Stars: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Loren Dean. Written by William Broyles, Jr. & Al Reinert. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated PG-13 for profanity.

Apollo 13 was to be the second craft to take men to the moon, but it never reached its intended destination. This true chapter of American history is the basis for Ron Howard's new film "Apollo 13". Howard, who has been a popular director for years but whose skills needed honing, finally comes into his own with "Apollo 13". It's much smaller in scope than "The Right Stuff" but just as powerful.

Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) were slated to be the crew of the 13th Apollo mission but because Mattingly was diagnosed with measles, his slot was given to Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) just weeks before launch. After a flawless launch, a routine maneuver in space generated unforeseen results and the spacecraft began to leak oxygen. The lunar landing was scrubbed as ground control attempted an even riskier venture: to bring the astronauts home safely. Gene Kranz (Ed Harris), John Arthur (Loren Dean), and Mattingly each played key roles in devising a way to keep the men alive long enough to splashdown.

Despite some heavy-handed foreshadowing, "Apollo 13" is a gripping tale of American ingenuity and bravery. Hanks and company do a superb job of bringing the astronauts to life and making them real people instead of stalwart icons. And the outstanding production values keep the film credible even when jargon threatens to obscure to it. A rousing effort by Ron Howard, and his first great film.

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