Ron Howard can’t seem to make a movie without putting a pee joke in it. But the one in Apollo 13 may be the most beautiful pee joke ever committed to film, with droplets of human waste floating off into the starry heavens. It’s clear even from this throwaway moment that neither Howard nor Hollywood’s No. 1 Astronaut Buff, Tom Hanks, ever outgrew his boyhood zest for space travel. They’re both in love with the sheer geekery of it all, from the hardware on the ill-fated ship to the simulators on the ground.
They also love the teamwork involved, both among the three astronauts and among the ground crew trying to figure out how to bring them home. (That’s why we remember Ed Harris’s Gene Kranz barking “Failure is not an option” as much as we do Hanks’s Jim Lovell muttering, “Houston, we have a problem.”)
Howard’s supreme achievement here is to generate suspense for an event that we all know turned out happily. He does this by reminding us of the risks of space flight and the million things that could have gone wrong. That makes it seem all the more miraculous that so many things actually went right.