Mar 30 2010

How to Train Your Dragon – With a Scottish Accent

This may be my first actual movie review, but there were a few points I thought worth musing about after watching the new Dreamworks movie – How to Train Your Dragon. I promise – no real spoilers.

First, let me say I really enjoyed the movie. It was much better than I thought it was going to be. My favorite aspect of the movie is the fact that the nerd is the hero. Basically this is the story of a nerd who feels out of place in a town of jocks – a town that celebrates jocks and completely rejects his quirky nerditude. Eventually the protagonist finds a way to use his smarts and curiosity to beat the jocks at their own game – and even to change the very nature of the game, making it one that celebrates smarts over brawn.

I have nothing against jocks or athletic prowess, in fact I think excellence in the physical realm is worth celebrating and I have enthusiastically engaged in sports my entire life. This is not really a “revenge of the nerds” type plot line, but rather seeing the value in recognizing a diversity of talents, rather than narrowly defining success. Nothing new, really, but nicely done.

Some have complained that the other main theme – meeting strangeness with understanding rather than violence – was preachy, but I disagree. This is a fine theme for a family movie, and was not overdone.

But there was another small aspect of this movie I found very curious. The movie takes place in a viking town. And sure, it was not surprising to find a cliche of vikings in a kid’s cartoon – complete with horned helmets. However, these vikings had Scottish accents.

I am not complaining about realism – after all, this is a movie in a fictitious world inhabited by a multiplicity of dragons. Rather, I was just hit by how solidified the Hollywood cliche of the Scottish accent had become. Part of my reaction was born of the fact that emotionally the Scottish accents “felt” right in the movie, even though they simultaneously felt out of place.

I’m not sure exactly when this cliche became solidified, but this movie certainly proves that it has been. I think Braveheart likely is  a major cause – audiences fell in love with heroes speaking in a Scottish brogue. The accent itself came to signify the characteristics of William Wallace – brave, brutal, barbaric, but honorable.

I think the mental connection between the Scottish accent and these characteristics was then further entrenched by Shrek. Shrek was a noble ogre, and Mike Myers chose to portray him with a Scottish accent. It seemed to fit, and it strongly reinforced the stereotype.

Now credit card commercials featuring barbarian hordes ask you in a Scottish accent, “What’s in your wallet?”

Up until How to Train Your Dragon I would have considered this just a preference – the popularity of the Scottish hero. But the makers of this movie felt it necessary to portray vikings with a Scottish accent – because they are barbaric, fight with swords and axes, and are honorable.

This made me further ponder the nature of Hollywood stereotypes themselves. They exist because of the tendency for association – we look for patterns and associations and make the connections in our minds. Such connections can be strong, and tied to emotional reactions.

These become hooks for movie writers and directors – a way to instantly communicate something to the audience. So every bag of groceries in a TV show or movie has celery or carrot sprigs coming out the top – that way the audience knows they are groceries. When was the last time you bought a bunch of carrots with the leafy stems still attached, and then did not put them in a plastic produce bag?

In the movies when a young couple is in love, they must shop together in an open-air market, take a rowboat ride on a pond, and wash a car together and then playfully spray each other with water.

And now, apparently, all honorable barbarians have Scottish accents.

I am not denigrating all such practices. As I said, humans are good at making associations, and these become convenient tools for quickly communicating something to an audience. But there is a spectrum from a useful cinematic convention to a tired cliche. Conventions (like the carrot stems) are often benign, almost subconscious, and serve their purpose. I don’t need the director wasting screen time getting across that those are bags of groceries – just put the stupid carrot stems out the top.

But some cliches are so tired they now grate on me every time I see them. I really don’t need to see another playful water fight among lovers, or the beam-on-beam energy battle between good and evil, or a nerd with tape on their glasses.

I also realized, by the end of the movie I was already a little tired of the Scottish accent thing. While it made an immediate emotional connection, it was rapidly slipping into the realm of cliche.

