How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

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How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby Kevin » Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:15 pm

As a history buff myself, I must admit that when a movie gets historically inaccurate or pulls too far away for dramatic effect, I get irked a little or a lot depending on the movie. However, a movie doesn't have to be perfect. I can settle for good enough, I just rather not have my intelligence insulted.

I have a few examples:
The Untouchables (1987): Decent movie; Sean Connery got an Oscar for his role and a depiction of the battle between law and order and the gangsters in the 1930s Prohibition era. Unfortunately, a lot of this movie is fabricated or exaggerated from Elliot Ness's biography (particularly a sequence where Elliot Ness throwing a guy off the roof of a building). Also, I believe the US government put Capone in jail without ever firing a shot. It's unfortunate that the ending of this movie is so cartoony that it takes away from everything before it.

Apollo 13 (1995): I loved this movie at the time when it was first released but as I get older, I'm turning sour about it. Ron Howard has a habit of making docudramas where facts are unnecessarily glossed over for the sake of drama (Frost/Nixon is another example). I'm a space nut so I know what actually happened and I must say that only about, at most, 50% of the movie is true. Albeit, some things needed compromise to make this movie but others didn't. Sometimes, reality is more powerful than fiction.

The Four Feathers (2002): A major point for me about this movie is a sequence where the Mahdi soldiers battle with the British forces at Abu Klea. The Battle of Abu Klea was a complete and decisive British victory, with the British taking minimal casulaties and inflicting tremendous casualties on the Mahdists. The equivalent would be the Confederates winning the Battle of Gettysburg. It feels like a movie made by a bitter man who was allowed to make the film because it was politically correct.
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby mkiker2089 » Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:37 pm

It depends on the movie I guess. I forgive Untouchables because Al Capone is a fictional character. There was a real Al Capone but most of what people think of him as is only legend. I put his persona in the same regard as Thor or Batman.

This came up when discussing House. Some people in the medical field don't like it because it isn't real case studies. As in he cures things much faster than is realistic. The show isn't supposed to be medically accurate however.

I guess what I'm saying is that House and Untouchables get a pass because they are presented as works of fiction (even if they use recognizable names) and therefore write their own rules as any fiction piece. Others, like Apollo 13, tread heavily on history so they should be more careful to represent it.

I think the best direct analysis would be that I forgive "historical fiction" like the novels about the Nazi's winning the war or General Lee being a cyborg, as long as they are honest that it's fiction. However if you toss out the "based on a true story" in order to get more bums in the seats then you need to be much more careful with your facts.
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby Polynikes » Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:19 pm

One of my pet hates. I shudder to think how many people's knowledge of 13th century English/Scottish conflict is based solely on Braveheart. I could not call that film "inaccurate": that implies it contains a core of fact with some historical inexactitude, rather than the complete misrepresentation of history which it is. Of many extraordinary inventions and distortions, the most jaw-dropping (SPOILER in white font) is portraying Wallace as having an affair with Isabella of France and fathering Edward III. Not only an historical impossibility, (Isabella was a young child at the time living in France), but even if she had been of an age, to show how ludicrous a notion this is, it would be like - well, I am not sure I can think of anything. Osama Bin Laden's son having an affair with an Obama daughter without anyone knowing and the resulting progeny becoming US president is about as close as I can manage.

I have never seen U-571, but it caused resentment in Great Britain, as the premise of the film is that the Unites States Navy was responsible for capturing Enigma machines and breaking the code, which was entirely untrue, and a slight on the bravery of the Royal Navy. Enigma was less cavalier with the truth, but the plot device (SPOILER in white font) of a Polish traitor at Bletchley Park is an invention which caused anger in Poland. There is a considerable amount in Lawrence of Arabia is either factually incorrect or historically dubious.

