Apollo 13 as a Primary Source
As a primary source for 1995 Apollo 13 can reveal a good deal about the time in which it was made. The Apollo 13 mission had occurred in 1970 and 15 years later with the exception of the famed Apollo 11 moon landing people were starting to forget about the Apollo missions. This was abundantly clear to Jim Lovell when he tried to pitch the book Lost Moon first to publishers and no one was interested.1 Howard however was very interested and picked up the film as the book finally got published itself only finally in 1994.2 The reasons that the Apollo 13 mission appealed to Howard are the reasons that it would later appeal to the public. The Apollo 13 mission was a failure, but not only a failure but a dangerous mission where three men trapped in space relied on themselves and mission control to survive. Survival tales sell well for one thing, especially if the audience knows the outcome will be positive. In fact Apollo 13 grossed $172,071,312 making it the third highest grossing film for 1995.3 Another point about the film was that it had clearly identified heroes, not only heroes but astronaut heroes. While heroes change throughout American cinema one clear fact is that they are a huge part of the American cinema conscious. Apollo 13 capitalizes on the idea of the astronaut as the prevailing hero. By 1995 most of the American public was not thinking about astronauts on a daily occurrence. While NASA was still at work and had a full schedule of shuttle missions and satellites the public was not overly interested. Just like in 1970 when Apollo was set to launch people were not waiting up to watch, or even had access to watch, the space work that occurred. The idea of an astronaut and what an astronaut was like still maintained a strong cultural presence. For most people astronaut still conjured the iconic Apollo 11 moon landing with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as the heroes of America. Sally Ride the first woman in space only twelve years early would have been another. Astronauts were heroes in American culture and nostalgia, Apollo 13 would capitalize on that notion.
Apollo 13 as a Secondary Source
As a secondary source Apollo 13 does meet the overall goal. It stays true to the overall nature of the program and the events that occurred. The film’s adaption from Jim Lovell’s book maintains the majority of the same content as the book. There are some instances where the movie takes moments from the book that occurred at different times and brings those moments into the Apollo 13 mission. In general these moments are the family ones that get rewritten. For instance in the scene where Jim Lovell returns home to his family from learning he will be commanding Apollo 13, he goes home to Marilyn and says “I’ve been thinking about Acapulco….. I’m not sure it’s a good idea.” When his wife annoyed asks where he’d rather go Lovell responds “Maybe the moon.”4 A lighthearted moment in the film the scene feels made up however it actually occurred, just not with Apollo 13. Instead according to the book Jim and Marilyn actually had the conversation when Lovell got assigned to orbit the moon in Apollo 8.5 The film alters small instances such as this for the benefit of its overall storytelling.
As a secondary source the Apollo 13 film is also beneficial in that it maintains a strong level of historical accuracy while still captivating large audiences. The retelling of the Apollo 13 mission also is factual on most of the large scale factors of the mission. Since most of the film stays true to the historical record it avoids the flaw many historical films fall into of misleading the audience from the truth. While the film misleads on Mattingly’s role and some NASA protocols to the general public it stands as a close to accurate version of the actual mission.
Even the individuals in the film who were not fully accurately described have mentioned the positive aspects in this film. Ken Mattingly when discussing the film and his role in the Apollo mission admitted its faults. Especially with the inaccuracies of his behavior during the initial launch. Outside of that scene and his fictive role at the Capcom however Mattingly in one interview described that,
“After that, from that moment on, the movie of Apollo 13, it’s a pretty good movie. The book is pretty good. I think The Race to the Moon book’s description is probably a little better. And they all fall way short. I always thought that that was—I didn’t know why, I just knew I was watching—I had seen the most extraordinary event. In substance it far outweighed anything in Apollo 8 or 11. It was a different kind of story, but it was really remarkable.”6
As a secondary source Apollo 13 also accurately aligns with the book Lost Moon that it is based on. Excluding the already mentioned inaccuracies the film stays considerably close to the book, as previously mentioned. The fact that the book itself reminds particularly accurate to the historic record helps in this transition. In a movie based on a book based on a real event there is always going to be a muddled chain of inaccuracies. That being said Apollo 13 as a film navigates between the content of Lovell & Kluger’s book and the historic record effectively. Which itself is important to understanding how Apollo 13 acts as a secondary source.
1“Apollo 13 (Making-Of).” Tom Hanks Online. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.tomhanks-online.com/media/video/detail/420/apollo-13-making-of.
3“1995 Yearly Box Office Results – Box Office Mojo.” Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=1995.
4Ron Howard. Apollo 13. Drama. Universal Pictures, 1995.
5Jim Lovell. Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994, 39.
6“T. K. Mattingly Oral History.” Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/MattinglyTK/MattinglyTK_11-6-01.htm.