Four Things in War Movies That Would Never Happen

movies, war, fighting, chevalier, horses, swords, armor, king arthur, battle, mayhem

Clive Owen in King Arthur

I love historical films, or period piece movies, where the setting is of a different time and especially of a different culture. Once you go pre-Industrial era you’re dealing with huge (or sometimes small) battles involving cutlasses, swords, spears, maces, arrows, catapults, boiling oil, inaccurate muskets, canons and a whole host of hand to hand combat. With the medieval era or early there is still this romanticism about the noble knight, a holdover from Victorian notions that Hollywood has embraced. Sure, war scenes have become gorier, with bodies being skewered and sliced, and blood spraying everywhere. Reality would be the reason the directors would give. But even they fall victim to romanticism, so that even if a movie looks historically accurate in terms of costume and setting, they’ll veer in actual actions and attitudes.

  1. The mounted fighter will leap off his horse to battle the hordes on the ground. Not in a million years. The difference between a mounted fighter and one on fought was astronomical. Horses and armor were so expensive that those who had these items were pretty much guaranteed to be knights. The term chevalier comes from the Latin caballarius meaning horseman. It was the French word for knight and a noble. Because of the expense of a horse the knight would not give up his mount easily, nor would he lose the advantage he had of literally being head and shoulders above the crowd. It meant superior mobility, better viewing of the battle and powerful blows from above. The knight would stay mounted as long as he could, until he was either pulled off his horse or his horse was killed.
  2. The noble knight wears no helmet in battle or tears it off in the final face-to-face with the foe. So, what is the point of wearing armor if you remove parts of it, especially when fighting the more experienced warrior? Armor, like those horses, was expensive and you didn’t want to lose your helmet amongst the gore on the field. Not to mention, leave you head bare to being sliced up? I’ll mention here too that the helmets are usually tied, buckled or clipped on to stop them from toppling off with any knock. Maybe not all were, but they would have covered the faces and necks and would not sit jauntily atop the head. I’m no armor expert but I know enough that you have to affix your armor so it stays in place. Clive Owen as Arturius (Arthur) above wore his helmet in battle but his dying comrades didn’t always.
  3. Armor is black, especially if you’re noble or a bad guy. Before about the 1600s black was a dye color that was extremely difficult to procure, if you could get it at all, and came from black walnut and oak galls. It was therefore very expensive. If you managed to get some of this dye,would you waste it on armor when it was going to get scuffed and hacked at? No. You’d use it on your clothing. The lower classes got the more washed out colors of blue, green, brown, yellow and pink. No one would have black armor unless the metal itself was black and that too would have been rare. Even if movies have no battles this is the biggest mistake made.
  4. Traveling through the snowy, cold mountains with your cloak billowing behind you, if you’re wearing one. Early armor was made of leather boiled in beeswax. Then there was chain mail and later, plate metal. Some armor could be a combination of two or three of these things. Any metal was cold so warriors always had padding beneath, for keeping the metal off the skin to stop chafing, bruising and cuts, and to insulate. If it was cold enough to wear a cloak and still need to wear your armor while traveling through hostile territory, you would have it billowing nobly behind you. What’s the point? To look like Superman? It certainly wouldn’t serve the purpose it was made for, which was warmth. Everything in those early centuries was handmade and not cheap to replace.

I’m sure there are more inconsistencies and inaccuracies in those movies that show battles. I won’t even touch on the World War movies as I don’t watch many of those. If you have any pet peeve with Hollywood’s mutilation of history, let me know.


Filed under Culture, history, movies, myth

5 responses to “Four Things in War Movies That Would Never Happen

  1. rautakyy

    The further back historical events movies are depicting the sillier they get. This is not even in coherence of the less information we have of the former historical events and material culture, but rather much more cumulative than that.

    1. Yes a mounted soldier tries to stay that way if he can. The main reason is that the horse gives momentum, mass and greater mobility. Also in retreat, if things go wrong. Some battles were actually won because the commanders told the cavalry to dismount before the battle. Allways before, not during. For example in Crecy the English were facing superior French army (both in numbers and quality) so by dismounting his cavalry the English king could stop them from escaping the battle and hence also their infantry was more keen on fighting to the end. Julius Caesar admired one of the tribes he defeated by saying that they have the mobility of cavalry and staying power of the infantry because they moved mounted from battle to battle , but fought dismounted.

