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Robbed of the Oscar for Best Picture of 1995, Apollo 13 is an often heart stopping docudrama that is, more than anything a testament to the directorial genius of Ron Howard, who managed to tell a compelling true story laced with an underlying theme I really didn't connect with the first time I watched it 20 years ago.

The presentation of the facts involved in this story actually begin to construct an uncomfortable but plausible idea that the Apollo 13 mission was doomed before it ever began. This is all laid out in elaborate but functional detail as it is revealed that Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Frank Haise (Bill Paxton), and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) were originally scheduled as the crew of Apollo 14, but when one of the astronauts on the 13 crew developed an ear infection, our boys were suddenly bumped up to 13. There is a revealing scene at a press conference where several coincidences had come to light regarding the number 13's connection to this mission, a lot more than the number's tradition as bad luck. As the crew has finished all their pre-flight training, another health issues rears its head forcing Mattingly to drop out of the mission and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) to become the third man on the mission. And before you can say "Houston we have a problem" the spacecraft suffers severe damage that not only cancels their plan to actually land on the moon but threatens their ability to even return to earth.

Ron Howard, who incredibly didn't even receive an Oscar nomination for his work here, has accomplished something truly unique and fascinating. He has taken an extremely intricate screenplay (based on a book by the real Jim Lovell) filled with enough techno babble to make a viewer's head hurt but sounding so authentic it's hard to debate, but what the script doesn't tell us, Howard tells us through his camera lens and through his cast...I have rarely seen the camera utilized as such an effective storytelling tool. If the truth be told, the technical explanation of exactly what went wrong with this spacecraft was never made clear to this reviewer, but the danger it put these three astronauts was made clear through the director's eye.

The other thing that Howard did so effectively was he told the complete story of everyone involved in this story, the people on the ground as well as the three people in that space module. I love the scene where Jim tells wife Marilyn (Oscar nominee Kathleen Quinlan) about being bumped from 14 to 13 and even though she wants to share in her husband's happiness, you can see the concern on her face that they aren't ready but refuses to steal her husband's joy. The scenes with mission control brilliantly convey not only the seriousness of the situation but the moments when they had absolutely no idea what to do next and how Mission Control leader Gene Kranz (Oscar nominee Ed Harris) was just not having it. Howard's attention to small and telling moments of foreshadowing is just incredible...I love the moment before the ship takes off when the camera does a very quick shot of the "Abort" lever. Or when Marilyn Lovell is taking a shower in a hotel room and her wedding ring falls down the drain. Watch Jim's younger son as he worries about the broken door on the previous mission or his son in military school watching what's going on with his dad from a classroom...this is cinematic storytelling at its zenith.

Howard, always an actor's director, has assembled one of the best acting ensembles ever to deliver this story, an ensemble that serves the story and won the Screen Actor's Guild Award for Best Acting Ensemble. The film won Oscars for film editing and sound but all production values were Oscar-worthy, especially the man behind the camera, the most underrated director in the business...this is his masterpiece.