Crop of summer flicks mangle facts Movies play fast & loose

LOS ANGELES, Sept 2, (RTRS): What kind of lessons has Hollywood been teaching our school children this summer? Well, for starters, that a ragtag group of mutants ended the Cuban Missile Crisis and that Buzz Aldrin played a key role in covering up the early 1960s moon landing by the Transformers. And that Red Skull was a bigger menace than Hitler in 1940s. The colorful reinterpretation of our nation’s past continues this weekend with the release of “Apollo 18.’’ The low-budget horror film attempts to explain the real reason NASA pulled the plug on its Apollo moon missions (Hint: It doesn’t involve budget cuts).
From “Cowboys & Aliens’’ to “Captain America,’’ this summer’s crop of tentpoles took enormous creative licenses with the historical record in a way that makes Oliver Stone’s “JFK’’ seem slavishly literal.
Even the critically lauded Civil Rights drama “The Help’’ has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for its overly rosy picture of life in segregated Mississippi.

Clearly, with kids returning to school, America’s teachers are going to have their work cut out for them undoing the damage from a summer full of movies that play fast and loose with the facts.
Here’s a look at the carnage on the truth, graded on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of historical desecration.

X-Men: First Class
Hollywood’s Historical Liberties: Here’s how the Cuban Missile Crisis went down: Instead of a near-clash between two worldwide super powers over the Soviet Union’s decision to install offensive weapons in communist Cuba, it turns out that a mutant ex-Nazi scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) convinced the Russians to arm Fidel Castro.
In this alternate history, Shaw helps the Soviets break through a US naval blockade, but the X-Men ultimately kill him off, preventing the two sides from firing on each other and kicking off World War III.
What It Gets Right: The costumes look pretty accurate, at least if “Mad Men’’ is any guide. Plus president John F. Kennedy really did order a naval blockade.
Degree of Desecration: 7. The period details are right, but the reasons for the nearly catastrophic clash between the forces of communism and capitalism are pure fantasy.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Hollywood’s Historical Liberties: Turns out that whole space race was really just an elaborate effort by president Kennedy (him again!) to cover up the crash of Cybertronian lunar craft. No less than Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin cops to the ruse during a meeting with Optimus Prime.
What It Gets Right: Not much, but Aldrin, who played himself, really did land on the moon.
Degree of Desecration: 10. Aldrin, who has spent years shooting down moon-landing conspiracy wackjobs, did nothing to help the cause. Fortunately the whole movie is as incoherent as its version of history, so no harm done.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Hollywood’s Historical Liberties: Apparently Adolf Hitler wasn’t all that big a threat to the Free World. That would be his lethal subordinate Red Skull, who turned on the weird mustachioed despot to take on the forces of truth, justice and the American Way.
Moreover, Skull’s henchmen, a group of black-costumed baddies called Hydra, are the war’s real villains, not the goose-stepping Nazis.
To combat the threat, America pumps a 90-pound weakling with super soldier serum and sends him across the pond as the tights-wearing Captain America.
What It Gets Right: Well, there was a global war in the 1940s. Like the Red Skull, Hitler invested heavily in science and believed up until his final hours that a super weapon could turn the tide of the war. And that’s about it.
Degree of Desecration: 8. Like “X-Men,’’ some of the costumes and music appear historically accurate, but we’re pretty sure that the Nazis were World War II’s real heavies.
Cowboys & Aliens
Hollywood’s Historical Liberties: Beyond the costumes and the time period, the Jon Favreau film is almost wholly a work of science fiction. In the movie, cowboys don’t clash primarily with Native Americans. Instead, their chief rivals for control of the West are aliens, who basically turn some Arizona outposts into the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn.
What It Gets Right: Arizona was a territory in 1873, when the movie is set. It didn’t join the Union officially until 1912. We’re also pretty sure that cowboys rode horses and got dusty, but they probably lacked the kind of nautilus equipment necessary to pull off Daniel Craig’s washboard abs.
Degree of Desecration: 10. It draws more on classic Westerns such as “My Darling Clementine’’ and “The Searchers’’ than history books — most of which leave out that whole alien invasion incident.

The Help
Hollywood’s Historical Liberties: Forget Martin Luther King Jr. The real hero of the Civil Rights movement was a white newspaper reporter who dared to ask her racist readers to treat their maids better.
Though the performances of African-American actresses such as Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have drawn nearly universal praise, the film has been slammed for downplaying the dangers that black people faced during segregation.
The Association of Black Women Historians, for one, said the movie suffers from widespread inaccuracies and stereotyping. It notes that the movie also ignores the role that the Ku Klux Klan played in suppressing African-Americans by making a group of rich society women the film’s adversaries.
What It Gets Right: The film does capture the despair and terror felt by many African-Americans following the 1963 assassination of a Mississippi NAACP field secretary. It also correctly dramatizes the economic struggles that black women in the South faced, with few opportunities for career advancement beyond domestic service.
Degree of Desecration: 4. A cotton candy version of a painful chapter in American history, but its heart is in the right place.

