AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
SMITHSONIAN EXPERTS HELP THE MAKERS OF MEL GIBSON'S NEW MOVIE, THE PATRIOT, CREATE CREDIBLE REVOLUTIONARY WAR SCENES AND BRING THE CONFLICT'S MANY FACTIONS INTO SHARPER FOCUS
As the sun sinks beneath the darkening south Carolina sky, enemy armies camped on distant fields fade into shadow. Their threatening numbers hover heavy as fog in the minds of commanders in the opposing camp, who grope for a way to defeat them. One officer laments the militia cannot hold its lines. Around him, wounded soldiers wrapped in blood-stained bandages lie on operating tables lit by lanterns and fires.
A plane soars overhead.
"Cut!" utters director Roland Emmerich--softly, patiently, as though night were not fast approaching.
A buzz of conversation erupts as cast and crew on the set of The Patriot, the new Revolutionary War film starring Mel Gibson, bustle about, joking, stretching, closing their jackets against the chilly evening air.
Gibson plays Benjamin Martin, a fictional character based in part on South Carolina militiaman Francis Marion, called the Swamp Fox for his cunning use of guerrilla warfare against the British. In this scene he tells Colonel Burwell and others that the undertrained militia can be used effectively.
Emmerich attempts another take. An extra stumbles into the shot. "Cut!" Still patient, he tries once more. "And--that's a wrap!"
Crew members surprise Emmerich with a book containing images of skyscrapers. It's a birthday present. He leafs through the book, looking at pictures of buildings depicted in some of the other films he has made: Godzilla, Independence Day. "In those movies we blew everything up; in this one we burn everything down," he says, comparing his sci-fi films with this period piece, in which British soldiers set fire to several buildings, including houses.
Special effects aside, Emmerich and the staff of Centropolis Entertainment, his production company, have gone to great lengths to create authenticity in the film. Long before production began, they enlisted the help of several departments at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH) to advise on uniforms, weapons, battle formations, furniture and more.
Consultations with museum experts resulted in numerous revisions to the script. "I did have quite a few meetings with Rex Ellis [chairman of NMAH's cultural history division] and others," says Emmerich, revealing a slight German accent. "We went page by page through the script. After every new script version, we got long notes from the Smithsonian."
Recommendations from Ellis, in fact, resulted in the creation of an entirely new set. When the filmmakers sought a place where Martin's family could hide from Britain's villainous dragoons, Ellis suggested the British would never know to look in Gullah maroon villages--hidden communities established by runaway slaves. The screenwriter, Robert Rodat, author of Saving Private Ryan, worked closely with Ellis to weave this unique setting into the script.
"Every relevant department at our production company met with the Smithsonian," says Dean Devlin, a partner …