Can you enjoy an inacurrate movie?

In my recent thread on “Becoming Jane”, a couple of posters said they disliked the movie because it played very freely with the facts of Jane Austen’s life. I knew from the reviews that it was historically inaccurate, and that didn’t effect my enjoyment of the movie. I’ve always felt that as long as no one is accused of something loathsome like murder or rape, that films/historical novels don’t have a responsibilty to be accurate. They’re not claiming to be strictly fact-based, and therefore shouldn’t be judged the way actual history books are. Do you agree? And if you don’t, does it make a difference if you find before or after seeing a film you find out it wasn’t accurate?

If the movie claims to be a true story, then it bothers the fuck out of me if it takes too big liberties with the source material. This is partly because when I watch a movie purporting to be true, I expect to see roughly what actually happened, not a lie, but mainly because people in general (including me) will assume that the movie’s version is reasonably close to reality. Lying movies spread ignorance.

Case in point: In the Name of the Father. Saw the movie, thought that was roughly the way it happened. Then read the book. Not even close. And now I bet thousands of people believe there was a file in the archives with a note saying “Not to be shown to the defence”.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a large number of people who take what they see in historical movies as true. I remember discussing Stone’s movie, “JFK” with people who thought that the movie was basically accurate, which there were many areas that this was not true.

It makes a difference for me if I know that it’s not accurate, and have less problems if the movies do not claim to be accurate.

It depends on how seriously it takes itself.

As long as the inacurracies are not too glaring.

If it doen’t claim to be true, or is obviously having fun. I enjoyed “A Knight’s Tale” even though it was nowhere near historically accurate.

but “Hildalgo” bothered me. If it didn’t claim to be true I would have liked it a lot more.


If it’s “invented and any similarity with reality is coincidence,” then I’m generally OK with it.

If it’s supposed to be an attempt at reconstructing something which actually happened, or at showing something real, then I’m not OK with it.

Cf the opening scene in MI2, which is set in Semana Santa in Seville with lots of Falleras around (culturally equivalent to showing everybody wearing sombreros around DC). While the story is invented, that bit actually tried to be Seville and failed miserably - MI2 didn’t make pennies, in Spain, because instead of feeling flattered by having our country be shown, people felt offended.

I think that about sums it up. A “docudrama” type movie that looks like it is intended to tell History As It Really Happened deserves a lot less slack than a drama or comedy that happens to be set in a historical period and gets things wrong. I don’t remember ever enjoying the first kind, they just make me squirm. The second sort, well, if it’s a good story… The original Pirates of the Carribean movie is a good example. The clothing, for instance, is a hodge-podge of styles from different time periods; some geographical points are wrong; and somehow three scenes which appear to be spaced just a few days apart all take place under a full moon. But I enjoyed the story enough that I could ignore that. (The only bit that jarred me out of my suspension-of-disbelief state was the bit with the bed warmer full of red hot coals being placed a few inches from bare feet - yowch!)

If that had been a historical documentary on pirates, on the other hand, I would have walked out!

Of course it bothers me, because it only proves that I’m the one who should be ilving in a giant cantilevered house with glass walls overlooking Malibu, driving a Bentley and dating starlets.

Those are what movie-makers get for making accurate movies, right?

Hidalgo is sort of an interesting case, in that it was based on a race that a historical personage claimed actually happened, but he probably made up.

In any case, there are relatively few movies inspired by historical events that are more then partially accurate, so as long as their isn’t something blatantly ahistorical (having the Germans win at Stalingrad or something) it happily doesn’t really bother me.

Sure. The science in The Day After Tomorrow is inaccurate in every detail (including – and especially – geography*), but it’s a fun flick.

The best answer was when Ron Shelton was talking about Cobb. In the film, Al Smith, the sportwriter writing Ty Cobb’s biography, is taking copious notes about Cobb’s bizarre behavior and hiding them. Later Cobb finds the notes, which leads to a confrontation. The movie was an accurate representation of Cobb and Smith, except for the fact that Cobb never discovered Smith’s note. “But,” Shelton said, “you couldn’t have the movie and no have Cobb see the notes.” Often the rules of drama trump accuracy.