    2.The head and the neck are the most vulnerable parts of a human being, so removing a helmet would be really stoopid in combat. That is one of the things people do in all the war movies all the time. Even in those presenting more modern warfare. I think it is for character recognition, but that is simply silly, because especially in the early history the characters could wear recognisable helmets and modern helmets do not actually cover the face. On the other hand William the Bastard took of his helmet during the battle of Hastings, to show his army he was not dead, as such a rumour was about to break his army. Then he put it back on again…

    3. In the early 15th century blackened (or rather blued) armour became fashionable. Perhaps it had something to do with the tempering techniques of metal that they did discover in those days. The blued armour gets its colour from the metal itself and requires no dyes. Before that plate armour was often called the “harnais blanc” or the white armour, because it was polished shining. Later, armour was often even painted black. Armour was painted black by using tar as the darkening material so it was not that expensive. The main purpose was to prevent armour from rusting. Same as with polishing. On the other hand armour was for centuries the pride of a rich man, so if black was expensive, all the more reason to wear black armour. Experience will however soon prove that the black armour gets hot very, very fast in the sunlight. In comparrison to polished armour, that is. Heat being the main problem when wearing armour, this is something to be considered. Black in the movies is used by the bad guys as a rule. Why do the filmmakers suspect the ability of the audience to recognize evil people by the actions they engage in? Do they not understand that using such modern concepts, they strip the plausibility of their story setting and rip the immersion to a nother time, place and culture?

    4. As I said heat is the main problem with armour. Movement and muscle action produces heat that has not enough relieve vents to escape armour. That is one of the reasons armour is usually open from the croth and armpits, though mobility and cofortability to sit in a saddle also affect this . Metal is a conductor of heat, but from a personal experience, I would say it leads cold in to the armour when you are not moving, but nothing out when you are moving. And I have donned my armour in freezing temperatures. So, when on the move it is not necessarily a bad idea to let the cloak fly and then cover yourself when you stop. Especially when you are climbing a steep hill or mountain. Yet, even if that was somehow practical it will look stupid, because of the connontations we modern people have about superheroes or such. In general, the climate is something the heroes of historical movies face with very little protection, considering they live in an era without antibiotics.

    There are historical movies in which these and other annoying incoherences are not as obvious, but few. I kind of liked the new movie The Eagle, which tells of imperial Romans in Britain.

    • colleenanderson

      Thanks very much for further elucidation. I only know the rudiments of armor and there are regional, ethnic and time variations. I still debate warriors traipsing or riding through blizzards leaving their cloaks blowing in the wind. Much better, if they’re too hot, to tuck the cloak/mantle away so that it’s not encrusted with snow and ice by the time they do need it. 🙂

  2. rautakyy

    Well, of course you are right. I tried to demonstrate how the heat problem works in an armour, but did not do it very effectively as my comment was getting rather long and I wanted to cut it short.

    People allways refer to armour being heavy and cumbersome, when it is none of these things. Most suits of armour are actually lighter than what a modern soldier carries as his equipment and they simply may not get into the way of fighting. Hence heat is the main problem. I have worn and fought in my set in the temperatures of +41 celcius to -26 celsius. Even in the coldest of athmospheres it gets hot after a while of rapid movement (as in combat, running or climbing ) and even in the hottest of air and sunlight one is reasonably comfortable while not moving. The helmet is the most suffocating part, since the head is a major relief for heat in the body ( I believe it was Aristotle who claimed the brains are a body part only for the heat exthaustion and he had some very profound arguments for his case).

    However, in a blizzard people would wear their cloak, rather than let it fly wildly. Especially if they intend to spend some time in the outdoors. I will sign up this article of yours , so if you ever need to ask something about armour, maybe I could help.

  3. rautakyy

    Now, was that not bold of me? You are a writer and do your own research, if need arises. Sorry, I thought I could somehow help, but right after posting my last comment, I felt I somehow overstepped the line of politeness. My apologies.

  4. Graham

    Actually, when you heat up metal it naturally oxidizes and becomes black. This is why a blacksmith’s ironwork has a black colour to it. The black coating (actually rust) is called scale. In the past armourers would heat-treat the armour they created to harden it, which would blacken the steel somewhat. To get the ‘knight in shining armour’ effect, the steel would have to be polished after. Thus, dark or colorized armour is actually more realistic than the shiny stuff, which was reserved for rich people who could hire people to take care of their equipment, and even then only in the later medieval period.

    Peace ~V~ Graham

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