Depictions of these seemingly rare space quests like those in the films Apollo 13 and Gravity have been big hits at the box office since Americans witnessed the moon landing in 1969. Though both films differ in many ways, they both reinforce the greatest fear of space exploration: what if something goes wrong? Both films are full of thrill and suspense, but scientific accuracy, believable character, and story line is key to a great film set in space. After all, shouldn’t movies that include amazing scientific advances of the human species be at least semi-accurate?
Gravity was released in 2013 so it’s visual effects stump the 1995 film Apollo 13, although Ron Howard’s film gives the viewer a more accurate representation of how qualified, well-trained astronauts would react on their mission and that is what makes it the better film. Universal Studio’s film Apollo 13 directed by Ron Howard is a docudrama that depicts the NASA’s aborted 3rd lunar-landing mission. While doing some regular maintenance on the ship an oxygen tank explodes setting the space craft off course.
The veteran team of astronauts soon find out that another oxygen tank is leaking and are forced to abandon the mission. The ship is left with very little of its resources because of the explosion. This forces the crew to power up their back up system and exposes them to harsh conditions. Their reluctance to utilize the available recourses stems from not knowing their next move; having lost their transmission to mission control, hope of returning to earth dwindles. Thanks to the quick thinking of the crew members they are able to make a course correction.
After finally being reconnected with mission control and finding out the extent of the damage to the ship the crew is unsure if the craft will make it through the reentry of the earth’s atmosphere. Like most Hollywood films this suspense would have the audience on their edge of their seat hoping for the triumphant heroes safe landing on earth. Members of this mission, Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jim Lovall (Tom Hanks) used their quick thinking and years of experience and training to make their seemingly miraculous return to earth.
Warner Bros. Picture’s film Gravity directed by Alfonso Cuaron is a science fiction thriller that follows veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who happens to be on his final expedition, and a medical engineer, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first expedition. While preforming some maintenance outside the space craft mission control orders the crew to abort the mission immediately because a Russian missile has collided with a neighboring satellite and has created a massive cloud of space debris.
They team tries to quickly finish the maintenance and the debris strikes the craft killing the other members of the expedition that are still aboard the spacecraft, somehow the members outside the space craft survive. Destitute and having lost contact with mission control the survivors head to a Chinese craft that has been abandoned and is no longer usable to return home to earth. Realizing this ship is useless except to travel to another neighboring craft the duo has to be split up because recourses are running low. Matt Kowalski floats away never returning home while unexperienced newbie Ryan Stone is left to fight for her life alone.
After a series of unfortunate events, she begins to believe her efforts are pointless and depletes the foreign ship oxygen supply, her late crew member comes to her in a oxygen deprived delusion to reassure her that she is strong enough and smart enough to make it home. After reaching the escape pod on the foreign ship and finally reentering the earths atmosphere her struggle is still not over when she nearly drowns when her escape pod fills with water from the body of water she lands in. Quickly she strips her space suit and swims to shore, grateful and high on life.
Apollo 13 is a better, more realistic film. Although Gravity’s special effects are visually stunning and the movie has a seemingly miraculous conclusion, the docudrama, Apollo 13 depicts the actual 1970 Apollo 13 mission to the moon. The astronaut’s fight for survival makes a good story without the constant thrill and suspense like that of Gravity. Film critic Rodger Ebert makes the same argument in his review of Ron Howard’s Apollo 13: “Ron Howard’s film of this mission is directed with a single-mindedness and attention to detail that makes it riveting.
He doesn’t make the mistake of adding cornball little subplots to popularize the material; he knows he has a great story, and he tells it in a docudrama that feels like it was filmed on location in outer space. ” There are many proven scientific inaccuracies in Gravity. For example, a space explorer would not just be able to jump from craft to craft because their suits are not equipped to do so. The astronauts in Gravity seem unprofessional/unrealistic for many reasons. They ignore direct orders to abort mission to finish the maintenance on the craft.
It also seems unrealistic that a medical doctor is on a mission with a veteran astronaut. Some of the situational moments in Gravity are far-fetched and make the plot of the film unbelievable, though this does not take away from the success of the film. For example when the lone astronaut is on the foreign ship she is somehow able to begin pushing buttons until the escape pod is launched without any action from the previous actions she took, before pressing the launch button.