Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review of a Turkish Blockbuster

In celebration of the Academy Awards, which I won't be able to watch live, I thought I'd try my first Turkish movie with no English subtitles. I chose Fetih 1453 because it's the biggest budget, biggest blockbuster in the Turkish film industry and I thought it might be fun to be part of this history. It opened last weekend and it's been a sell out on about 14 of the 18 screens in town and today was no exception. In preparation for seeing this film I read a brief five page history of the Battle of Constantinople hoping that would give me enough background of the battle to get the gist of the film. The cinematography, the handsome actors and beautiful actresses, and the scenes of 15th century Istanbul (then Constantinople) made the 2:45 minute film a worthwhile Sunday afternoon escape.

Watching this pre-battle preparations, especially the process of making the world's largest canon at that time in history by melting of the donated coins, pots, and broken shields of the Sultan's followers was very interesting. Seeing the thousands of arrows of the Sultan Muhammed II's 90,000 troops flying over the city walls to attack Constantine's 7000 soldiers plus 700 knights was epic. Considering the grossly outnumbered Byzantines it's pretty amazing they held on to the city for over 50 days.

For the hopeless romantic there are plenty of handsome, talented swordsmen with beautiful women at their sides to keep your attention. The Sultan's best swordsman/fighting companion spends the entire movie scantily clad in only chain mail vest or shirtless to show off his big muscles and sweat during the fighting scenes. He has a beautiful, intelligent woman at his side who just happens to also be coveted by Constantine's best knight. They both pine over her from different sides of the city wall. This girl is so intelligent that she cuts her hair beautiful, long hair so she can work by her father's side designing and shooting the amazing 27 foot long canon that pierced the canon walls. Her short hair doesn't get caught in the furnaces. The addition of the love triangle is actually one part of the story that I think strayed a bit from historical accuracy, especially when her swordsman dies at the end but she rubs her stomach to indicate she's probably pregnant by him, and I don't think they were married.

The scenes of 15th century Constantinople (now Istanbul) are beautiful and really put into perspective the ruins I've been seeing for the past five months. I didn't realize the city walls were actually three rows thick and had successfully defended the city for over 1100 years. As a matter of fact, they were holding up pretty well in this movie too and I think that's why the Sultan has to devise the good plan to have some of his 90,000 troops carry his ships across land and attack from the back of the city where the wall is less heavily guarded and he might have a better chance at winning the battle.

I was really enjoying the film until the director took a little too much artistic license at the end. First, the Sultan's handsome swordsman battled Constantine's best swordsman's for about 7 minutes. It was a good, albeit a little long, fight and they both survived more strikes than is humanly possible. But when the Sultan's swordsman finally prevails and then runs up to the rampart with the Sultan's flag, takes six arrows in his chest, and gets one glimpse of the beautiful female canon maker which, in turn, gives him enough energy to raise the flag and hold it up with his dead body, I stifled a giggle. And then at the end when the Sultan Mohammed II walks into the Hagia Sophia and finds thousands of women and children cowering in the corner but he reassures them that everything is going to be OK and he kisses a little girl and she kisses him back, I think there is some propaganda going on here. My history sources say that Turks actually went "berzerk." There was looting and pillaging, the 50,000 remaining citizens were enslaved and Eastern Christianity fell after more than 1,100 years.

So, if you like epic battles with handsome actors and actresses, great scenery, and a twist of history, then this film is for you. I give it 4 out of 5 swords.

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