Monday, October 18, 2010

Inaccuracy Means Mediocrity

Sorry, I have been in a bit of a slump lately and haven't been inspired to blog. Yesterday, though, I watched a movie that should have been just the type of movie I love, but due to a common problem in movies I ended up disliking it very much. The problem is directors being purposely inaccurate in how they depict things, most likely playing to what they think the audience wants rather than what is actually true.

The movie was called Centurion. Now, I am a great lover of Roman history, and I snatch up all movies and books on this subject as long as they look at least halfway decent. I liked the series Rome, for instance, and Colleen McCullough's huge series of historical fiction novels about Rome is one of my all-time favorites.

I so wanted this movie to be good (dare I even imagine one that could be great?). They did do quite well with the way they made things look in the movie. However, the director committed one of the cardinal sins of movies with combat in them -- he made the combat utterly unrealistic.

This movie reminded me of other recent ones that did the same thing -- Troy and 300. In each of these films the directors had the combatants set out to fight as individuals. For some reason they each had their Greeks or Romans put in a brief appearance of a proper formation, but this was just for show and as soon as actual combat began the men all sprang out of place and fought one on one. This is NOT how Greeks and Romans fought. They fought in shield walls, maximizing their strength of organization against the often superior numbers of their foes.

I can't explain just how appalling it is to me to see supposed Greeks or Romans fighting in a manner that is diametrically opposed to everything they believed in. To read about how they truly fought, I highly recommend Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, perhaps the most awesome historical fiction novel I have ever read.

Would it truly hurt a director someday to make a realistic portrayal of combat during Greek or Roman times? I think it would be like fantasy movies, where every director did mediocre low-budget tripe until Peter Jackson came along and showed everyone just how great such movies can be if done properly.

In my fantasy novel The Shard, I attempted to be as accurate as possible with combat while still hopefully making it interesting for the reader (and not be overly gruesome!). A couple of examples are in this post and in this one.


  1. I thought the movie was good but not great. They tried to fight as one until the Picts created chaos and broke up the ranks.
    It's tough for any movie to follow LOTR now.

  2. I didn't buy that, Alex. First, they wouldn't have just stood there and let those big flaming balls roll over them. They would have moved aside. Second, they would have reformed their ranks again. That is what they do.

  3. Hmm. I see your point Ted, but I can't conceive of a way for the Phalanx to be properly represented in film without being boring. I'm not saying I wouldn't love it if someone could do it, I'm just guessing it would be really tough.

  4. ummm... i really don't know much about fighting strategies, but my guess is that they were going for visually dynamic shots. right now people seem to be all about the visuals. ga'hoole, avatar (the giant smurf one), alice... i think story and accuracy suffer right now as they focus on making things purty.

  5. I remember reading about sheild walls in Bernard Cornwell's Arthur series. I thought it seemed very exciting the way the two groups would come together with brute strength depending on the men on either side and all down the line to hold. Rather than having men just wacking at each other right and left, where you can't even tell what's going on, it would be cool to see the drama and tension of a spear coming over the sheild wall to bear down on the hero's favorite, his determination to hold but inability to avoid the spear it jams into a vulnerable area... Also the strategy behind this kind of fighting. Oh well...

    I agree though Ted, I'm often distracted in a movie when they show something that's not historically acurate, just becuase they think the people watching the movie won't know what's going on.

  6. Directors think real combat is boring. real fights are over quickly and don't build drama. A shield wall is a pretty cool shot, but only for 5 seconds or so, then you need men in loin cloths and oiled muscles hacking away individually.

    I liked 300 though, historical inaccuracies and all.

  7. Of course MY favorite Roman depiction is in Life of Brian *shifty* ("What have the Romans ever done for us?") And in fact I received a comic on Romans just yesterday... two roman soldiers standing in pumps with the caption: "Caesar says we can switch to sandals, but we have to keep the skirts" *snort*

    Okay, but seriously... I think you are absolutely right that it's a shame for directors to give up accuracy. I know they do it for DRAMA, but it stinks. Then again, there are tons of people (like me) who wouldn't know the difference... then again again, people like me who don't know the difference, aren't the battle scene enthusiasts anyway, so yeah... accurate is better.

  8. I'll have to watch the movie. As long as it's better than 300, I'll probably get through it.

    I did like Troy though.


  9. I agree that 300 was at least visually entertaining. I can rewatch it just for the way it looked, but the battle scenes annoy me. I can never like Troy, as it was inaccurate all around. I mean, they even had Achilles alive during the sack!

  10. I often have to suspend my disbelief of things in order to enjoy movies.

  11. I'll take your word for it and check out my local library for Gates of Fire. I love historical fiction war themed books and movies, but as you point out they have to be accurate. Credibility is an issue. I want to be entertained. Just don'e insult my intelligence with something corny.

  12. Just stopping by to say hi Ted. Hi.

  13. I was looking forward to that movie. I have pretty low expectations of Hollywood accuracy. But I did stop watching Fringe after the first episode because they had the Iraqis speaking Farsi. Dudes. It's not as if you couldn't have spent TWO FRICKIN' MINUTES on Wikapedia to find out that they speak ARABIC in Iraq. Is this hard? Is there any plot reason or cinemagraphic reason or character reason to eff this basic fact up? No, no and no. No reason. Just absolute bone-head laziness. I've heard Fringe has gotten better, but it still boggles my mind.

    In another show, they used the flag of Iraq for North Korea. Um, wtf?

    My brother sometimes gives advice to Hollywood types on physics. The extent of ignorance in every area is simply appalling.