I’ve just watched the film Argo. When I first heard of the story, I wanted to see the film, due to its slight connection to genre, and one of my favourite books, Zelazny’s Lord Of Light. I knew the book wasn’t even mentioned in the film, but it amused me anyway.
Then I heard about the various criticisms of the film, how the film greatly distorted the story, while saying it was “based on a true story”. But I still wanted to see the film, so I put off reading too deeply into it, until I had seen the movie.
After which, I read about the changes, and have to admit it knocked the edge off my enjoyment a little. “Why? I thought.
But this post is not specifically about Argo. It is about all films “Based on a true story”, and how I think they should be done. This is probably of interest to only the most pendatic film-goers, like myself.
- If you have a good true story, don’t change it unless you have to.
- Sometime it is necessary to combine minor characters. In which case the film-makers should be bold and honest enough to say “Some characters or events have been combined or changed for dramatic effect.” somewhere in the credits. No shame in admitting it.
- If your major characters carry out important actions in the film that either didn’t happen, or were the actions of other characters, then you may be making a great film which I will enjoy, but you lose the right to say “Based on a true story”.
- If you introduce danger or tension that never existed in real life, then you may be making a great film which I will enjoy, but you lose the right to say “Based on a true story”.
- If you change the nationality of characters, the country the story takes place in *and* the actual events as happened in real life (as was the case in “We Bought A Zoo”), you not only lose the right to say “Based on a true story”, but you shouldn’t even use the real people’s names. Your film may be a great story, but it no longer *their* story; and hey, someone might want to tell the real story someday.
There are so many times I have felt let down when I have encountered such nonsense, either after I have seen and enjoyed a film, or when I have read a factual book, and looked forward to the pending film, and realised that the script was 50% fiction.
If you say “based on a true story”, I expect it to be based, largely, on the true story. If you say “this is a work of fiction, inspired by real events, place and character names have been changed for dramatic purposes.”, I would have absolutely no argument with that, and would enjoy the movie a great deal more.