The problem with these Hollywood conventions/cliches is that they are an excuse for lazy writing and directing. They also demonstrate a certain lack of respect for the audience. You know – I think we could have handled vikings with Scandinavian accents and still connected to the vibe of the movie. Or forget the accents – they wouldn’t be speaking accented English anyway.

Do something new, and challenge the audience a bit – even in a family-oriented cartoon. We can take it. But that requires work and creativity. My bias is that directors should be striving to create their own new conventions, not rest on established and overused ones. Dreamworks is certainly no stranger to creativity, and as I said, the movie was otherwise excellent.

(What is your favorite or most annoying movie cliche?)

Share

46 responses so far

46 Responses to “How to Train Your Dragon – With a Scottish Accent”

  1. Draalon 30 Mar 2010 at 7:40 am

    “This may be my first actual movie review” -second?
    http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=1399

  2. Michelle Bon 30 Mar 2010 at 7:42 am

    Male cop buddy plot where the maverick hero’s longtime, loyal, and beloved partner’s horrendous murder is staged by a vicious criminal. The often obnoxious and frequently smelly maverick is then teamed up with a a neat nerd/klutz/playing-by-the-rules-intellectual whose life is saved by the maverick time and time again, with great reluctance, until the maverick realizes he has bonded with the nerd and the vicious criminal is slaughtered disgustingly (the vicious criminal is often caught because of the nerd’s smarts and the maverick’s bravado, with the nerd ‘surprisingly’ rescuing the maverick just before the vicious criminal meets his end by the maverick).

  3. Nigeon 30 Mar 2010 at 8:01 am

    Being Scottish, I’m not too Bothered with Hollywoods portrayal of all things Scottish, it is funny and shows a complete lack of any real research. Here’s a short list of Cinema’s more prominent mistakes regarding Scotland.

    The accents used in most films are of the likes I have never heard before, the dialect used is cliche through and through.
    Not everyone is called Hamish and the names McTavish & McDougal are fairly uncommon.
    We don’t always wear tartan and we usually only wear kilts as formal dresswear not everyday wear!
    We are Scottish not Scotch, that term is reserved for Whiskey and tape.
    Oh and much to my chagrin we do not all live in castles!

    Hopefully everyone who reads this blog will already know this but it’s fun to put it all down in words!

  4. Steven Novellaon 30 Mar 2010 at 8:02 am

    Draal – right, thanks.

    Michelle – yeah, there are many plot formulas that are way overused.

  5. bluedevilRAon 30 Mar 2010 at 8:20 am

    “Head ‘em off at the pass!” is a classic Western movie cliche.

    Nige, I wrote a massive history paper in college on all the inaccuracies of Braveheart. It is still an entertaining movie, but it gets things horribly wrong. Kilts were not even worn in Wallace’s day, so I feel your pain.

    Another cliche is to kill off the nerdy/know-it-all/expert/scientist/mad scientist early in the film so the real protaganists are left without a clue in horror or sci-fi genres. Just before he is bitten in half or sucked out into space, he reveals a tiny bit of information about the plot. Just enough to keep the movie going, but without revealing the climax too early. It annoys me because I often think that I would be that guy. As much as I would like to be the shotgun toting hero, more likely I would be the guy trying to analyze the situation.

    The lesson to be learned…to survive a scary/sci-fi movie do not know too much. As soon as you figure out what is going on, you die.

  6. magnusbeon 30 Mar 2010 at 8:22 am

    Well, as they’re wearing horns on their helmets they are not vikings either…

    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2189/did-vikings-really-wear-horns-on-their-helmets

    Having the Vikings speak with Scandinavian intonation would be very strange, yeah.

    maybe they should have chosen the Orkney dialect – Scottish with more Norse loanwords and “Norwegian” intonation.

  7. Taliskeron 30 Mar 2010 at 9:11 am

    I think this goes a bit deeper than the easy “Braveheart” cliche.

    Medieval Scotland was less wealthy than England, and violent even by the standards of its time. It was also influenced by Norse raiders and settlers, who ruled parts of Scotland until the 1500s. In the modern era, Scotland has contributed soldiers to the British army out of all proportion to its population. Finally, needless to say, much of Scotland has fairly wild and rugged terrain.

