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Recreation of Ancient Societies in Movies and Novels
There really isn’t a single answer as to which is better at recreating ancient societies. Films and novels both have advantages and disadvantages that have to be considered. Sometimes I am in favor of the movies, but sometimes nothing is as good as a book. When plot is of the utmost importance, I prefer a book, but if I’m looking for visual impact, I generally go for the movie. Here’s why.
Movies are wonderfully visual, but often make mistakes (on purpose and by accident) because of the visual impact or an inability to recreate what really was. In watching “The Egyptian” and “The Name of the Rose,” it was painfully clear that the true messages of the books they were based on were lost in translation. At the same time, the visual scenes of “Quo Vadis” and in the episodes of “I, Claudius” were quite striking and left an impression on me. It is often difficult for films to stay true to the ideas and themes that are central and crucial to the books they are based on. This is because films are unable to portray some things properly due to limits, which may be financial or just an inability to recreate properly because items do not exist any longer. They also have limited ways to show things, like what people are thinking, and also must deal with time constraints. You can have a lot more in a 500 page book than a 2 hour movie, and it shows.
Books are wonderful at getting down to ideas and concepts, and can describe things well, but sometimes leave out details that would have made the images much more powerful. Reading a description in The Name of the Rose about the sculpture of the tetramorphs in the library does not compare to seeing an actual carving of them, or even seeing the one they used in the movie.
Depending on what you are looking for, books and film are both good at recreating ancient societies, and can function as introductions to help entice interest in the reader or viewer.