Based on a reimagining of a true story

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.

  1. If you have a good true story, don’t change it unless you have to.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.
  4. 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”.
  5. 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.

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