Tag Archives: Gary Sinise

Apollo 13

The real Apollo 13 mission was largely ignored in 1970. People had already seen men walk on the moon twice before, so this just seemed like more of the same. Interest was so low that lots of news programs weren’t even broadcasting it. Until, that is, things went wrong.

An oxygen tank exploded, which crippled essential systems. The 3 astronauts aboard just had to hang out in an increasingly inhospitable ship as the NASA crew on the ground scrambled to get them home safely. The planned moon walk was of course aborted; they never landed on the moon, just orbited around it. Over the next few days, the spacecraft had limited power, a worrying loss of cabin heat, a shortage or drinkable water, and an urgent need to fix the carbon dioxide removal system or die trying.

America might have been bored with moon walks, but for astronaut Jim Lovell, it would be the culmination of his life’s ambition. It was not to be.

Ron Howard brought this story of NASA’s most successful failure to the big screen in 1995, and still thinks of it as his best film. In fact, he thinks the launch sequence is the highest point of his career, and he’s not wrong. Watching First Man more than 20 years later, it’s clear that Apollo 13 had a huge impact on movies that would follow it.

Jim Lovell thought that perhaps Kevin Costner had a passing likeness, but once Ron Howard signed on as director, he immediately sent the script to Tom Hanks, who is a known space buff. Bill Paxton portrayed Fred Haise, while Kevin Bacon got the role of Jack Swigert, who was never supposed to be there. He was only on the mission as a backup, but blood screening suggested that Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) might have the measles, and he was replaced last minute. Though this was an undoubtedly heartbreaking switch, it was Mattingly’s expertise on the ground that ultimately helped save his crewmates. He sat in the simulator for days, doing simulation after simulation until he could work out a way to rescue his friends.

The actors, or actornauts as Howard called them on set, floated around in $30K space suits. And yes, they really did float. Steven Spielberg suggested that Howard approached NASA for special permission to use its KC-135 airplane, and permission was granted. Dubbed the vomit comet, the plane climbs to 38 000 feet and then does a big 15 000 foot drop, creating a zero-gravity effect, but it only creates about 23 seconds of weightlessness. For the film’s production, they had the plane perform 612 dives, for a total of 54 minutes of footage. Even still, sometimes when you see the actors just bobbing around in their capsule, they’re actually just sitting on seesaws. Pretending to be in space is hard! [Note: the 3 actors were very proud to report that none of them vomited on the comet…but several cameramen could not say the same.]

It took them 6 days to get them safely home, and while America did not care about a third module landing on the moon, it became obsessed with the imperiled mission that may or may not return. Millions of people tuned in every night, and so did the friends and families of the astronauts on board. NASA didn’t have time to give them proper updates, so they, like everyone else, relied on Walter Cronkite to feed them information. Ron Howard brought Cronkite in to record a few extra reports.

Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise had of course appeared together the year before in Forrest Gump, where Sinise’s Lieutenant Dan says to Forrest: ” If you’re ever a shrimp boat captain, that’s the day I’m an astronaut.” Lo and behold. The movie is full of little Ron Howard nods: Kathleen Quinlan who plays Jim’s wife Marilyn, actually had her first ever screen credit in American Graffiti, in which she played Peggy, a girl complaining in a bathroom about her boyfriend Steve – who was of course played by Howard himself. He also found a role for Roger Corman, the producer who gave Ron his first big break in Grand Theft Auto. Ron’s mother, his father, his wife, and of course his brother all appear in the film. The real Marilyn Lovell is briefly seen in the grandstands at the launch, and the real Jim shakes hands with the fake Jim aboard the Iwo Jima.

Apollo 13 was well-received, and it holds up well almost 25 years later. There are lots of movies about astronaut heroes, but Apollo 13 sets itself apart by portraying the time when someone’s dream doesn’t come true. It takes a story whose outcome is known (and in fact infamous: “Houston, we have a problem”) and still makes it feel tense and compelling.

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Mission to Mars

It was the year 2000: my skirts were short. Practically microscopic. And the little shirts I wore hardly bridged the gap. I thought I was hot shit, and presumably so did the two boys treating me to a Sunday night movie (a school night!). Notably, we’d hit up the hip new restaurant in town, Wendy’s, just minutes before. Oh, you’ve heard of it? Well I grew up in a teeny little town that celebrated the coup of a luxurious chain restaurant. It was glamorous to eat at a place we’d seen commercials for on American cable! So I ate the meal that a real foodie had recommended: the spicy chicken sandwich. And then the guy I was currently fucking and the guy I’d fucked roughly 2 months before at the New Year’s party to end all New Year’s parties (remember, it’s the year 2000) decided we’d see Mission To Mars.

