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Want to avoid a lawsuit? Don’t research anything!

Want to avoid a lawsuit? Don’t research anything! March 29, 2005

Speaking of Kingdom of Heaven, there was an article in the New York Times today about a lawsuit alleging that the film stole its story from a recent history book, Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, by James Reston Jr.

Given that history is a public-domain kind of thing, it may be difficult to prove that the filmmakers stole any particular author’s reconstruction of history, but the response offered by director Ridley Scott is rather interesting:

Asked about the matter recently, Mr. Scott, who is still finishing the film in England, said he had not read Mr. Reston’s book, nor any book about the Crusades. “Categorically, I don’t read anything, for just this reason,” he said, referring to the dispute. “I draw the fences up.”

Ha! Maybe this explains why the history undergirding certain earlier Scott films, such as Gladiator (2000) (my review) and 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992), was so dismal.

Scott reportedly also said newbie screenwriter William Monahan “had relied on original documents and several Muslim authors,” the implication apparently being that Monahan had not relied on any secondary sources — but if Monahan really had been, as he reportedly said, “a student of the Crusades since he was 14,” then I would find it highly unlikely that he had read nothing but primary sources all his life. And assuming that he has read some secondary sources, I would assume these, too, had influenced his script.

Not that this would mean he had necessarily read Reston’s book, of course. And I wouldn’t want to quote Scott out of context. I just find it funny that any director would openly say “I don’t read anything” when he’s making a historical epic for which there must be an endless supply of research material.

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