    All this means that Scottish accents can give the “feel” of a rough, northern, warlike, even semi-Viking society. A Scandinavian accent would be less familiar and more distracting, and call up unhelpful associations with Minnesota, Swedish chefs, Abba, etc. How much of this the film producers consciously understood is hard to say, but for me the Scottish accents “work.”

    PS Nige — I lived in Edinburgh for a decade, so I know perfectly well that modern Scotland is not a society of medieval warriors, and the accent is very different from the Mel Gibson / Mike Myers parodies. But I’m talking about the “image”, not the reality. :-)

    PPS — Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law” novels use the same trick of giving Scottish dialogue to Vikings, to good effect. Oliver Stone tried something similar in his “Alexander” film, using Irish accents to signpost that the Macedonians came from a less “civilised” culture than the Greeks. It didn’t work nearly as well, probably because Macedonia and Ireland are so different in other respects.

  8. jaranathon 30 Mar 2010 at 9:23 am

    My least favorite cliche? Well, at least for the Genres Where Bad Things Are Likely To Happen To Many People (horror, thrillers, etc) it’s: The dog always gets it.

    Sometimes it’s used as an early signal of the Dangerous Threat. Sometimes it’s a cheap way of having the main characters suffer a loss, generating the resulting emotional impact on them and the audience without actually killing any of the main characters.

  9. awbranchon 30 Mar 2010 at 9:35 am

    I really enjoyed this movie too but was left scratching my head over the Scottish accent. Thanks for clarifying Steve. As usual you’re right on the money. The only Scandinavia accent I can think of is the Sweedish Chef from the Muppets, which would have been problematic here ;)

    I’ve watched lots of good and bad children’s movies over the last 8 years with my daughter. It seems like the cliche of having wink wink pop culture references, that was started with the first Shreck movie is finally abating. Although cute and funny at first, it started to get over used. I suppose the studios felt it would hold the parents attention, but I wonder how it affects the long term value of the movie.

  10. b_calderon 30 Mar 2010 at 9:47 am

    My Dad told me our family lineage began with a Viking, so it isn’t particularly odd to me. On the other hand, sometimes he wasn’t exactly accurate.

  11. trofferon 30 Mar 2010 at 9:56 am

    Lucky to be french, no scottish accent in the movies !!
    Watch Independance Day and 2012 and you should get a complete tour of Hollywood cliches. If you survive, I mean.

  12. Jim Shaveron 30 Mar 2010 at 10:22 am

    One cliche of which I’ve grown tired is that a lot of people in the 50s smoked cigarettes. Yes, we get it, it’s a period piece! Do we really need the characters smoking in every scene? (If you had the misfortune to sit all the way through Revolutionary Road, for example, you know what I mean.)

    But probably the worst type of weak movie devices that drive me crazy are the bad science cliches.

    - We only use 10% of our brains.
    - When orbiting a planet, you can see it rotating.
    - Forget planets, in deep space you can see galaxies rotating!
    - You can launch a rocket from Earth that reaches the sun in minutes.
    - Everyone in the galaxy speaks English.
    - Windows viruses can infect alien computers.
    - Encryption codes can be cracked, if you just give the genius another ten minutes.
    - If you travel back in time and screw up your conception, you will disappear.
    - The scientist loses in the end, because he doesn’t have faith.
    - Radiation causes animals to mutate into monsters.

    Anyway, that’s just a start.

  13. Calli Arcaleon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:26 am

    We are Scottish not Scotch, that term is reserved for Whiskey and tape.
    Oh and much to my chagrin we do not all live in castles!

    Of course, Scotch tape is Minnesotan. :-P

    It is odd that the Scottish accent has become so tied to barbarians in people’s minds, and Braveheart may indeed be partially to blame. Another factor is that it’s a much more recognizable accent to Americans than, say, an Icelandic one.

    Although….

