The tongue of the times

Over the weekend, I watched three new films: Rio and Red Riding Hood in the theaters, and Season of the Witch on DVD. Rio I loved, and as evidenced by Lynda’s constant laughter even though it was her second time watching it, is proof that there are still films out there which will make you laugh every time, no matter how many times you watch them. When it was over, we decided the next movie we would like to watch was Red Riding Hood.

So on Sunday, Afham and I decided to catch Red Riding Hood (I figured I could watch it again when Farah, Lynda and Nana want to watch it) at The Gardens. The last time I saw Amanda Seyfried, it was in Mean Girls, and I wasn’t very impressed with her dumb-blond character then. But I had read positive reviews about her performance in Red Riding Hood, and I was drawn by the supernatural theme of the movie, so I was quite excited about watching it.

'Red Riding Hood'

The one thing I noticed right away was that the characters all spoke in American English. And that was when I realized that all my life — influenced by films like The Lord of the Rings and King Arthur as well as the years I spent studying Linguistics for my degree — I’ve equated period films, especially medieval ones, with British English (I am aware that, as much as I love it, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is a stark exception, as clearly it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that Kevin Costner might sound very much like an immigrant with his all-American accent). I know this is a very strange thing as King Arthur was clearly set in Britain, but then I remembered that even Sleepy Hollow, which is set in the village of the same name in Westchester County, New York, had its characters speaking in British English. So, swallowing my disappointment as early on in the film as I could, I focused as hard as possible on the story.

Until I heard Amanda Seyfriend say, “Papa, just go into the house, OK?” and was stunned out of my silence. I clutched Afham’s arm and hissed, “I don’t think people back then said ‘OK’!” To me, it was a travesty: how could the filmmakers — or at least the scriptwriters — have overlooked the fact that in a place and time so obviously medieval, if not vaguely European, people just did not say “OK”? And if in fact they had remembered that, did they just decide not to waste extra time and film redoing that scene, when all it would have taken was a simple “Remember now, Mandy, don’t say ‘OK’!”?

Then later that night, before going to bed, Afham and I decided to watch the Season of the Witch DVD which we had bought a couple of weeks ago — another medieval film (can you tell I’m a sucker for these films yet?) I knew nothing about but thought it wouldn’t hurt to watch anyway. And as I looked at Nicolas Cage’s face taking up almost the entire DVD menu screen, I wondered aloud if he had learned anything from watching Kevin Costner.

'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'

It turns out he had learned all the wrong things, and he wasn’t the only one. Ron Perlman was right there beside him. Hearing Nicolas Cage say, “Shit!” after watching Red Riding Hood merely resulted in me throwing up my hands in silent protest and Afham letting out a single guffaw, but what disappointed me even more about this film was that half the characters spoke semi-British or pseudo-Scottish English, whilst the other half spoke American English. And while one can maybe blame the language in Red Riding Hood on the vagueness of its setting, it is impossible to do the same for a film about two knights from an ancient German Teutonic order fighting in the Smyrniote Crusades.

And there, on the far right, were the two brave knights, for whom language skills were surely a plight

That said, I may very well be the only one picking the bones here. It’s true that my obsession with European history and love for languages and their structure and origins have raised my awareness of accents and made me a stickler for using them when they should be used, but my disappointment in these two films extend mostly to the filmmakers’ seeming lack of research and attention to detail. The stories themselves are not really half-bad, by today’s standards, but sometimes the little details can be the difference that a film needs.

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