Swords And Cinema by Jeremiah McCall

Book Review by caldrail

Fancy a spot of entertainment? You might sit back on a sofa to watch television, perhaps a DVD, or maybe you throw caution to the winds and head toward the local cinema for the big screen experience. The latest 'sword & sandals' epic might be the one to watch.

Drama, tragedy, slow motion action, and a glorious festival of special effects to drop your jaw as the battle sequence unfolds in deafening bloody violence. But hang on a minute - Was that really how they fought? Did they really use weapons like that? Was that what the well dressed ancient warrior actually wore?

The question asked by this book is whether Hollywood depicts battles realistically. At first the proposition seems daft, because we all know Hollywood hasn't the slightest idea what historical accuracy means. The entertainment industry likes to fool us into thinking no expense has been spared to present the ancient world as it was, but the real objective is to tell a story, to present an artistic interpretation, or at worst, merely persuade you to part with cash to view the spectacle they filmed for your pleasure.

Doesn't that leave us with another unanswered question? Does this author know enough to make such comparisons? There are any number of opinions available today, ranging from researchers, re-enactors, celebrities, right down to the self professed internet expert. It's worth remembering that nobody fights battles like those of ancient times any more. The skills and knowledge that were once commonplace have become largely lost as armies progressed to the modern inventory and styles of fighting.

Therefore we have to accept that the main criteria for this sort of commentary is attention to detail, be it historical sources, archaeology, or modern experimentation. In this matter the author proves himself to be observant, rational, and objective. He ticks the right boxes. Just when you think he's forgotten something important you find it on the next page.

Better yet, Jeremiah McCall impresses us with detail on the motion pictures relevant to ancient history. Although the book features a series of recent films better known to the modern audience, he mentions obscure works of previous decades, even one from the Edwardian Age, surely almost primeval in terms of Hollywood and unknown to most of us.

Swords And Cinema is not a manual of ancient warfare, nor any sort of in-depth description of arms and uniforms, nor does it set out to debunk the efforts of the film industry. As I read through it I realised that I was reading the book in the wrong context. This is not a brick or a cornerstone in building your knowledge of ancient warfare, but a sort of cement. Swords And Cinema contains a great deal of useful information but be aware it doesn't cover everything, something the author makes clear himself, as the entire rationale was to use modern films as an illustration of ancient warfare and discuss the accuracy of that conception.

Personally I have misgivings about using Hollywood as a scene setter for a subject that does rely on academic accuracy, but I have to admit that this book does endear itself with an honest and informative style, and it's hard to disagree with the authors conclusions.

This is an original approach and whether it works is largely up the reader. You will only know if you read this book yourself.

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