On historical movies.

On the way back from Weymouth, I stopped to see an old friend, Krista, shortly. We discussed many things, including movies, and I had to explain how I simply cannot watch any movie that pretends at historical accuracy and fails. We, for instance, talked about the 2004 flick King Arthur. Yes, Clive Owen is a dreamboat, ladies, but the movie infuriated me to the point where I angrily ruined the film for others.

Another movie you might be familiar with that angered me similarly (though not to the same degree) was Gladiator. Yes, I dislike Gladiator. I’ve seen it once, and that’s more than enough, thank you very much.

Here’s how it goes – you can set a movie in history as long as you don’t mess with history. Some of my favourite films are set in history, films like Paths of Glory. I don’t mean a historical biography, like Patton and such, but I mean to say that you can make a good movie about history without pissing on it – if you try.

Take Gladiator, for example. They took a fictional character (Maximus) and threw him into a possible situation against a historical figure (Commodus). The problem is that Commodus was not a bad emperor. He wasn’t anything like his portrayal in the film. He did not die quickly after taking the throne, nor did he die in the gladiatorial arena. The movie *could* have worked with another villain. But now everyone thinks that Commodus was some guy who loved to get into the ring and eventually died there, and good, he deserved it, when in reality, Commodus was assassinated because he ignored the Mob.

And don’t even get me started on King Arthur.

History is a great tool for making movies, because history does the job for the filmmaker. You don’t need to invent a character where one already exists, a realistic human with realistic personality traits, strengths and flaws. I wish more filmmakers would use history accurately. The next time someone tells me The Last Samurai is a great historical film, I’m gonna fucking scream.

As an aside, I am going to go see the Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut soon, and I’m really looking forward to it. Apparently it’s significantly better than the theatrical release, which I firmly panned as utter trash.

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7 responses to “On historical movies.

  1. Commodus did like to fight, but yes he was strangled to death in his bed by his trainer. Just like his dad actually died from the plague (small pox more than likely). As a computer nerd who has outrage whenever computers are used in a movie as a plot point, I understand the pain.

  2. Yeah. I can't see steadfast adherence to history as a maker of great fiction.

    Just like how steadfast adherence to science again does nothing to increase the quality of a film or book. It only adds to flaws that are already there.

  3. Lets not go into Inglorious basterds. pppuulease. 'The Last Samurai' pissed me off from the very beginning. I hate movies that take extremely white men, throw them into other cultures, and have them fix all the problems that the Japanese, Arab, or Africans couldn't handle themselves. AARGH.

  4. I hated The Last Samurai, too. Granted, it was also because at the time, I was a budo geek, in a group of budo geeks, and we all laughed, laughed laughed, just because of the historical inaccuracies.

    And, why not go into it? There's a difference between deliberate and lazy historical inaccuracy. It's like how there's a difference between deliberate and lazy science inaccuracy. Historical fiction is pretty capable of working with the deliberate, and is a pretty big genre.

    Unless you're saying that historical fiction shouldn't exist (which I'm sure you're not), in which case, you're just dead wrong.

  5. Of course, in the realm of King Arthur, I'm wondering how you can have historical accuracy in a story about a mythological figure. That hadn't even clicked for me at first, but dude, wtf.

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