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The list: five films that play fast and loose with the facts

The list: five films that play fast and loose with the facts

The list: five films that play fast and loose with the facts
September 28
12:20 2015


When Matt Damon’s character finds himself stranded on Mars in Ridley Scott’s new film The Martian, he announces that he must “science the shit out of this” in order to escape the red planet. Not everybody who saw the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, however, was impressed by its scientific credentials. Despite advisory input from Nasa scientists during the film’s production, some space experts, including John Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, criticised the depiction of conditions on Mars, including too-low gravity and an a too-thick atmosphere. Here we look at five more films whose accuracy leaves something to be desired.

1. Gladiator (2000)

This film, also by Ridley Scott, features a number of deviations from historical record; Roman history aficionados were particularly irked by its portrayal of Emperor Commodus. The biographical details of Marcus Aurelius Commodus Antoninus Augustus little resemble those of his onscreen counterpart; the real emperor enjoyed a long rule, did not murder his father (who died of an illness in Vienna) and was strangled to death in his bathtub rather than killed in the gladiatorial arena.

2. The Boy Next Door (2015)

In this erotic thriller, Jennifer Lopez’s character Claire is touched to be given a “first edition” of Homer’s Iliad by her teenage neighbour Noah, who purchased it second-hand for “just a buck”. Since a first edition of the Iliad would be in ancient Greek, and the earliest written version is thought to date from the eight century BC, it seems extremely doubtful that you would find one in English for a dollar at an American garage sale. However, following The Boy Next Door’s release, online bookseller AbeBooks reported that ‘Iliad first edition’ has been its most searched-for term, suggesting that a good number of the film’s viewers were convinced.

3. Braveheart (1995)

Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning Scottish epic boasts a litany of historical blunders, including the eponymous hero’s supposed love affair with Princess Isabella, who would have been a toddler at the time the film is set, and soldiers clad in kilts, which didn’t exist for at least another three centuries. Perhaps the most egregious of these errors is a funeral accompanied by what one of the characters calls “outlawed” bagpipes, which were not yet introduced to Scotland and were never in fact banned, contrary to a persistent myth that they were outlawed in 1746, some 500 years after the film’s action.

4. Pearl Harbor (2001)

This film was so widely criticised for taking liberties with historical fact that the National Geographic channel produced a documentary called Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor, dedicated to setting the record straight on the actual events of December 7 1941. In one scene, for example, President Roosevelt stands up from his wheelchair, despite being so badly polio-stricken that he could not have supported himself without leg-braces. One of the most damning indictments of the film’s inaccuracy came from Kenneth M. Taylor, a US Air Force 2nd Lieutenant on whose deeds it is partially based, who called the movie a “piece of trash”.

5. Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)

After a lukewarm reception, this American disaster movie could have slipped quickly into obscurity were it not for its title. On the film’s release, geographers were quick to point out that Krakatoa is, in fact, west of Java. In the 1970s the film was released for a second time, under the new title Volcano.

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