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"Worst Things Hollywood gets Wrong about Ancient ..." Topic

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Tango0131 Oct 2018 9:11 p.m. PST

…and Medieval Battles.

"Personally, I love Hollywood historical epics no matter how ridiculously inaccurate they are. Anything that gets history out in the world is okay with me. They key to enjoying them and still getting something of historical value from them is to understand what the movies do right and wrong. Just to be clear, this is going for mostly intentional choices rather than "movie mistakes" like the gas canister on the Gladiator chariot…."
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Do you consider some more…?


RobSmith01 Nov 2018 7:09 a.m. PST

1. Everything so dirty (in modern movies). In reality, soldiers of the ancient world would spiff themselves up as much as possible to meet the enemy, so while there would be the wear and tear of campaigning, day for battle was, if possible, spit and polish!

2. Everything so dark. The clothing and armor were usually much brighter than modern Hollywood depicts. We often think of ancient dyes as rather dull, but that was not true. Finds in ancient graves across the world have shown some very vibrant colors. Movies from the age of technicolor Hollywood at least get this more correct.

While Oliver Stone's Alexander sucked as a movie, the costuming was pretty amazing!

3. Form up! Now, charge in disorganized mass! The actual fighting methods of ancients armies would be really cool to show.

Gwydion01 Nov 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

Number 3 above.
That really infuriates me.

Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP01 Nov 2018 8:24 a.m. PST

Strangely, alot of the big battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings show knowledge of, and attempts to portray, how armies fought in Medieval times.

Perhaps due to Jackson's interest in military history?

Tango0101 Nov 2018 11:13 a.m. PST



Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Nov 2018 11:15 a.m. PST

Chariots being used as tanks as in "Fall of The Roman Empire."

Also, when will a movie depicting Late Republican/Early Empire Romans use the pilum as per doctrine?

Actually, the list is nearly inexhaustible.


RobSmith01 Nov 2018 11:40 a.m. PST

Oh, all Romans are mid Imperial with square scutum, regardless of the time period in which the film is set. It would be akin to showing all American soldiers in ACW uniforms, whether the film is set in early colonial period or vietnam war era.

Zinkala01 Nov 2018 12:09 p.m. PST

My personal pet peeve is fireballs and flaming arrows. Almost every catapult shoots flaming, explosive rocks and even in open battle they are using flaming arrows instead of just when they were trying to, you know, actually start a fire.

dapeters01 Nov 2018 1:57 p.m. PST

Yes the exploding missiles is mine

Damion01 Nov 2018 6:21 p.m. PST

Anyone north of the Mediterranean is a fur and leather clad barbarian where costuming looks no different from Mad Max and lots of shaved headed guys.

Modern bows covered with rags.

Swords that look like clubs.

Jewelry that doesn't shine. Armour that looks like it's been stored in the shed for years and never been cleaned.

Random chainmail pieces on a leather backing.
Random leather straps on a leather backing.

Ragged hems on clothing.

Swords being used to crowbar open locks or even smash chains on a prisoner.

huevans01101 Nov 2018 6:41 p.m. PST

Leather armour!

God! What I wouldn't give to see some nice, period appropriate chain mail!

John Edmundson01 Nov 2018 9:25 p.m. PST

All of the above. Over-effective artillery (smashing great chunks off walls etc) and burning arrows are the ones that tend to actually annoy me the most at the time. The rest tends to just exercise my eye muscles, in a rotating action.

Having watched Vikings, I now find it really hard to use the expression 'shield wall' with a straight face.


ZULUPAUL Supporting Member of TMP02 Nov 2018 2:10 a.m. PST

Battles that are just individual fights & jumping up to hit an opponent. I also hate flaming arrows, that rag on the end certainly must affect the flight.

RobSmith02 Nov 2018 8:46 a.m. PST

Commanders yelling "Fire!" to order their men to loose arrows, catapults, javelins and other non-gunpowder, non-flaming things.

This is also common in written historical fiction.

Tango0102 Nov 2018 11:33 a.m. PST

Wow!…. a lot!….


Hector Blackwolf Inactive Member02 Nov 2018 11:40 a.m. PST

I agree with the lack of color, pre-modern man attempted to make himself and his environment as colorful and decorative as possible and was largely unburdened by concepts of gaudy, tacty, or over-done. But, that is a setting issue.

For battles, the lack of proper formations

Damion02 Nov 2018 1:51 p.m. PST

So to sum up:


Warspite105 Nov 2018 12:17 p.m. PST

@ Pan Marek
I strongly suspect that either Peter Jackson is a wargamer or a wargamer choreographed the later battles for Peter Jackson.
At Helm's Deep the Orc pikes form an unstoppable pike wall until the sunlight hits them in the face and they go disorganised and the pike wall wavers.

At Pelennor Fields, we see the Rohirrim charge, take fire, the Orcs react to the charge and again go disorganised and are about to rout when they are hit by the cavalry. The Orcs collapse, the Rohirrim then fight through them, rally and face-about to meet the new threat, charge again and their horses are disorganised by the 'smelly ellies'. The surviving horse charge through the elephants to then turn about and attack from the flank and rear with bows where they are more effective.

