In terms of historical accuracy the film Apollo 13 gets the large-scale history accurate but where it looses the accuracy comes to the smaller details. In terms of the larger elements that are lost in the film all the cuts correspond to the films run time. The Apollo 13 mission ended up lasting for seven days from launch on April 11th to splash down on April 17th.1 In order to accurately portray every single one of the problems that occurred on the Apollo 13 mission in those seven days the film would have needed to be considerably longer then 140 minutes. Especially considering that the first portion of the film is the set up and introduction of Lovell’s family and the astronauts. The film instead picks and chooses which historical aspects of the Apollo 13 mission failures to represent. The film correctly covers the initial explosion that cancelled the missions moon landing. The explosion of the second oxygen tank and battery cell get the most screen time in the film in terms of problem solving. Other issues that did make the cut into the film include the need to modify a filter for carbon dioxide levels from a circle to a square shape, having to ration amps in order to have enough power to return, and powering down the Odyssey command module to transfer into the Lunar Exploration Module. In general the film is strikingly correct for the first portion of the mission up until the crews return to communication from behind the moon. At this point in the actual mission the crew had to do three more short burns to set course, and realign their trajectory. This portion of the mission did not really make it into the film. The scene does have Lovell trying to realign the ship however it is not as complexly nuanced as the actual procedure.
While pointing out the different points of what was wrong would be a longer exercise one particular moment will be analyzed to further convey the reasoning that most of the inaccuracies occurred. This inaccuracy was the fact that throughout the film the same mission control staff stays on duty. In reality three other teams were situation to rotate through.2 128 The film focuses on the first team that was on duty for the start of the mission. This team never changes throughout the film although more workers are seen coming to mission control. This inaccuracy is another example where the film scales down the correct information in favor of storytelling. It would be confusing to an audience to completely change out the primary characters at mission control several times throughout the film.3 Instead by sticking with the primary individuals involved when the mission started to go wrong it maintains some factuality even though that fact gets stretched.
Director Ron Howard did strive for accuracy when producing the film. On particular example was an effort to fully capture the way that astronauts interacted in space. In order to accurately portray the way zero g flight in space many of the space scenes were filmed in actual zero g. Renting out NASA’s plane the TC 135 dubbed the Vomit Comet every scene was shot in only 23 seconds at a time.4 The film has been praised for it’s attempts at close historical accuracy even working with David Scott an astronaut from Apollo 15.5 A later made special titled Apollo 13 The Making Of discusses those attempts at accuracies and filming practices. However on the rereleased version of the film Lovell did make comments on the inaccuracies.6 Particularly to point out is the fake tension between Lovell and Haise to Jack Swigert, as well as the fact that Ken Mattingly’s role as being over stated and more of a amalgamation of several other astronauts. In the Apollo 13 making of special Lovell himself though did speak positively about the film altogether and it’s impact.
1Lovell, Jim. Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.
3 For further reading:“Apollo EECOM – Journey Of A Lifetime – Web Site of Sy Liebergot, NASA Flight Controller.” Accessed November 13, 2016. http://www.apolloeecom.com/index.html; Sy Liebergot, and David M. Harland. Apollo EECOM: Journey of a Lifetime. Pap/Cdr edition. Ontario, Canada: Collector’s Guide Publishing, Inc., 2008. This website and the book above both by mission control EECOM Sy Liebergot offer insight into the mission in a more detailed fashion.
4 The Astronauts’ Story, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. June, 1995. Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.airspacemag.com/videos/category/new-label/the-astronauts-story-ron-howards-apollo-13/.
6“Apollo 13 (Making-Of).” Tom Hanks Online. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.tomhanks-online.com/media/video/detail/420/apollo-13-making-of.