Drama has to have some licence, and I am not one of those people who spends time looking for minor anachronisms or inaccuracies. It also does not stop me appreciating a film's good qualities - Enigma and Lawrence of Arabia are both really good films, in my opinion, marred by the inaccuracies, but not broken as they have a sufficient kernel of truth. What gets to me is a plot based on something known not to be true (rather than something plausible which may or may not be true), above all in films which purport to be based on historical truth. As I wrote above, it makes me shudder to think that people's knowledge of history is based on films like Braveheart. My mother taught history, and the day after TV showed "Carry On, Don't Lose Your Head" (the writers would never have considered it could possibly taken seriously), a number of pupils wrote earnestly about "The Black Fingernail rescuing French nobility" in their essays!
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby molly1216 » Sun Oct 21, 2012 4:53 pm

a LOT.
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?" - Douglas Adams
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby Attrage » Wed Oct 24, 2012 5:56 pm

Firstly, great topic :)

My view: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” ;)

I’m a history buff myself, but I’m also a film buff. I can of course only speak for myself, but those two things mean a) if I want the 100% historically accurate version, I will pick up a history book, and b) if the film is well made, entertaining, and doesn’t ignorantly spit on the graves of the real people involved, I forgive historical inaccuracies.

So, does it bother me? No not really, but with one very notable exception: Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor – it doesn’t just spit on the graves, it drops it’s drawers and sh*ts all over them as well.
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby Paul Kile » Mon Oct 29, 2012 3:00 pm

Attrage wrote:Firstly, great topic :)

My view: “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” ;)

I’m a history buff myself, but I’m also a film buff. I can of course only speak for myself, but those two things mean a) if I want the 100% historically accurate version, I will pick up a history book, and b) if the film is well made, entertaining, and doesn’t ignorantly spit on the graves of the real people involved, I forgive historical inaccuracies.


I agree with Attrage. Most of us here have the ability to differentiate between historical fact and fiction, so we can compartmentalize inaccuracies in movies while still appreciating the overall product. The problem is the large number of people who have no concept of history, accepting the movie versions as completely factual.

I think of Patton as an example. How many of us (even those who know better) hear George C. Scott's voice when we think of Patton? The few newsreels I have seen of Patton actually speaking show him to have a somewhat high and reedy voice. If it weren't for those newsreels, Patton will forever be thought of as having the booming delivery shown in the movie. Once all the WWII generation have passed on, no one will remember Patton's real voice.

I have another example of perceptual drift, that comes from one of my other hobbies. For years, I restored old British sports cars (MGs mostly). The MGB series originally came with a shield-shaped badge on the front grille which showed the MG Octagon in bas relief, etched out from the back side and painted internally. This gave the logo a sense of depth. These badges are subject to cracking and fading over time, so they are usually replaced when the car is restored. The large aftermarket British parts suppliers began marketing a cheap and cheesy Chinese-made badge that used a flat version of the logo. For about 15 years now, that is the ONLY type of replacement that can be found new. What will eventually happen is you will see all restored cars with the flat badge, and people will think that's the way they came from the Factory. If substandard imitation exists for long enough, it begins to supplant the real thing.
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby Polynikes » Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:36 pm

I was pleasantly surprised by Valkyrie (2008) which I saw for the first time on TV last night. I feared that the makers might succumb to the temptation to jazz it up into an action thriller, but allowing for reasonable dramatic licence, it was faithful to the history, and it was a lot better than I had been led to believe.
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Re: How much does a movie's historical inaccuracy bother you?

Postby MovieAddict » Sat Dec 22, 2012 4:11 pm

Great Topic!

I haven't been to DVD verdict in perhaps over a year (life gets busy at times), what a perfect discussion to come back too and partake in.

When I was younger I didn't care at all about accuracy, intact I'm ashamed to admit I'd let the movies guide my historical perspective.

Of course now I'm older, absolutely love history, philosophy, economics, politics and all the other adult intellectual pleasures which make living in America so worthwhile and i now find I cannot tolerate most movies. In fact I can barely stand movies that enthralled me when I was young.

Once one acquires knowledge and wisdom from life and hard work, the vapid shallow nonsense hollywood puts out merely grates. 90% of it is propaganda or revisionism (to a Leftist world view which I no longer adhere to) and can take no pleasure in watching. In fact I find myself irritated as I know most of our youth will absorb this piffle and be manipulated by it for years to come.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive...those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
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