Apollo 13 - flaws in the movie

I justed finished Apollo 13 which I have seen about 5 times.
Personally I think it is one of the best movies ever made and I like it better each time I see it.
Knowing the work of Ron Howard, I’m guessing that there is a lot of “drama” added to the story.
Can anyone point out any flaws in the movie either in events that didn’t happen or events that were overly dramatized?

One quick place is IMDB. The Trivia and Goofs pages have a lot of this:

According to the “making of”, the drama between Swigert and Haise didn’t happen.

I’d have to say it was more “correct” than “Lord of the Rings” was. :smiley:

A few notable errors:
[ul][li]Although Ken Mattingly was involved in drafting the emergency powerup procedures, he wasn’t the one in the simulator, and I highly doubt it was one engineer, one astronaut, and one micrometer doing all of the work of creating emergency procedures. The notion of using the Lunar Module as a lifeboat had been extant for some time, and there had been discussion about commonizing the lithium hydroxide filters between the CM and the LM, but full procedures were not developed and it was deemed to expensive to modify the environment systems in spacecraft on order. Mattingly went on to be a significant part of the STS development program and commanded the fourth and final Shuttle Orbital Test Flight (STS-4).[/li][li]The movie depicts a single orbital correction burn in a very frenetic, suspensful scene. I don’t doubt that it was pretty exciting, but the crew actually executed two significant burns and one minor (but critical) correction burn. Various bits of dialogue seem to allude to this (the Grumman engineer talks about the engine not being designed to restart, Haise says something to the effect of hoping they don’t have to do that again, Kranz discusses their inability to do another correction burn when it is discovered that their reentry angle is shallow), so I’m guessing additional burns were written into the script and possibly even filmed, but edited out for time and dramatic purposes. [/li][li]The explanation for the stirrer motor which caused the fire was abbreviated to the point of being wrong, or at least midleadingly incomplete. You can find the enire explanation here (PDF) but there were a combination of factors, including poor installation practice, abraded wiring insulation, and mismatched power supply that caused the fire and resultant explosion of the O2 tank. [/li][li]Launch was at 1513 EDT/1413 CDT, not 1313 in either Florida or Texas.[/li][li]The movie portrays the launch vehicle being conveyed to pad 39A only days before the launch. In reality, it would have to be set up at least a couple of weeks if not a month or more before launch. [/li][li]Much dramatic tension is made about Swigert’s alleged lack of preparation and possible incompetence. In fact, Swigert was acknowledged as being an accomplished CM pilot and had been involved early on in developing control systems and operating procedures for the LM, including emergency procedures. Lovell reported that he had no concerns about Swigert’s ability to substitute for Mattingly, although he argued for leaving Mattingly on crew even if he was ill. (The date of Mattingly’s alledged exposure would have had him symptomatic only on the return leg of the mission.)[/li][li]There are several logos displayed that are too recent for the Apollo XIII mission, including the NASA “worm” logo, Rockwell International(the CM was built by North American Rockwell), and Lockheed-Martin. [/li][li]I guarantee that there wasn’t just one bumbling Grumman representative answering for the capabilities of the LM. Grumman was anxious to get into the manned spacecraft business and often championed their abilities vis-a-vis North American, particularly after the AS-204 fire as being an alternate contractor for the CSM, despite their own schedule problems in developing the LM. [/li][li]Although Ed Harris makes a reasonable credible Gene Kranz, none of the actors playing the crew look much like their real world counterparts. Jim Lovell looks more like a tall Kevin Costner. There are a number of other issues with sizes and ages (Lovell has four kids, not three, Haise’s wife wasn’t pregnant and their kids were much older than portrayed, et cetera) but these aren’t really technical issues.[/ul]It’s a good movie (Ron Howard’s best, though I don’t wish to damn it with faint praise) but it’s not a documentary reenactment by any stretch.[/li]

The only thing I noticed was the treatment of the LEM contractor (Grumman Aircraft) in the movie. In the book it is mentioned that the Grumman executives heard about the problem when they were in New York City. When the executives returned to the factory at near midnight, they found the parking lot full. All of the engineers came in as soon as they heard, to help out.
In the movie this is not mentioned, and the Grumman Aircraft aircraft rep has a single line about how the LEM is not designed for what they were attempting. Sounded kind of whiny and in conflict to how the Grumman people actually reacted.

In the movie, Tom Hanks uses the earth as a reference in the window to steer during the burn scene. In a television interview after the movie came out, Lovell stated that he actually used the sun as his reference.

Do they actually keep track of such things in Daylight Saving Time? I would expect times to be recorded in Standard Time (if not GMT). And 1413 CDT would be 1313 CST.

In Lovell’s book Apollo 13, the CO2 scrubber solution occurs to a NASA engineer as he is taking a shower before heading to work. It isn’t the dramatic scene shown in the movie where a supervisor gives a roomful of engineers the task of
making “this” (Command module cartridge) fit into “this” (LEM apparatus) using “nothing but this”… boxful of LEM stuff dumped onto conference room table.

Also, I don’t think the CO2 levels got to be a problem in the way it was shown in the movie.

What about the climatic scene where the crew is out of radio contact for more than 4 minutes? A big deal is made of the fact that the previous record for blackout had been only 3 minutes. I find it hard to believe that NASA didn’t know that the blackout period would be longer due to the angle of re entry.
Also, is it true that 4 amps had to be transferred from the LEM. They make it sound like that was a last minute discovery but I find that hard to believe as well. In the movie they go through what seems like hours of failed procedures before they come up the idea of transferring the power from the LEM.
Also, how could did it get up there?