As I have said many a time here, people seem to nitpick on the basis they’d rather see something “accurate” and dull than dramatic. Frankly, if you need to have accuracy in your movies, then you’re the one losing out.

*When the tidal wave hits New York City, Long Island is nowhere to be found, and when it flows up Manhattan it would have had to have originated in inland New Jersey. When the cold air mass comes from the north, it hits the Empire State Building before the New York Public Library, despite the fact the Empire State is south of the Public Library. But it all looks cool, so it’s fun.

I enjoyed Braveheart, but less so because of the historical inaccuracies:

  1. There was no such thing as the jus primae noctis.

  2. William Wallace was not a commoner, he was of Scotland’s minor nobility.

  3. King Edward I (Longshanks), although he “gained a reputation for treating rebels and other foes with great savagery,” was famous for always keeping his word of honor.

  4. Wallace was executed in 1305. Prince Edward, later King Edward II, did not get married until 1308.

I can absolutely suspend my disbelief in these kinds of movies, provided the movie does as well as it can to help me. Downright anachronistic things will bring me out of the movie, but I don’t care if they play fast & loose. I am no history buff and think that most of “written history” is probably dead wrong anyway, barring perhaps cold things like dates. After all it was written by humans. And humans like to change/edit/modify things to suit their own inclination. I don’t believe anyone can write 100% objectively, anytime, for any reason.

I guess what I’m saying is a good fiction is as good or better as the so-called reality - which may or may not be true.

I totally agree.

I also find it funny when someone says, “it ruined the movie for me when such and such happened” and then, it turns out that “such and such” really did happen, or that “such and such” is perhaps a matter of debate between people, and the filmmakers decided to go one way with it.

So, not only have they watched the movie in a way the movie wasn’t meant to be watched, but they’ve taken themselves out of it by their own ignorance.

It doesn’t bother me that much unless the movie is marketed as being a “true story”. F’r instance: there are hundreds of different versions of the Arthurian cycle of tales. If you want to do your own, knock yourself out, and I’d love to see it. But don’t market your fantasy as “the truth behind the legends”. (King Arthur.)

With Hidalgo, I would have simply had the tagline be: “If it ain’t true . . . it oughta be.”

Usually it depends on the rest of the movie. I can live with a little Bad Science in the Bourne Identity, but abuse of gamma rays made me angry in The Hulk.

I have a really really hard time – but it does depend on the spirit of the film.

For example: a crappy adaptation of a true story, or something FULL of historical or technical mistakes (Apocalypto made me want to SCREAM - holy crap!) versus a comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously (Monty Python and the Holy Grail is at one extreme, various versions of Robin Hood being another, or even adaptations of folktales or myths with variations on the major themes and archetypes… and so on…)

But something that takes itself seriously and is full of anachronisms will especially drive me BATTY. I can’t help it. lno keeps telling me to stop and to try to just enjoy the movie, but I just CAN’T.

Yea, Braveheart is a good example. It’s supposedly based on a true story, but aside from some of the names and the battles, its almost complete fiction. But its still a good movie. If I want to find out the true story behind William Wallace, I’ll go read a book.

I don’t get the distinction.

Marketing is just marketing.

I could see how it would bug you if they published inaccuracies in a peer-reviewed journal.

But, are you saying that if I made two identical movies – “King Arthur” and “King Arthur: The Truth Behind the Legend” – you’d have a problem with one, but not the other?

I guess this only bothers me when the evidence heavily supports one view, and then they change it to make the story simpler or to fit a more black-and-white artistic vision. Artistically, it’s much more interesting (for me) to have non-sexy details being important enough to change history, or to have real shades of gray such that you can easily see the other side being justified with what they’re doing. Hollywood’s tendency to dumb things down, even when the history tends to have things happen more interestingly, is annoying.

Braveheart (as someone else mentioned) is the perfect example. Why not have a Longshanks with redeeming qualities? Why not have William Wallace as a noble, with some real faults (maybe hypocrasy?), despite Wallace being, at heart, a decent man? This would be truer to history AND more interesting to watch.

Hollywood making the majority of historical movies with all the moral and logistical complexity of a cartoon is tiresome. I agree that it’s fun to sometimes have a Good vs. Evil fairy tale, sure, but does this kind of thinking have to infuse the greater portion of our historical epics?