    It is worth noting that there is a *heavy* Viking influence in Scotland. There is a clan Anderson, after all, and even a really classically Scottish name like “MacLeod” is actually derived from a Norse name — Ljotrson would be the Norse equivalent, and the original “Leod” was himself a Viking. The whole British Isles have been ruled by Vikings at one time or another. The remaining Norse influence becomes stronger the farther north you go, until you get into the Shetlands and they’re practically Norwegian. There were plenty of Vikings born in Scotland. So a Viking with a Scots accents is maybe not so extraordinary after all.

  14. daedalus2uon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:31 am

    I think the start of the use of a Scottish accent as a modern cliche was with Sean Connery in the Bond films and also James Doohan in Star Trek.

  15. ccbowerson 30 Mar 2010 at 10:43 am

    Annoying animated animals should sound like Gilbert Gottfried (John Leguizamo also works)

    Small dogs should have a vague hispanic-type accent.

  16. IanJNon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:51 am

    A great site for this type of thing is tvtropes.org (which contrary to the name covers all media).

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BraveScot

  17. mlegoweron 30 Mar 2010 at 10:58 am

    If you want to know where this Scottish accent trope began, look no further than the Dwarves of fantasy fiction. They almost always are depicted speaking with a brogue and are also typically well-armored, bearded, warrior-type characters. I don’t know how far back this link goes (it doesn’t go all the way back to Tolkien, for instance), but it is now well-established canon in most fantasy fiction: Dwarves are Scottish.

  18. Steven Novellaon 30 Mar 2010 at 11:14 am

    Interestingly, SpongeBob had an episode with vikings and they had Scandanavian accents, and it worked just fine.

    Part of my point is that the director/writer missed an opportunity to create their own style. This is a fantasy world – they could have created a fantasy culture and borrowed various elements but made it their own. But they made them vikings, which is fine. They could have then gone with a more appropriate regional accent and made it sound tough and barbaric.

    But they took the easy cliche route, and just gave them theatrical Scottish accents.

    Again – not a big deal, I just found it interesting because it seemed out of place to me.

    BTW – in the movie these were vikings living at the northern extent of their range, not occupying Scotland.

  19. Taliskeron 30 Mar 2010 at 11:18 am

    @ Jim Shaver: Do not discount the possibility that Leo DiCaprio just likes to smoke, it’s pretty obvious in Shutter Island too.

    @ mlegower: Perhaps you’re focusing too much on certain Peter Jackson films? The Discworld dwarfs are not noticeably Scottish either, in fact it has been argued that they are Jewish…

  20. banyanon 30 Mar 2010 at 11:28 am

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Tropes

    There are hosts of these things people stick in movies and tv shows. Many of them are benign and quirky like the ones you mention, but there’s also some disturbing ones, like “rape is love,” that crop up from time to time.

  21. locutusbrgon 30 Mar 2010 at 11:41 am

    The movie Cliche I hate is that the White Long Lab coat indicates authority. Every Doctor/Scientist has to wear one so you know who they are. I stopped wearing one in the office because the lack of a lab coat or scrubs make you stand out. The same with scrubs or a plastic surgeon wearing his stethescope around his neck (Dr Ray) even though he never uses it. It has gotten to the point in the hospital where everyone wears a lab coat and scrubs. It starts to become culturally reversed, as a sign of a desperate need to project authority.
    The Movie Cliche I like is the sound effects or the subwoofer effect with spaceships, it is false but certainly make the experience more rich, unlike the dead air of 2001 Space Odyssey.

  22. John2on 30 Mar 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Ah, Braveheart, tapping into the rich vein of portraying the English as evil as was so popular at that time, and actual historical accuracy be damned.

    I’m from the borders myself, but on the English side, and I have to say that the portrayal grated somewhat. That nice Mr Gibson continued the theme in The Patriot, I understand, where he had us burning down churches full of innocent colonials.

