Posts Tagged With: movies

5 Worst Fictional Movie Archaeologists

Ray Phipps continues our student series by ranking the worse movie archaeologists by their sins.

The 5 Worst Fictional Movie Archaeologists

To be an archaeologist it takes patience, dedication, and years of training. Definitely not the most glamorous profession or rewarding in a monetary sense. It is, however, rewarding to see your countless of hours of hard work pay off by piecing together parts of history. With that in mind we can understand why Hollywood veers so far from what actual archaeology is and leans more towards “adventure archaeology” or, simply put, looting. This sells tickets and funnels money into the pockets of Hollywood stars. As an avid movie goer, I can respect some of these movies for their sheer entertainment factor, but as a student of archaeology I can’t help but cringe at some of the anachronism of these same movies. So, I’ve decided to compile a list of five of the worst archaeologists in movies.

5 – Indiana Jones (all four movies) played by Harrison Ford – Probably the most iconic fictional archaeologist of all time and one of the worst at conducting archaeology. In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Arc we see Indy and a rag tag group of individuals trudging through a remote jungle with the guidance of what appears to be an ancient map. Ah yes, the classic treasure map folded away in your pocket, exposed to the elements and probably ruined forever. We’ll just move on past that and get to the good stuff. Indy races his way into this ancient site with no data recording, destroying countless artifacts, and destroying ancient pressure plates (that surprisingly still work after hundreds of years) all for a piece of gold. Now while he ignores the most basic approaches to conducting actual archaeology, it can be argued that few artifacts he does retrieve he intends to preserve, as we can see from one of his famous lines “It belongs in a museum!” Still, not enough to absolve him of this list.

4 – Benjamin Gates, National Treasure part I and II played by Nicholas Cage- Now Gates isn’t actually referred to as an archaeologist in this film, he does call himself a “treasure protector”, which is part of what an archaeologist does, but his definition of treasure probably differs from mine. Gates somehow manages to steal the Declaration of Independence in order to discover a hidden message on the back…by using lemon juice! I don’t think I have or ever will meet an archaeologist that would ever recommend doing that to a document. Throughout the movie Gates somehow bumbles his way into finding these priceless artifacts with little to no help, data recording, or equipment. Thankfully they only managed to make two movies and not finish with a trilogy of bad archaeology.

3 – Daniel Jackson, Stargate played by James Spader – An archaeologist by trade, Daniel is asked to inspect an ancient Egyptian artifact that turns out to be a portal to another civilization. That’s it.* That’s the extent of any hint at real archaeology in this film. Part of an archaeologist job is to learn more about a civilization, and Daniel has a portal that goes directly too one still thriving. Instead of finding artifacts though Daniel and his team spend more time destroying…everything they come across. I feel like all the artifacts in the British Museum stand a better chance with a stampede of elephants than anything in this movie.

2 – Everyone in all of The Mummies – Did anyone root for the bad guys at some point in these? No? Must have just been me then. Somehow, they reinvented Indiana Jones with two people, Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz). Rick being the whip cracking, pistol waving hero and Evelyn the smart, studious scholar who is supposed to be an expert in Egyptology, but is actually pretty terrible at it. They claim to want to preserve many of the artifacts they find, but for some reason they have this really nice house with a lot of artifacts on display. Anyways, they manage to steal the Book of the Dead and for some reason, Evelyn, can’t manage to read the text with her mouth closed; therefore, they unleash a scary-murderous mummy thing that they were warned about. Unfortunately, they managed to put things right (to my dismay). On the bright side, maybe this movie will help deterring looters from digging up ancient tombs.

1 – Lara Croft, Tomb Raider played by Angelina Jolie twice – What? The name doesn’t explain my reasoning behind putting this at number 1? Fine, there is absolutely nothing in this movie that can be seen as archaeological. Croft is simply a looter who masquerades around the world with little to no clothes on hunting for treasures, destroying priceless artifacts, making ruins out of ruins, if that’s even possible. Croft stands alone at the top of this list as the absolute worst portrayal of someone with any inkling of archaeological background.

 

[*Editor’s Note: If I may nerd-out for a minute, I would argue that Daniel Jackson does use his archaeological skills, because he uses his anthropological skills. He does participant observation while living with the people at Abydos. He even stays behind and marries into the community! And of course, later in the TV series, he continues to use his archaeological knowledge (although often to fight bad guys) and is always arguing with Jack O’Neill (two ll’s) about preserving information and sites.]

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Archaeology in the Movies

Next in our student series is Christopher Howell, who examines the most recent “Mummy” movie and discusses the classic tropes and stereotypes within.

Archaeology in Movies

Archaeology has a difficult relationship with the cinema. Many famous movies that portray archaeology do it all wrong, a classic example being the “Indiana Jones” franchise. While it is fun to watch and considered a classic to most Americans, it is vastly wrong in its portrayal of archaeology. Another popular movie franchise that features archeology is the new “Mummy” movie.

“The Mummy” movie poster (Source: imbd.com)

Before I start talking about archaeology in the movies, I should probably describe the movie. “The Mummy” is about a man named Nick Morton (played by Tom Cruise) who find a sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian princess in village while fighting off an enemy unit. After unearthing the tomb, archaeologist Jenny Halsey (played by Annabelle Wallis) is sent in to explore the tomb with Nick and his friend, and Nick ends up releasing the mummy and being cursed. The rest of the movie is spent trying to stop the released mummy from destroying the world. That the plot in the simplest form.

In the “The Mummy” (2017) there isn’t very much archaeology going on, but it does give insight into a classic problem in archaeology, which is looting. Looting has gone hand in hand with archaeology since its creation, mainly since some of the very first “archaeologists” were looters. Looting is one of the first actions in the movie because the main character (Tom Cruise) travels to the village in search of items and artifacts that he can take and sell. This is actually quite common today in archeology, because many groups such as ISIS will raid sites and sell artifacts on the black market as a way of making money. One other aspect that I liked and was accurate is that the main archaeologist in the movie is female. Movies, like the original “Mummy” and “Indiana Jones,” give people false impressions that archaeology is a man’s job when it isn’t, and there are quite a few famous female archaeologists throughout history.

One big problem with the archaeology in this movie is something that almost all of these movies have, which is the fact that there is one treasure in the center of the tomb. This is the classic trope, which is not true in the real world; examining a site would take anywhere from weeks to years not a couple of minutes to an hour. Archaeology sites are filled with multiple square-shaped holes that each have their own different artifacts (or none sometimes). I also doubt the U.S. military would care anything about an archaeological site, because even today many archaeology sites have become abandoned due to fighting in the Middle East. The last trope that I want to discuss, especially because of this movie, is the mummy’s curse. The mummy’s curse does not exist; it is one trope that was made famous by these types of movies.

Those are some of the main points about archaeology in the movie I wanted to make clear. While the beginning of the movie is the only part that has anything to do with archaeology, it does offer small insights into archaeology and allows for certain popular tropes to be cleared up.

Bibliography

“The Mummy”. DVD. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Universal Pictures, June 9, 2017.

 

Categories: student blog post | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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