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The Way Of The Warrior Exhibition

18/04/2011

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery

The Way Of The Warrior represents a slight tangent for this blog as clearly it is neither a film or a TV show, but as tangents go it’s only a slight one. The exhibition features genuine costumes from a multitude of historical epics and war films, spanning many eras of history from ancient Greece and Rome (300, Gladiator) to the dust and bullet strewn streets of Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down). It’s an opportunity to get close to (and in a couple of cases actually hands on with) authentic movie props that have had actual screen time in massive blockbusters. It is therefore entirely justifiable that I not only went down for a peek but am writing about it now.

There’s little argument from me about the various eras that have been represented. The show covers costumes from 300, Gladiator, King Arthur, Alexander, Kingdom Of Heaven, Centurion and The Last Samurai and the more modern battle dress on display is drawn from The Pacific, Saving Private Ryan, We Were Soldiers and Black Hawk Down. Each costume is accompanied by a graphic display which explains some of the background of the period in history that the arms and armour would have been used, tactics that those particular warriors would have employed and (most importantly) little tidbits of trivia about the film in which the costume was worn. There is plenty of interesting info to be had from these boards.

Probably the most interesting thing about the exhibition is how it puts the costumes into genuine context, giving you a sense of what it must have been like going to war in those outfits. It’s hard to look at Tom Hank’s costume from Saving Private Ryan without realising how little the soldiers that landed on the Normandy beaches had between them and the hail of bullets and shells that met them. Equally sobering is the thought of marching to war in the frankly rather skimpy mode of the Greek and Macedonian hoplites. The connection the show makes between the screen and the history is excellent and definitely it’s main strength. Well, except perhaps for the full set of Samurai armour from The Last Samurai, that’s pretty cool too.

There is one glaring weakness though, a chink in otherwise sturdy armour. It completely shatters the grand illusion of cinema. Now it should be obvious to anyone who stops to think about it that when you see actors on screen, running about in suits of armour, with swords and shields, hacking and slashing away that there is an obscene amount of movie trickery at play. Stunt men, fake weapons, fake bodies and so on. Even just the fact that even with extensive training and preparation it would be unreasonable to expect a professional actor to be able to carry bronze shields and spears and helmets and armour for extended periods of time should be obvious. Despite this, it is difficult to suppress the first pangs of disappointment when you realise that the Macedonian hoplite’s shield is vacuum formed plastic, his helmet rubber and his sword a fibre glass stunt sword. What looked like the real deal on screen is difficult to disguise in the flesh, which isn’t a bad thing per se and is certainly useful to anyone interested in the technical aspects of film making but is nonetheless a little bid sad too.

I suppose on the plus side it highlights the importance of all the elements that go into film making. These costumes are just a small part of the character you see in the finished movie. It needs the proper actor, lighting, direction, photography, movement, sound and context to be completed and fleshed out. While it stripped away some of the magic it also gave me a new appreciation for just how much magic goes on in films that you generally take for granted.

It’s definitely worth a look, even if you are not a fan of all of the movies featured. I think kids especially would get a kick out of it and if you have any interest at all in how films are made then it’s probably essential as an indication of what can be achieved with a little bit of ingenuity and imagination. It’s worth a trip just for the amazing WETA designed Last Samurai armour.

Inverness Museum & Art Gallery is open from 10.00am – 5.00pm, Mon to Sat. The Way Of The Warrior Exhibition ends on the 23rd of April. For more information check out their website.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 24/04/2011 15:37

    Hi Andy
    Thank you for visiting our exhibition in Inverness, if you like samurai, you will be excited to know we are now working on an entire exhibition about samurai telling the true story of The Last Samurai, with many more props and costumes from the Tom Cruise movie. We hope to have this exhibition touring the UK from next summer, it will also follow our trademark blend of history and cinema.
    Best wishes
    Barry

    • 27/04/2011 20:48

      Barry,
      Thanks for the heads up! I love Samurai so I hope your Samurai exhibition makes it up to Inverness on its tour. It’s great to see exhibitions like this coming this far north. Keep up the good work!

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