    Vikings with a Scottish accent seem wrong. We were part of the Danelaw here, too, but I’ve beeb to enough motor races in mainland Europe to understand that the big men in horned helmets most definitely don’t sound like I do (my Geordie accent being quite possibly completely unknown to Hollywood filmmakers.)

  23. kijibajion 30 Mar 2010 at 12:17 pm

    We’re all susceptible to sociolinguistic stereotypes, but it’s interesting that these judgments come into play at a fairly young age. At last year’s Biennial Meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, DeJesus and Kinzler presented research on the sociolinguistic judgments about Northern and Southern accented American English, comparing 5-6 yr olds and 9-10 yr olds. The older children, but not the younger, judged Northern individuals as ‘smarter’ and Southern individuals as ‘nicer’, which matches adult sociolinguistic judgments of these accents. I had a quick hunt around to see if there was any research looking at children’s attitudes to Scottish English but didn’t find anything. However, I agree with Steven as to the most likely motivation for using Scottish English in this movie.

  24. Steven Novellaon 30 Mar 2010 at 12:57 pm

    A lot has been written about accents and social assumptions. Disney is a case study in itself. Clever villains all have British accents. Comedic side kicks all have ghetto or ethnic accents. Protagonists all have contemporary American accents. The honorable barbarian Scottish accent is just an addition to this.

    Both of my daughters, from Disney, cartoons etc., from the age of 5 or so knew to affect a British accent when they were roleplaying at being “smart” or sophisticated – or also playing the villain. It is ingrained early.

  25. aubreycohenon 30 Mar 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Here’s my question, why didn’t the young Vikings in the movie have Scottish accents? They spoke like Americans. Do they gain their accents when they complete training and become real Viking warriors?

    My theory is that audiences are thought to identify more with a protagonist who has an American accent. So the Rebels in Star Wars speak like Americans, while the Imperial soldiers are Brits.

  26. John2on 30 Mar 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I get the impression that the US has fewer distinct accents that are universally recognised than the UK does, and I’ve not noticed such strong stereotypes associated with them there either.

    Accents here in England can carry a very large amount of baggage with them, and perfectly rational people can find themselves quite thrown when a person is far from the stereotype associated with an accent. In my case I’m a particle physicist from Newcastle, and so have an accent that people take to mean that I am very trustworthy, but probably not the sharpest tool in the box. I’ve seen very genuine confusion when someone is trying to fit the job and the assumed low IQ into their picture of me.

    The result of these views being widespread is that UK call centres are concentrated in areas where the staff will sound believable, friendly, and honest (Newcastle and Edinburgh), and are conspicuously absent from places where the accent suggests more of, well, a keen sense of driving the best deal shall we say, such as East London and Essex.

    Even a very small geographical shift can have a very large effect on accent here, so Edinburgh and Glasgow are really not very alike at all, and Glasgow has somewhat got the short end of the stick in terms of preconceptions about what to expect.

  27. HHCon 30 Mar 2010 at 2:37 pm

    All this talk about groceries, and Scottish vikings. I think I know what made them strong, its the Scottish oat meal! The chewy, spongey oats are an excellent replacement for dry cereals advertised by American cartoon characters. The oats grown in Scotland are distinctly different from Irish oats. I assume the Scottish terrain is responsible for the taste.

  28. Jerryon 30 Mar 2010 at 2:51 pm

    @locutusbrg – The silence of 2001 was what helped the movie be so good. The tension.

  29. tmac57on 30 Mar 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Annoying movie cliches for me are the one Jim Shaver mentioned, that aliens everywhere for some reason speak english, and the noble black hero almost always gets tragically killed. Oh, and I also have grown tired of the hip adult and pop culture references in blockbuster cartoon movies (which by the way, started way before Shrek), it used to be funny, but now its become stale.

  30. Paoloon 30 Mar 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Hi, I very much like your blog and podcast, but couldn’t help but find this one funny when you mentioned jocks. Scots are jocks. Our armed forces have always been known by our southern neighbours as jocks.

  31. daijiyobuon 30 Mar 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Per: “some cliches are so tired they now grate on me every time I see them.” [I appreciate the sensitivity].

