This Just In: Fictitious Movies Still Fiction

The collective Catholic response to the book and film probably were best summed up by a Jesuit theologian who responded to an earnest radio interviewer’s long and suggestive question this way: “I don’t mean to sound obtuse, but are you asking me whether a novel is true?”


— Tim Rutten of the L.A. Times on The Da Vinci Code, May 20, 2006.

But after initially touting “Apollo 18” as one of its upcoming fiction film collaborations, NASA — which, for the record, says the last manned mission to the moon was Apollo 17 in 1972 — has begun to back away from the movie.

“Apollo 18 is not a documentary,” said Bert Ulrich, NASA’s liaison for multimedia, film and television collaborations. “The film is a work of fiction, and we always knew that. We were minimally involved with this picture. We never even saw a rough cut. The idea of portraying the Apollo 18 mission as authentic is simply a marketing ploy. Perhaps a bit of a ‘Blair Witch Project’ strategy to generate hype.”

— “Did ‘Apollo 18’ happen? NASA backs away from found-footage space film,” Green Bay Press Gazette, yesterday.

And no doubt, lots of people think Oliver Stone’s JFK is a documentary.

But hey, as one wag in the Washington Post claimed last year, defending Sean Penn’s Plame-out, Fair Game, “In Washington, watching fact-based political movies has become a sport all its own, with viewers hyper-alert to mistakes, composite characters or real stories hijacked by political agendas. But what audiences often fail to take into account is that a too-literal allegiance to the facts can sometimes obscure a larger truth:”


Thus, the movies about Washington that get the right stuff right — or get some stuff wrong but in the right way — become their own form of consensus history. “Follow the money,” then, assumes its own totemic truth. Ratified through repeated viewings in theaters, on Netflix and beyond, these films become a mutual exercise in creating a usable past. We watch them to be entertained, surely, and maybe educated. But we keep watching them in order to remember.

Fake but accurate? A few years ago, Dennis Prager wrote, “As a famous Soviet dissident joke put it: ‘In the Soviet Union, the future is known; it’s the past which is always changing.’”

And if Hollywood speeds the process along, no big deal, right?

And yes, the Washington Post has their own issues in this department.

(Incidentally, when it comes to the real NASA, they’ve got such important things to do these days, they can’t be bothered with the lowly task of flying men into space.)


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