Since I haven't seen any of the films discussed in Mahnola Dargis and A.O. Scott's article "Confronting the Fact of Fiction and the Fiction of Fact," which criticizes historical fictions for historical inaccuracy, I looked at a critique (from a historical standpoint) on another modern classic of historical fiction: National Treasure. This film sets an enthusiastic but unprofessional history buff on the hunt for Freemasons' hidden treasure, which can be found with the help of a map on the Declaration of Independence. In his National Geographic article "'National Treasure': Freemasons, Fact, and Fiction" Stefan Lovgren comments on this plot, saying, "Preposterous? Absolutely."
However, Lovgren goes on to wonder whether National Treasure will have the same effect on movie audiences that the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code did; that is, moviegoers being intrigued by what they saw, knowing that some parts of the film were fabricated, and doing their own research to learn more. Lofgren's argument is that if historical fiction can get people excited about real history, why should we oppose it? Lofgren cites Jim Kouf, co-writer of National Treasure, who said that "after seeing the movie, my daughter grabbed a copy of the Declaration of Independence and brought it to school with her. That was very exciting."
Frankly, most of Dargis and Scott's arguments against movies from the past year seem fairly weak. These movies are not presenting themselves as true accounts of history. Even though the filmmakers are setting their stories in a real historical time, they have no responsibility to tell the truth. Nobody would criticize a movie set in the present for being inaccurate to the truth; that's what fiction is. Even if National Treasure were called National Treasure: A True Story about the Back of the Declaration of Independence, the albeit misleading title would not mean that the film was required to present historically accurate information. The film was not funded by a grant from a historical association or touted as a useful educational tool. (The film had a production budget of $100 million and was produced by Disney/Touchstone, Junction Entertainment, Saturn Films and Jerry Bruckheimer Films, and was distributed by Buena Vista Pictures.) As I see it, writers of historical fictions have about as much responsibility to tell the truth as writers of any other fictional movies, and that's not much.
(This is by Erica Motz, I had to change my blogger name to ERM for a different class.)