Medieval Realism in Movies (Response to Tod of Tod’s Workshop)

realistic medieval fantasy movies

Tod of Tod’s Worksop YouTube channel recently released a video wherein he discusses why filmmakers sacrifice medieval realism in movies. Today I want to share this video with you, partly because I believe Tod’s Workshop is a great YouTube channel worth sharing but mainly because I have some critique for this video that some medievalists and/or fantasy lovers might find interesting.

Watching the above video before reading further will benefit this discussion. Tod argues some good points about why medieval-themed movies are unrealistic and historically-inaccurate. He defends filmmakers’ neglection of medieval realism in films for various reasons including safety concerns, copyright issues and the cost of waiting around to make decisions during the filming process. However, he’s only defending such filmmaking practices for the case of making films for the sake of entertaining the masses. After all, as Tod kindly points out, movies are not documentaries. Furthermore, Tod reveals how the practice of sacrificing realism tries to satisfy a larger audience. He claims only a million people out of many millions are informed enough to be annoyed by historical inaccuracies. “Pandering to the masses,” according to Tod, means purposely including historical inaccuracies in order to satisfy the expectations of the masses. In other words, medieval-themed movies pandering to the masses must make sacrifices in historical accuracy because “it makes life easier.”

However, what if instead of trying to pander to the masses we make films to pander to those one million people who would much rather sacrifice making life easier to include as much historical accuracy as possible? With today’s CGI, there’s no excuse for not being able to get the majority of minor medieval details right. For example, filming a movie in a real castle means having a movie that features a medieval castle that’s been aged by hundreds of years and not a medieval castle as it would’ve actually looked in the Middle Ages. With CGI or effort in historically-accurate prop-making we could show a castle as it would’ve looked in medieval times according to the best evidence available. There’s no excuse for having historical inaccuracies in medieval-themed movies if we choose to pander to the esoteric million.

Tod mentions that actors prefer back scabbards, even though back scabbards are greatly inaccurate, because they make the filming process easier. However, I argue that actors who understand why a film pandering to the esoteric million should include historically-accurate scabbards would tolerate the inconveniences of wearing a scabbard on the hip. In all such cases, putting up with technical inconveniences and unfortunate truths to satisfy the esoteric million is wholly possible with today’s filmmaking technology.

Perhaps it’s not worth spending millions of dollars to make a film that only panders to a million people, but while medieval-themed forms of entertainment like Swordfish HEMA tournaments and Grimdark fantasy books become more popular the esoteric million will turn into the esoteric two million before historically-accurate medieval-themed entertainment becomes a multimillion dollar industry.

What do you think? Would it be worth a filmmaker’s time to pander to the esoteric million? Or should us medieval enthusiasts continue to idly sit by while the masses consume medieval misconceptions? I’d love to read your comments. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my blog and together we can see what the future of the film industry entails.

3 Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to pander to anyone, whether your target audience (hate that phrase) is ten, ten thousand, or ten million. Also, in our current situation, I don’t think there is any pursuit that I’d like to see turned into a “multimillion dollar industry”. From what little I understand, HEMA is a fitting form of entertainment already – relatively low-cost, low-impact, and small-scale.

    1. I respect your point of view. Including HEMA into movies is just one of the many hundreds of things filmmakers would have to do to make them more historically accurate. I’d gladly pander to my own tastes if I had the budget 😀

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