Yes, someone put some considerable thought into those battles!


Warspite105 Nov 2018 12:21 p.m. PST

@Rob Smith
There is an original account that longbowmen were used to disperse rioting students at Oxford in the mid-15th century. The original account says that the commander ordered them to 'fire'. Yes, I was surprised as well but it is a contemporary document.


Warspite105 Nov 2018 12:25 p.m. PST

@ Damion
Watch the 'archers' in King Arthur. You hear the bows creaking under the tension yet, strangely, Keira Knightley's muscles in her arm hardly tense or move and the archers then 'hold' far too long. Even with the light bows I have shot your arms tense and shake, as you tension, and you release the moment you have reached maximum pull. Either release or give yourself a hernia! :)


Damion06 Nov 2018 5:22 a.m. PST

I've believe that about the archers shooting rioters. It was around that time that vagrants who skipped out on the work they were forced into were being executed. That practice continued for about two centuries.

Gwydion06 Nov 2018 11:55 a.m. PST

Warspite1 – have you a got a reference please?

Not doubting you, just interested – I suppose by the mid 15th century they would have been using gunpowder weapons for a hundred years, so not impossible the meaning had transferred by any means – but I've not heard of it used in that context that early before.

Thomas Thomas06 Nov 2018 3:13 p.m. PST

Basic errors:

As two armies close they suddenly break formation and begin running forward. Apparently in an attempt to exhaust themselves and make sure their battle line is broken.

Bad costumes: perpetual "dark ages" grimy leather.


Benvartok07 Nov 2018 2:12 p.m. PST

All of the above and consolidation.

By that I mean anything up to 300 years of events, battles, marriages etc shoe horned into one movie, series or sometimes an episode!

The Vikings series and Kingdom of Heaven movie are especially guilty with resulting fake history.

Tango0107 Nov 2018 3:02 p.m. PST

More good ones!.


Henry Martini07 Nov 2018 7:30 p.m. PST

Thomas has captured the essence of a battle (of any period) according to Hollywood. I can imagine the standard direction from the megaphone-wielding man/woman in the high chair once he/she's bored with the sometimes vaguely historical preliminaries:

'OK everyone… that's enough fancy dancing! I want to see action, so stunt men… get ready for the jumping and leaping fight scenes, and everyone else… run or ride towards the enemy guys as fast as you can!

One subtle variation comes into play for 20th century-based movies: one side is hunkered down in trenches or foxholes and only the other side engages in a mass, formless mob rush towards them.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2018 10:23 a.m. PST

Cardboard armor. Doesn't matter what armor anyone uses, be it leather, cloth, mail or plate. A light tap with a sword and everyone dies.

Infact cardboard might be to strong. I think Hollywood armor actually enhances the effect of weapons. One of the only movies to show plate armor working is Excalibur. You see they hit eachother swords bonceing of the armor and them trying to pry it open and stab in the weaker points.

And of course full galloping cavalry charge from a a kilometer or more away. Because we all know horses run on diesel and so have lots of energy left after galloping 1500 meters with an armored Knight or Macedonian companion on it's back.

Henry Martini12 Nov 2018 1:49 p.m. PST

That's so Hollywood, Gunfreak: it's left to fantasy films to demonstrate historical realism!

Damion12 Nov 2018 4:38 p.m. PST

I was going to ask when the last fantasy film was and then I remembered the Hobbit films. I guess blocking them from conscious thought is a coping mechanism. Just don't try and think how giant worms can disappear so the armies they dug the tunnels for can march out. Or why not just use the worms to tunnel under the towns of men and elves instead of onto a battlefield and apparently no one heard all this underground earth shifting going on.

On the plus side it makes firing burning arrows into a pine forest you're about to fight in seem reasonable by comparison. "At my signal, unleash hell." At least he knew he was doing something crazy.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP13 Nov 2018 2:32 a.m. PST

The Hobbit also is the very worst offender of "paper-mache armor" giant oversized orcs with plate armor die instantly when old towns women a 3rd their size gently tap them with a blunt piece of iron (generously called a sword)
The lord of the rings aren't that much better in this respect.

uglyfatbloke13 Nov 2018 9:10 a.m. PST

The new Robert the Bruce movie is better than one might expect. Too much of the 'mass single combat' stuff going on, but the English cavalry charge looks pretty good – at least until they get close up and you can see some weird helmets. A pity about the absence of barded horses, but it's still better than most…damned fire arrows get everywhere, but the town and castle scenes are much better than the usual fare.

Zinkala13 Nov 2018 8:15 p.m. PST

Started watching Outlaw King and saw another one. To shoot a catapult/trebuchet you cut the rope. You'd think they'd have some sort of release mechanism that allows you to not reattach/splice rope with each shot. And it had a fireball. Haven't seen enough yet to form a real opinion on the film as a whole.

RobSmith14 Nov 2018 8:44 a.m. PST

@Rob Smith
There is an original account that longbowmen were used to disperse rioting students at Oxford in the mid-15th century. The original account says that the commander ordered them to 'fire'. Yes, I was surprised as well but it is a contemporary document.


When you can provide a link to the contemporary document, I will be convinced. Until then this is just hearsay.

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