Happy equinox, everyone! This is the thirteenth of my daily 42-movies-in-21-days blog posts, so I'm just going right on the nose here:
Apollo 13 (1995)
The 13th Warrior (1999)
Compare and contrast after the trailers.
If you know anything about me, you know I'm a bit of a space nerd. And so you might imagine that Apollo 13 would be exactly my kind of movie. YOU WOULD BE CORRECT. (I'm also pretty excited about The Martian, which opens the day after my actual birthday next week.)
I was born after Apollo 17, the last time humans walked on the Moon, and I'm not holding my breath for us getting to Mars within my lifetime. (What can I say, I'm a pessimist. THIRTEEN.) So I've always been fascinated by the Apollo program as a piece of history.
The Right Stuff was an interesting prelude, and HBO's From the Earth to the Moon miniseries delved deeper into a lot of the engineering and interpersonal details, but Apollo 13 might be the best film dramatization of a space mission to date, in that it compresses a lot of the long-term planning and decision-making into the story of a single crisis.
On the other hand, The 13th Warrior is fiction, just in case you couldn't tell from the fact that Antonio Banderas plays an Arabic courtier named "Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan." The film is based on Michael Crichton's 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead, a mash-up of actual 10th-century Arab Ahmad ibn Fadlan's travelogues and the legend of Beowulf.
Two things I love about 13th Warrior are how it (accurately) portrays the Vikings as barbaric and uncivilized next to their Arab visitors, and how much tension it packs into every action sequence. Say what you want about John McTiernan, but the guy knows how to direct an action movie (or at least he did, back in the days of Predator and Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October).
One final note: there's some mention of thirteen being an unlucky number in Apollo 13, but it's actually a sign of good fortune in 13th Warrior (and the reason Antonio Banderas' character is coaxed into joining the adventure). Numbers are only as meaningful as we want to make them, but they can become powerful symbols.