    Hey, I’ve seen a wacko movie trailer with Scot’s Vikings!

    Followed by Scot’s Korean lifeguard albinos!!!

    I love the absurdity.

    I thought to myself WTF about the Scot’s Vikings, and then I threw up in my mouth!

    They are Wikings!!!

    Yet, there is an overlap between Scot’s and Nordic culture e.g. the band Shoormal, who are speaking in English with Nordic influences (see their song “Turning Tide”; at http://www.myspace.com/shoormal ) because they are from the Shetland Islands.

    Me ma es fe Caledonia.

    [My mother is from Scotland].

    I am second generation.

    The whole ‘sociopath as Scot’ phenomena is as vulgar to me [aka Mike Myers before Shrek] as any vulgar racial stereotype.

    Funny how accepted it is, it flies below the radar.

    Isn’t that the definition of bigotry – ‘that is how they are.’

    When someone with course behavior is equated with the Scot’s thick language, you may as well invoke the “n” word.

    And my father was from Ireland, Dublin particularly.

    I remember his caricature of the Irish, from an English perspective:

    “the niggers of Europe.”

    I, myself, wonder how the Homo sapiens HAVEN’T blow each other to smithereens.

    A miracle!!!

    -r.c.

  32. John Ellison 30 Mar 2010 at 6:54 pm

    As a small historical point, during the Viking hayday, Scotland did not exist as a single political entity (and would not for centuries), but the Vikings did end up conquering and settling a large chunk of the north east of the area. Islands like the Shetlands off the north coast saw the Vikings completely wipe out the previous population (at least the male half). Y-chromosome DNA testing of the current men there shows the male line decends almost exclusively from Norwegians. So the scots are partly Viking.

    My thoughts are that the scottish accent sounds gruff and manly, whereas Norwegian has a rather sing-songy style to it, which personally I rather like, but does not really sound like a tough guy to an english speakers’ ears.

    Irony : When I was a student in Edinburgh, there were numerous americans there, one of whom got a job with a pizza parlour because she could answer the phones in an american accent!

  33. cloudskimmeron 30 Mar 2010 at 8:55 pm

    I really like hearing a Scottish accent, and enjoyed visiting the country, so no offense to Scotland, but I hadn’t observed the cliche in the movies. But blaming it on Hollywood may be overreacting. After all, Hollywood is really a mirror for our own prejudices. Why is the hero almost invariably good looking? Why are all the female characters young and very attractive. They all play to type in the movies (and books, too) because people like to have their prejudices reinforced. We are all attracted by beauty and repelled by ugliness. Haven’t studies shown that good-looking people get better treatment in general (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_12_100/ai_77931216/) Trying to deviate from these preconceptions results in a movie that flops. It isn’t always true, but the mainstream movies which cater to the masses make big money, while only a few people to to the art house theaters to see the small budget, challenging films.

  34. Kerry Maxwellon 30 Mar 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Watching this film, I was all WTF about the scottish accent until I realized, “Oh yeah! Craig Ferguson!”. It’s the same trap all these celebrity voiced animation films fall into. What’s the point of paying celebrity x to do a voice, if they don’t *sound* like celebrity x. I find the young misfit with smartass ‘tude just as annoying, but heard many young kids quoting Hiccup’s lines while leaving the theatre. I considered myself lucky I made it it out of a Dreamworks CGI pic without the soul destroying musical number they usually close with. Not that my son wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and that is all I really care about when I go to the movies with him.

  35. ccbowerson 31 Mar 2010 at 12:30 am

    “After all, Hollywood is really a mirror for our own prejudices. ”

    Statements like these let Hollywood off the hook (not that I’m necessarily criticizing Hollywood in this case). They are not just mirrors; they are projectors as well. They are responsible for both the good movies they produce and the crap. “Hollywood” has a responsibility to art, entertainment, and has social responsibilties (of course $$$ will dictate how these are done). They do reflect the culture of the times, but they have an active role and influence and can be an agent for social change.