I’ll get to the “review” part of the movie in a minute, although caveat: I’ve never seen it. Why haven’t I seen it, despite having been to the movie, as it played in theatres? Shut up. I wasn’t making out. Or not much. The truth is, I feel asleep. Which has happened to me approximately never. I’m a crazed insomniac who struggled to achieve sleep in her own comfy bed. I never sleep anywhere else. Except this one time I fell asleep while sitting between two men who were each touching various parts of my body suggestively under the cover of darkness in a dingy small town cinema. Later I went home and threw up undigested spicy chicken sandwich. I’ve never attempted to eat Wendy’s again, nor have I revisited Mission to Mars. Turns out I had mono. Yes, the dreaded kissing disease.

Anyway, in 2000 we were apparently obsessed with Mars, this being the first of two movies about that particular planet released that year (Red Planet is the other – I haven’t seen it either. co12Probably). Neither did well commercially or critically. Mission to Mars is set in the distant future – 2020. Oh wait, that’s only a few years away? Fuck me. Well anyway it seemed like the very distant future at the time. A future in which I’d be so improbably old that I might even wear skirts that entirely covered my snatch. Hard to imagine, I know. And in this future, there’s a mission, and it’s to Mars. Don Cheadle goes on this mission along with, you know, other, expendable astronauts, and weirdly enough, Don Cheadle is the only one to survive it when a “freak” storm hits. So then his real buddies, who had stayed back due to grief and whatnot, come to rescue him. And they learn that there’s a “face” on Mars that’s causing some weird shit. So as you can tell from this brief, befuddling synopsis, you really haven’t missed much.

The movie cost a lot of money and didn’t make it back. I’d like to know the exact dollar amount Brian De Palma okayed on the  14,000 gallons of paint used to spray the soil of a Vancouver sand pit “Mars red.” I’m guessing $toomuch. The actors wore $100K space suits for filming (Tim Robbins complained that he could always hear  himself breathing) which seems like a lot of money on outfits, except the real NASA space suits actually cost more like $12M. Maybe NASA should talk to them about this knock-off version? Well, maybe not. De Palma wanted Cheadle’s space suit to look dirty after the storm, so the costumers eschewed real space suit material – teflon – because it never looks dirty.  They used 10 massive 350-horsepower wind machines to blow dust on the poor guy, forcing the crew into gas masks, even though we all know THERE’S NO WIND IN SPACE.

Anyway. Fast forward a dozen years or so. Now I’m at Disney World with a husband who is neither of the men from the movie theatre, two thirds of my sisters, one third of my brothers-in-law, and my one-year-old nephew. The sisters have stayed at our rented home to swim with the baby. The brothers-in-law were out playing golf. And I was for some reason at EPCOT standing in line for a ride I did not want to go on. Gary Sinise was welcoming us to Mission-space-epcotMission: Space, an attraction that needs several strongly-worded warnings. Just when you get your courage up, Gary Sinise starts talking you out of it. Not that I needed any help from Gary Sinise. I am a chicken shit. I knew damn well this ride wasn’t for me. It simulates an actual spacecraft launch, complete with g-force, and a pretty rough landing. There are barf bags in this ride AND THEY GET USED. Each spacecraft holds 4 “astronauts” and we’re each given a specific role – navigator, pilot, commander, or engineer – and tasks to perform during the mission. This is a hilarious example of misplaced optimism. I don’t think I pushed a single button the entire ride because I was too busy TRYING NOT TO DIE. The thing about simulations is that your brain (not to mention your stomach) doesn’t know the difference. It believes! Lots of props from this movie are in display in the queuing area for this ride. I didn’t really appreciate them because I was busy sweating through my socks. I lived through this ride but I cannot and will not say that I enjoyed it. I bore it. Almost stoically. But you know what’s funny? I didn’t need the barf bag. I didn’t throw up, not even a little, not even just in my mouth, which as we all know, is more than I can say for the movie Mission To Mars.