicker than this piece of paper.

  • Practical Voice Over: Used extensively here, as the crew's plight was a major news item.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: It's not a documentary, it's a drama movie based on actual events... which is why it debuted in theaters and made millions of dollars, instead of airing on PBS on Sunday afternoon.
  • Precision F-Strike: By Jim Lovell, upon being told that Ken Mattingly has to be replaced less than three days before liftoff:

Jim: I have trained for the Fra Mauro highlands, and this is FLIGHT SURGEON HORSESHIT, Deke!

Kranz: Failure. Is not. An option!

Sy Liebergot: It's- it's reading a quadruple failure - that can't happen... It's got to be instrumentation.

  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A preview audience member criticized the "typical Hollywood ending", and even those familiar with the basic story have assumed that certain historically accurate parts of the film (most notably the scene where Marilyn Lovell loses her wedding ring) were invented for dramatic reasons.
    • The wedding ring shower scene was exaggerated somewhat. In real life, the ring did slip off her finger, but it was too big to fall through the drain trap and Marylin was able to retrieve it.
    • At first stage ignition, the Saturn V launch shows great balls of fire blooming out from around the engines, and then shrinking right back down again. Jim Lovell commented on this, saying that many people believed that the film was merely being run backwards; however, actual footage of the launches shows the fireball retreating in this way.
  • Real Person Cameo: The real Jim Lovell has a role as the captain of the aircraft carrier that recovers the crew after splashdown. This role is doubly appropriate, as Lovell is a retired Navy captain.
    • He was originally going to appear as an admiral, but he told the producers something along the lines of "I retired as a captain so I'll be a captain."
    • The real Marilyn Lovell also has a cameo as one of the spectators at the launch.
  • Recognition Failure: The grandma character doesn't recognize Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they arrive to give support.
  • Reentry Scare: It didn't help that the newscaster demonstrated re-entry by putting a blowtorch to a plastic model of the Apollo Command Module.
  • Reverse the Polarity: Justified. Shortly before re-entry they needed "four more amps" to power up the Command Module. They used a circuit intended to provide power from the Command Module to the Lunar Module to do the opposite.
  • Rousing Speech

Gene Kranz: I want you guys to find every engineer who designed every switch, every circuit, every transistor and every light bulb that's up there. Then I want you to talk to the guy in the assembly line who actually built the thing. Find out how to squeeze every amp out of both of these goddamn machines. I want this mark all the way back to Earth with time to spare. We never lost an American in space, we're sure as hell not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!

    • Also a Beam Me Up, Scotty moment: Kranz never actually said "failure is not an option" during the Apollo 13 mission. However, he believed that line perfectly captured the attitude of Mission Control, and used it as the title of his autobiography.
  • Scotty Time: Played deadly serious here:

Lovell: Freddo, how long does it take to power up the LEM?
Haise: Three hours, by the checklist.
Lovell: We don't have that much time.

    • In fact, they had just 15 minutes to power up the lunar module before the command module died on them.
  • Shower of Love
  • Shown Their Work: And how! There are some inaccuracies, but they were minor and primarily in service of the Rule of Drama.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario
  • The Sixties
    • The film is set in the transition between The Sixties and The Seventies. As exemplified by "The stupid Beatles breaking up" (Paul McCartney resigned from the band on April 9, 1970, two days before Apollo 13's launch).
  • Space Is Cold: Justified as the real Apollo 13 did ice up. The spacecraft really did lose heat throughout the mission to the point where ice crystals were starting to form. The spacecraft designers knew that the electronics and fuel cells would generate a lot of heat, so they built the LEM and CM with plenty of radiator surfaces to dump the heat out into space. But with the fuel cells out of commission, and not enough power to run the electronics or cabin heaters...
  • Space Is Noisy
  • Stanley Steamer Spaceship
    • Though the material being vented was oxygen rather than steam.
    • In the Real Life Apollo 13, steam venting from a cooling system on the LM was responsible for the "shallowing" that threatened the re-entry rather than an overburn of the engine as depicted in the film. As water boils off into steam it takes heat with it, making it a pretty useful way of getting rid of excess heat in an environment where conduction and convection are out of the question. The LM was not meant to be powered up for the trans-lunar or trans-earth phases of the mission (it wasn't meant to be even attached any more for the trans-earth coast) so the effects of the steam vent had never been observed before.
    • Furthermore, the reason they ran out of electric power was because they ran out of oxygen to feed the fuel cells, a technology first used on the Apollo spacecraft. In the cell, hydrogen and oxygen are combined at high temperatures, producing electricity...and steam, which was condensed into water for drinking and cooling.
  • Stunned Silence: Mission Control after Lovell tells them "we are venting something into space".
  • Tactful Translation: See the quote under Captain Obvious, above.
  • Taught By Experience
  • Techno Babble: An example of Real Life technobabble, as much of the dialogue was taken from the actual recordings of the conversations between the astronauts and mission control, and is used in a more-or-less correct way. Also counts as a Bilingual Bonus if you're an engineer.
  • Tempting Fate: "Looks like we just had our glitch for this mission."
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky
  • Tim Taylor Technology: Inverted. The crew had to consume as little power as possible during the trip back to Earth, or they wouldn't have enough left to restart the Command Module. Furthermore, they had to ensure that their improvised CM power-up sequence didn't draw more than 20 amps (instead of the usual 65) from the CM's batteries, or they wouldn't have enough power to last through the whole reentry.
  • Understatement:
    • Yet again, "Houston, we have a problem."
    • The "little jolt" during the launch.
  • Vertigo Effect: When Lovell reports that they're venting something out into space, we get this shot on Gene Kranz's face.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After launching, Fred Haise pukes out some small chunks of food, and some of it spatters on the camera lens. Yum.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Marylin's lost wedding ring in the shower at the beginning of the movie is never brought up again nor resolved. In reality, she did get it back.
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue
  • You Had Us Worried There