    In this example- its not like they used people’s preconceived notions about Scottish people. Most american’s don’t know Scottish people to develop stereotypes on their own. Most of the stereotypes that come with hearing a Scottish accent come from movies people have seen. So this is example shows that it is not just a “mirror” affect, these associations come from the movies themselves.

  36. Michael Kingsford Grayon 31 Mar 2010 at 1:48 am

    As may have been alluded to above, the Vikings once ‘owned’ a fair chunk of Scotland, especially the northern islands.

  37. John2on 31 Mar 2010 at 3:42 am

    On the point of the vikings “owning” tracts of Britain, that’s not the way I’d put it, as there isn’t really a “used to” about it, as they never went home, and we in the North still have many, many reminders of our ancestry, from place and family names through our dialects and our legends. For example, when I moved South to university a friend was reading Beowulf in its “middle English” form. To him it was like a foreign language, to me it was nearly as easy to read as the daily newspapers.

    In fact, because of the amount of Nordic influence on my speech, I was literally unintelligible to some of the students I encountered for my first few months, to the point where I was unable to make myself understood when asking the way to the dining room.

  38. eiskrystalon 31 Mar 2010 at 3:58 am

    Looking at the films out these days, you would think there were only 30 actors in Hollywood to choose from anyway.

    My worst cliche is the all powerful security computer that can zoom in indefinitely using any camera, find any information the hero needs (usually detailed plans for some other building) etc… yet has password protection that a drunk rat could bypass.

  39. Calli Arcaleon 31 Mar 2010 at 11:38 am

    Vikings with a Scottish accent seem wrong. We were part of the Danelaw here, too, but I’ve beeb to enough motor races in mainland Europe to understand that the big men in horned helmets most definitely don’t sound like I do (my Geordie accent being quite possibly completely unknown to Hollywood filmmakers.)

    The horned helmets generally bug me more than the accents, to be totally honest. I mean, why argue the accents rather than the fact that they’re speaking modern English at all? :-D

    The horned helmets are a major Viking cliche. Want to make sure the audience knows they’re looking at a Viking and not just any old barbarian? Slap some cow horns on that helmet! Even our (American) football team here in Minnesota, the Vikings, has a horned helmet in their logo.

    But Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets, and in fact, their helmets were generally much more interesting than that. Most wore bullet-shaped helms with metal goggles and noseguards and perhaps metal flaps to protect the ears. If they had enough money, they might spruce it up further. Some very impressive helmets have been unearthed with complex engravings and with the face protection made to look like the face of a snarling beast. Wings were occasionally put on the sides — actual bird wings that were stitched on — and winged helms were features of several mythical heroes (including the Valkyries). But more often they lacked sticky-out-bits on the sides, as such features would reduce the helmet’s ability to protect the head. (The bullet shape is intended to deflect blows. If there’s a horn on the side of the helmet, that could stop a blade or hammer rather than deflecting it, letting nearly all of its kinetic energy pass into the wearer. Not so happy.)

  40. JurijDon 31 Mar 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I find this all fascinating, especially since on our side of the pond and in our little corner of Europe these same cliches/stereotypes do not exist (well apart from the obvious “imports” in the cinema) but there are others quite as bizzare and funny :D

    three examples:

    - all Scandinavians are blonds (can’t blame us for this one) and tend to wear socks and flip-flips (yeah, strange but if a commercial portrays one, he or she will invariably have a pair of flip-lops on and socks to the knee) Who knows where and why that one got started.

    - our “average” American movie/commercial cliche has him wearing a cowboy hat (a must) and selling used cars (no idea why). I think something like 95% of them have a mustache as well. The wife is of course at home watching over 4-5 kids. Religious affiliations are also always prominently stated which really makes them stand out from the other characters as the word “god” and “religion” are not often spoken on TV over here.

    - the German “scientist” accent is much more valued (perceived as intelligent and sophisticated) than the British one over here. The British cliche add role mostly portrays them as up-tight busybodies who fuss about insignificant stuff and dunk crumbles into their tea at 17 o’clock sharp.

