Olentangy Valley News

Movies often stretch truth to add intrigue, students find

Sophomores compare flicks to real life at annual event

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(Above) Olentangy Liberty High School sophomore Mackenzie Madden pretends to shave her brother, junior Isaac Madden, during her presentation on the film "Sweeney Todd" during the Hollywood vs. History event Jan. 9 at the school. (Below) Sophomore Carly Schoonover holds a plate of fried green tomatoes during her presentation on the movie of the same name.
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By ThisWeek Community News  • 

In James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, the infamous passenger ship collides with an iceberg, then snaps in two as it begins to sink.

The stern of the ship tips skyward and bobs in the water like a buoy as passengers cling to rails then fall to their doom.

In real life, the Titanic did indeed strike an iceberg and split in half, and experts verify the stern tipped into the air before sinking.

But it didn't come close to achieving the perfectly vertical position that makes the scene so thrilling in the film.

"It didn't split at such a high angle," said Madison Horner, a sophomore at Olentangy Liberty High School. "I definitely think they played it up for Hollywood to make it even more exciting."

And the star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose, the film's central characters? They probably weren't real either.

Liberty 10th-graders fact-checked famous films from Apollo 13 to Saving Private Ryan as part of a semester-long project called Hollywood vs. History.

The project culminated in a science fair-style exhibition Jan. 9 in the school's commons area, with many students dressed in costumes from their chosen films. Some even offered edible props to lure browsers, from fried green tomatoes to illustrate the 1991 drama to a TV dinner to represent the era of 1994's Quiz Show.

Trinity Wiles scrutinized The Notebook, the 2004 film about another young couple in love. The lovers are torn apart when Noah, the protagonist of the film, leaves to fight as a soldier in World War II.

In reality, Noah and Allie likely wouldn't have hit it off in the first place, Wiles said, since he is a poor country boy and she an heiress to a Southern fortune.

On the other hand, the film's 1940s war-era backdrop is up to historical snuff, she said.

"It's really unlikely that they would have ended up together, but the small details around the main story are very accurate," Wiles said.

Molly Kotick looked at Newsies, the 1992 Disney musical about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. In the film, the newspaper sellers set out to change an exploitative system and overcome the ruthless Joseph Pulitzer.

Kotick said the film downplays the police violence that characterized the real strike, but otherwise gets it mostly right.

"In the movie, they win the strike and Pulitzer gives in to all of their demands," she said. "In real life, they only got half of what they wanted."

The yearly project is part of Liberty High School's interdisciplinary studies program, which combines elements of English and history class.

In all, 188 students chose films in October, then scrutinized the stories and settings to match them up against real historical accounts.

Each student wrote a 15- to 20-page research paper before last week's event.

"In the beginning, they believe a lot of what they see in the movies," said teacher Jill Martin. "By the end, it teaches them to question ideas, news, movies and everything else, and to hopefully become a more cautious and educated consumer."

While many students chose films centered around real historical events, Mackenzie Madden delved into the dark and whimsical world of Tim Burton's 2007 musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

She said the film's setting accurately portrays the chaos and excess of the British industrial revolution in the 19th century -- but its outrageous characters and gruesome story are pure fantasy.

"It has smoke-belching factories and terrible, filthy conditions, which is exactly what you expect," she said, "but overall, it's definitely more Hollywood than history."

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