Moving to Cafe Society in T-Minus 3, T-Minus 2, T-minus 1…



Although it did make for one of the better comic relief moments during the crisis.

Grumman Guy: YES!!! HOW BOUT THAT LEM!!! How bout it, eh?
**Kranz: ** Guess you can keep your job.
Grumman Guy: You betcha!


I remember little stuff with the dialogue. In real life, it was Swigert who first said something like: “Houston, we’ve had a little problem here.” NASA asks him to repeat and Lovell comes on and says: “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

This was changed in the film to Lovell alone saying in present tense: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Also, after the four-minute blackout, I think, again, it was Sweigert whose voice was first heard. This dialogue is given to Lovell in the film.

On the DVD commentary track, Lovell noptes that the way the gantries swung away from the rocket was wrong. I think the film showed them swinging away one-by-one whereas irl they all move away simultaneously. Lovell also noted that the scene showing the astronauts being quarantined and having to talk with their families from a distance was wrong as this was a later precaution.

Lovell pointed out a million little goofs that were changed for dramatic effect, i. e., he watched the moon landing at the NASA complex, not at his home. His daughter didn’t go about whining because the Beatles broke up, etc.

Sir Rhosis

IIRC, they were so busy with other things that they didn’t bother to calculate how long the blackout would be. There was also a great deal of concern that the heat shield had been damaged in the explosion. The crew, like those on the Columbia, had no way to inspect it for damage. All they could do was hope.

I think that the LEM power transfer was a last minute idea. Prior to Apollo 13, NASA had considered the survivability of the amount of damage the ship had sustained to be nil, so they’d never ran sims of such an event. IIRC, the capsule provided power to the LEM until the LEM was powered up for it’s trip to the Moon, so to get power from the LEM to the capsule, they simply “reversed the polarity” as it were. :wink:

According to Kranz - in his Failure Is Not An Option - they’d got pretty good at predicting the length of the re-entry blackout and he was confidently expecting the reacquisition to occur within a second or two of the prediction. The tension when it unexpectedly dragged on for another minute and a half beyond this was genuine. Where the film simplifies here is in omitting most of the sequence of events that actually ended the tension, but that’s understandable Hollywood storytelling.

Another minor thing which nevertheless hindered my immersion a bit was the lack of the “com beeps” at the end of transmissions. They were one of the most ubiquitous things I remember from watching the Apollo missions when I was a kid.

Everyone’s picking at technical problems, but I’d say some serious flaws are Ron Howard’s hambone sentimentality, the largely one-dimensional characterizations, and the acting that never rises, despite a generally fine cast, above the strong-but-serviceable and often drops down to the Not Good (I’m looking at you, Kathleen Quinlan).

There’s a difference between historical incident and great history. The former states “This Happened”, but the latter puts that incident into a larger worldview, mining such a moment for additional resonance and thematic significance. It’s the difference between meticulous recreation and Great Drama.

Apollo 13 has meticulous recreation coming out of its pores (and the effects and general craftsmanship are admittedly quite remarkable), but it’s got nothing to say about anything, other than your boilerplate business about Humble Heroes and People Banding Together in a Crisis. Nice, comfortable little sentiments, but nothing very interesting (at least not in the way the film handles them).

All one has to do is compare this with The Right Stuff (equal parts awe & irreverence, deft brushstrokes & broad humor, social commentary & immaculate detailing) to see the difference between a movie that knows how to portray Heroism and a movie that simply does little beyond worship it.

I thnk that’s a little harsh. You’re comparing apples and orange. The themes in The Right Stuff are bigger, because the story being told is bigger. Much bigger. Apollo 13 is a story about individual heroes in crisis. Trying to derive big meaning out of it would be totally inappropriate. It’s a human story about a handful of people and how they and their families deal with crisis. Not everything has to be a commentary on the state of man or the nature of heroism.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to just tell a story that needs to be told.

As for the criticisms of the accuracy of the story, the fact that they are mostly trivial errors only noticed by hardcore students of spaceflight tells you just how good a job they did. Most Hollywood movies don’t come within a country mile of what really happened. Let’s take The Right Stuff for example - a movie I loved, but much of it was invented out of whole cloth. The nonsense with the aboriginals and their relationship with the ‘fireflies’ around Glenn’s spacecraft, the bit about Yeager basically stealing the F-104 variant and taking off without clearance, the two bumbling government agents who burst into meetings with the president, the idea that Chuck Yeager was just sitting in a bar and volunteered to fly the X-1 the next day, etc. I could go on and on. The important thing was that the movie got the spirit of the book right, and told a damned good story.

Apollo 13 was very accurate in all the major details. The dialog between the ground and the craft was taken from the original transcripts. The Apollo cockpit was so accurate they even used some of the original hardware as part of the set. Gene Kranz said that when he walked into the mission control set he was always startled because it looked, felt, and smelled exactly like the original mission control. And of course, many of the zero-G scenes were shot in zero-G - an extremely expensive process that no other movie about space had attempted. Watching the movie, you definitely get the sense that, “that’s what happened”, and you’re be pretty much right.

Of course it was climatic: re-entry is hot!

It’s my understanding that the zero G didn’t actually cost the filmmakers anything: NASA donated time on the “Vomit Comet” as part of a public outreach effort. They like it when the public sees complimentary portrayals of the agency, and do what they can to help such portrayals.