  41. JurijDon 31 Mar 2010 at 9:00 pm

    Oh yeah., and if anyone from the US wants a Euro-centric cliche bonanza take a look at a few episodes of Alo’ Alo’

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hfHyDSTX50&feature=related

    it’s a sitcom series parodying the German occupation of France during WW II, it’s a riot. Cliches abound but somehow the creators managed to entangle those old “tiresome” cliches into some-kind of repetitive comedy blast that grows on you.

    It’s a bit like a European Seinfeld

    There are 85 episodes and 9 seasons…

  42. BillyJoe7on 01 Apr 2010 at 8:32 am

    I suppose someone has already mentioned that vikings didn’t have horns sticking out of their helmets (ie that “horned helmets” were made out of horn)

  43. mindmeon 02 Apr 2010 at 10:35 pm

    A British friend noted with some curiosity American movies tend to portray Roman senators and emperors as having British/English accents.

  44. Clintsc9on 03 Apr 2010 at 4:31 am

    @Mindme, Russell Crowe pretty much stayed with his normal Australian accent for Gladiator. Which was fair enough. What accent would the ancient Romans have used to speak English, a language that wasn’t invented yet? So he apparently didn’t even bother.
    Note that when Australians try to speak so Americans can understand, usually end up sounding English – except to the English.

    Most annoying cliché to me is the “enhance” option on any photograph.
    Zoom in on the number plate and it is correctly heavily pixelated.
    Then the hero asks the tech to enhance. He presses one button or twirls a knob and the number plate appears clear as day.
    This can apparently easily be done from – in real life crappy – CCTV footage but can also be done from satellite photos.

  45. MontyFiskon 12 Apr 2010 at 1:55 am

    I love a good over-analysis as much as the next nerd, but perhaps the answer here is far simpler. The movie is a comedy for children, and (as Mike Myers pointed out in response to post-Shrek inquiries regarding his accent choice) many things just sound funnier with a Scottish accent. Or maybe the directors were simply fans of Craig Ferguson and Gerard Butler and wanted to give two wonderful Scottish actors an opportunity to work together. Whatever the correct answer, Scottish Vikings strike me as less absurd than a bunch of adults quibbling over the linguistic accuracy of a children’s movie that features a vast array of dragon species in key roles.

    As an IT professional, I concur with those who find it far more annoying how computers are ALWAYS portrayed as having improbable if not impossible capabilities, sound effects that would drive anyone insane, and security that can be cracked in mere minutes by any kid with under-developed social skills. And is it so much to ask that writers be required to call up a reputable IT person to check over their computer lingo? Using terms that don’t really exist doesn’t make the character sound smarter to an audience that is now a decade into the 21st century and pretty well knows the difference.

  46. Drizzmewon 16 Aug 2014 at 3:47 pm

    To be honest, I have not read most of the previous comments. I just wish with the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, that DreamWorks Animation had gotten all the voice actors to use a Scandinavian accent. I mean that even when you take into account that book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell is basis for the franchise, Vikings are and always will be Scandinavian.

    If the directors, producers and such wanted, they could have had a Scandinavian accented cast of characters. I got no problems with the the Scottish, but if DreamWorks Animation want a Scottish accented cast of characters, they need to look for or write such a script. Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures did that by releasing Brave. It can’t be that hard to find voice actors willing and able to do Scandinavian accented English.

    In the tv series only a few characters speak with any semblance of Scandinavian accented English. Cressida Cowell should have also given all the characters in her How to Train Your Dragon books proper Viking names and surnames. The dragons too could do with proper Viking names. It can’t be that hard for anyone to look up on the internet.

    If you wish to argue that Cressida Cowell cites the Scottish Inner Hebrides islands and stories of Scandinavian Scotland as inspirations for the books, then the movies and series should make candid referance to that fact, rather than just making vague reference to it through use of a Scottish accented cast of characters. That could be achieved using a similar scrawl to the one employed by Star Wars, though that is just one possible solution.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.