Friday, March 21, 2008

Ten Most Historically Inaccurate Movies

Too many people take what they see in Hollywood films as fact without investigating the true stories and histories themselves. I was guilty of that for awhile until I became a parent and started educating my own children and taught them to question everything that someone tells them. Verify it, and get the real facts. Hollywood embellishes and changes things to enhance the entertainment value. One of them that should be on the list is The Passion of the Christ which was so incredibly overdone with bloody violence because we all know how many fundamentalist Christians love their gore. I've only seen about three or four of these films listed below, and really don't have any desire to see the rest, especially the idiotic looking 10,000 B.C. which looks like an animated documentary about the dumbass Creation Museum.

You could probably just click on the site and read these from the Yahoo page, but I thought I would make it easier for you all by just reposting them here.

From Yahoo Movies: "We all accept that movies stretch the truth in the interest of building drama. The following ten flicks, however, treat the truth like it was Silly Putty -- pulling and twisting it until it's unrecognizable."

10,000 B.C.
"Woolly mammoths were not used to build pyramids. Woolly mammoths weren't even found in the desert. And there weren't any pyramids in Egypt until 2,500 B.C or so."

"Emperor Commodus was not the sniveling sister-obsessed creep portrayed in the movie. A violent alcoholic, sure, but not so whiny. He ruled ably for over a decade rather than ineptly for a couple months. He also didn't kill his father, Marcus Aurelius, who actually died of chickenpox. And instead of being killed in the gladatorial arena, he was murdered in his bathtub."

Though this paean to ancient moral codes and modern physical training is based on the real Battle of Thermopylae, the film takes many stylistic liberties. The most obvious one being Persian king Xerxes was not an 8-foot-tall Cirque du Soleil reject. The Spartan council was made up of men over the age of 60, with no one as young as Theron (played by 37-year-old Dominic West). And the warriors of Sparta went into battle wearing bronze armor, not just leather Speedos.

The Last Samurai
The Japanese in the late 19th century did hire foreign advisers to modernize their army, but they were mostly French, not American. Ken Watanabe's character was based on the real Saigo Takamori who committed ritual suicide, or "seppuku," in defeat rather than in a volley of Gatling gun fire. Also, it's doubtful that a 40-something alcoholic Civil War vet, even one with great hair, would master the chopsticks much less the samurai sword.

This one movie has given entire Anthropology departments migranes. Sure the Maya did have the odd human sacrifice but not to Kulkulkan, the Sun God, and only high-ranking captives taken in battle were killed. The conquistadors arriving at the end of the film made for unlikely saviors: an estimated 90% of indigenous American population was killed by smallpox from the infected Spanish pigs.

Memoirs of a Geisha
The geisha coming-of-age, called "mizuage," was really more of a makeover, where she changed her hairstyle and clothes. It didn't involve her getting... intimate with a client. In the climatic scene where Sayuri wows Gion patrons with her dancing prowess, her routine - which involves some platforms shoes, fake snow, and a strobe light - seems more like a Studio 54 drag show that anything in pre-war Kyoto.

Let's forget the fact that kilts weren't worn in Scotland until about 300 years after William Wallace's day and just do some simple math. According to the movie, Wallace's blue-eyed charm at the Battle of Falkirk was so overpowering, he seduced King Edward II's wife, Isabella of France, and the result of their affair was Edward III. But according to the history books, Isabella was three years old at the time of Falkirk, and Edward III was born seven years after Wallace died.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
In 1585, when the movie takes place, Queen Elizabeth was 52 years old - Cate Blanchett was 36 when she shot the film - and was not being courted by suitors like Ivan the Terrible (who was dead by then). And though the movie has her rallying the troops at Tilburyastride a white steed in full armor with a sword, in fact she rode side saddle, carrying a baton. She was more of a regal majorette than Joan of Arc.

The Patriot
Revolutionary War figure Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion was the basis for Mel Gibson's character, but he wasn't the forward-thinking family man they show in the flick. He was a slave owner who didn't get married (to his cousin) until after the war was over. Historians also say that he actively persecuted and murdered native Cherokees. Plus, the climatic Battle of Guilford Court House where he vanquishes his British nemesis? In reality, the Americans lost that one.

2001: A Space Odyssey
[This one I can forgive because it was written looking forward in time instead of back, so don't think I would have included it in this list.]
According to this film, in year 2001 we would have had manned voyages to Jupiter, a battle of wits with a sentient computer, and a quantum leap in human evolution. Instead we got the Mir Space Station falling from the sky, Windows XP, and Freddy Got Fingered. Apparently the lesson here is that sometimes it's better when the movies get the facts all wrong.


CyberKitten said...

I think that's why they call them 'movies' and not 'documentaries'. Any movie is escapism by definition. If I want to find out what actually happened I tend to read a history book not go to a cinema [laughs]

Jason H. Bowden said...

I feel the same way about most of those movies!

The Patriot was really annoying. It depicted the British as ruthless snobs, while in reality both sides were civilized and generally observed the established rules of warfare of the time.

300 was completely over-the-top. I know it is based of a comic book, but when something is based on stupid, it is still stupid. The Persians were completely fantastic, led by Xerxes appearing as some sort of androgynous weirdo.

And Gladiator turned the story of Aurelius and Commodus into a strange revenge fantasy.

I hate Hollywood!

Stardust said...

cyberkitten, the problem is that most people use Hollywood movies to educate themselves and then take it as their history lessons. Intelligent people know it's only a movie, but I have relatives who would take the films as an accurate depiction of how things really happened.

CyberKitten said...

stardust said: the problem is that most people use Hollywood movies to educate themselves and then take it as their history lessons.

Never underestimate the power of human stupidity. The way I react is: Wow... that was entertaining... I wonder what *really* happened... Then I check Google or Wikipedia for an overview and if its interesting start checking books on Amazon.

stardust said: Intelligent people know it's only a movie, but I have relatives who would take the films as an accurate depiction of how things really happened.

It does seem to be a frighteningly common problem that there are people out there who can't tell the difference between fantasy & reality and aren't particularly interested in finding out which is which.

Jason B said: 300 was completely over-the-top.

Oh, I *loved* that movie. It was so.... mythic (as it should have been). On the DVD an Oxford historian gives her verdict - she loved it too... As long as you don't take it as history and instead treat it as myth - then it works. Its symbolic not historic.

Tommy said...

Jason, to me The Patriot was just Braveheart set during the American Revolution.

Another omission in Braveheart. The real battle of Sterling was really the Battle of Sterling Bridge. The English army thought that the Scots would courteously allow them to cross the bridge to get in full array before attacking the Scots, but the Scots did not see things that way and took advantage of the bottleneck to kill lots of Englishmen.

Another movie that comes to mind is "A Beautiful Mind". I found out later on that John Nash and his wife actually divorced. He also fathered a child with another woman. I think they really wanted his character to be sympathetic in the movie, and so they excluded anything that might make him look bad.

The thing about a lot of movies about historical events and figures is that often the interest is in telling a story that can be condensed into a two or three hour film. Events have to be altered or composite characters created based on several different people, for example. Inconvenient facts get omitted if they detract from or interfere with the story the screenwriter wants to portray.