Apollo 18
Hollywood’s Historical Liabilities: Well, it hasn’t hit theaters yet, but based on early plot descriptions, the found footage documentary centers on the crew of the last moon mission and their battles against parasitic space creatures.
What It Gets Right: Not much. Last we checked Apollo 17 was the last moon mission on record, but maybe discovering the real story depends on having some brave space adventurer discover a few hours of grainy images of outer space terror.
Degree of Desecration: 8 to 10. Nobody’s seen it yet, but based on the trailers it’s a doozy.


Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach; you can feel it at the box office, the summer’s out of reach.
But with a record tentpole season officially winding down in typically quiet Labor Day Weekend fashion, is finishing flat or better in 2011 out of reach for the domestic motion-picture business?
That’s a key question to ask, as two PG-13-rated sci-fi/horror movies — Weinstein Dimension’s “Apollo 18’’ and Relativity’s “Shark Night 3D’’ — hit the market. (Focus Features’ adult drama “The Debt’’ premiered Thursday and is also entering its first weekend.)
Back to that big-picture box office question in a moment ... first, we’ll deal with the weekend at hand.
Pre-release projections for the found-footage-themed “Apollo 18’’ are in the mid-teens range, which puts the $5 million movie in position to end “The Help’s’’ two-week perch atop the domestic box office.

Lucrative
Asked about Weinstein’s entry into the potentially lucrative found-footage horror realm — a sub-genre plundered to great success in past years by the likes of “Blair Witch Project’’ and “Paranormal Activity’’ — Weinstein distribution president Kyle Davies parried: “We found the footage in a crater in the Ukraine,’’ he told TheWrap, tongue in cheek.
In reality, Russians were involved, but they’re hardly new to Hollywood, with producer Timur Bekmambetov best known for directing 2008’s “Wanted.’’
Releasing “Apollo 18’’ in 3,328 theaters in the US and Canada, Davies says a gross in the $11 million - $14 million range will render the company very pleased with its minimal investment.
The film revolves around a secret, ill-fated NASA moon mission, undone by aliens. Weinstein won’t let critics peruse the rocket before launching it, but tracking ain’t that bad.
According to research firm NRG, the film is registering 86 percent “total awareness’’ among males 25 and older, with 42 percent conveying “definite interest’’ in seeing the movie and 11 percent calling it their “first choice’’ the next time they enter the multiplex.
Moviegoers looking for thrills and chills this weekend will also have the option of seeing Relativity’s “Shark Week 3D,’’ which will be released in about 2,800 theaters in the US and Canada, 2,500 of them offering it in gloriously hyped 3D.
Produced by Sierra Affinity on a budget said to be in the mid-$20 million range, Relativity acquired US rights on essentially service-deal terms, agreeing to pay for prints and advertising. (E1 is handling Canadian distribution.)
Relativity is expecting a full-weekend gross of around $8 million - $10 million.

Contender
Also new this weekend, Focus’ “The Debt,’’ an early contender to the awards race with a 76 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, opened Wednesday at 1,826 North American locations, grossing an estimated $970,532.
That performance didn’t initially impress TheWrap’s box-office analysis super-computer. A Focus representative later reminded our cyber-sentient that the studio’s “Constant Gardener’’ debuted to a similar scenario in 2005 — $929,829 at 1,387 locations on a pre-Labor Day Wednesday — before grossing $82.5 million worldwide and garnering a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for co-star Rachel Weisz.
Analysts predict that “The Debt’’ — which stars Helen Mirren as a woman dealing with her past as a Israeli Massad Nazi hunter — will gross around $7 million - $8 million over the four-day holiday period.
Other box office highlights this weekend: Lionsgate will sneak-peak its mixed-martial-arts drama “The Warrior’’ in 550 locations, while its Latin market-targeted Pantelion label will release foreign film “Saving Private Perez’’ in 161 theaters.
Other limited openings will include Samuel Goldwyn’s R-rated comedy “A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy,’’ starring Leslie Bibb, Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis.

Now, back to the multi-billion-dollar question: Can the domestic box office, which teetered past 20 percent into the red in the early part of the year, finish 2011 in the black after what was the top-grossing summer of all time?
Currently, the US and Canadian market stands at around $7.2 billion, about 4.8 percent off a 2010 frame that ended up at $10.565 billion, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Interestingly, the market is down only 1.2 percent from the same period in 2009, which ended up at an all-time high of $10.595 billion.
With sequels to such franchises as “Alvin and the Chipmunks,’’ “Sherlock Holmes,’’ “Paranormal Activity’’ and ‘’Twilight’’ on the horizon, not to mention other big titles like DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots’’ and DreamWorks’ Steven Spielberg-directed “War Horse,’’ it’s certainly not inconceivable that the domestic market could rattle off another $3.4 billion or more by the time the year is completed.
Of course, the year’s annual right of Harry Potter box-office passage — which occurred in November of last year — is already on the books (it’s closing in on a phenomenal $1.3 billion worldwide), so there will be no fourth-quarter Potter bonanza to look forward to.
Then again, if this year’s box office is able to avoid some of the dead spots that plagued the latter half of 2010 — such as the downer December that included such duds as “The Tourist’’ and “How Do You Know?’’ — it should end up actually breaking the record.
In any event, we shall see, starting with a post-tentpole season home stretch run that begins this weekend.

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