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Artistic License – Ships
aka: Failed To Pay Shipping Charges
The naval equivalent of Just Plane Wrong
. Writers sometimes get maritime procedures, depictions of naval vessels etc. wrong.
Often invoked simply because of practicality — if you're shooting a movie about the Pearl Harbor attack, for example, it's highly unlikely you'll get the Navy to actually raise anchor and ship out so that you can fill it with (ludicrously expensive) period-accurate recreations, so just dress up what ships are there and understand the audience will (hopefully) suspend their disbelief
This was also deliberately invoked, out of superstition. It was common to depict ships with the flags pointing in the "wrong" direction (e.g. toward the stern), because to depict them actually sailing—in a physically possible wind that made the sails and the flags point in the same direction—was considered bad luck. Sailors are famous for being superstitious, after all.
See also the Useful Notes
on Naval Gazing
. Not related to artistic ships
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Anime & Manga
- Kurogane Pukapuka Tai, an odd mixture of Girls Love romp and World War II military action, largely avoids this trope.
- The main ship, the Imperial Japanese Navy heavy cruiser Unebi, is fictional, but plausible and explained; its operational history is based on that of real Japanese commerce raiders. It also represents a class of ship that other nations, primarily the US, actually believed at the time that Japan had.
- The German submarine U-800 is a fictional example of a real U-boat class, the IX-C, which is a feasible type to be in the Indian Ocean attacking British shipping.
- The destroyer HMS Cutlass is a fictional example of the C Class destroyer, and is obviously visually identifiable as the 1931-built class, not the 1943 and onward newer C class. However, the older C class had by then been transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy. However, the almost identical D class was still in service, and it would have worked just fine; it's quite likely the C class was just chosen instead to allow a name beginning with C.
- Super Atragon: In their effort to stuff more anti-American cliches into the show, the writers overlooked the fact that US battleships were named after states, not abstract concepts. Those are reserved for pre-Nimitz class carriers (USS Independence) or new, headlines-worthy corvettes note , such as the USS Freedom.
- Pirates of the Caribbean:
- The trilogy is a major offender, with extensive yelling about naval maneuvers, which never accomplish anything, as all the ships continually sail in any direction in every weather with main and topsails square to the masts at all times. Bonus points for Captain Jack Sparrow yelling for adjustments to pieces of rigging his ship does not even possess: "Scandalize the lateens!" The torn and tattered sails of the Pearl and the Dutchman do not qualify, as they are both supernatural vessels.
- According to the script, this was during Jack's hallucination in the Locker.
- Along with many films featuring Wooden Ships and Iron Men, Real Life fully rigged sailing ships couldn't be turned simply by spinning the wheel like it's a Formula 1 car. There is a whole array of multi-man, complex procedures for doing so. Also bizarre is how Jack Sparrow managed to "disable the rudder chain" in Curse of the Black Pearl - the cables (not chains) on a ship like the Dauntless would take a single man days to cut through even if he had a proper implement (which he doesn't).
- Although, it is more likely that Jack simply jammed the rudder, (likely with the crab pot Will Turner had stepped on) backed up by when a sailor tries to turn the wheel later, it doesnt budge.
- Jack Sparrow's sinking ship at the start of the first film is impossible (but awesome).
- (Most real sinking ships roll over, but even if they don't the reduced sail area and increased water resistance bring it to a full stop long before looking anywhere near this scene.)
- Later on, hilariously, the Royal Navy officer says that the Dauntless "cannot be crewed by two men." Neither can the Interceptor, in reality.
- The whole Maelstrom battle. Also, a first-rate ship of the line like the Endeavour could eat a pair of heavy frigates like the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman for breakfast, though this is excusable given that Lord Beckett was unable to break out of his Villainous Breakdown and order his ship to attack. Also, the Dutchman is probably too supernatural to sink even with superior firepower.
- No lower-deck gun (or even a maindeck carronade) could possibly achieve the angle of elevation shown by the Black Pearl attacking Port Royal (or for that matter, any of the ships in the whirlpool battle). If you want to fire that high, you're looking at small pintle mount weapons like swivel guns, or dedicated mortars (which tended to be either little 1-3 pounder boat mortar jobbies or fitted to specially built/modified bomb ketches). Anything else would rip a hole in the deck it's mounted on with the recoil (and bomb ketches had to sit the mortar on a hold full of coiled rope to compensate).
- Actually, it could...if the ship lay way out to sea and double-charged its guns to compensate, not sitting right in the harbor like the Black Pearl.
- What's worse is the sequence of the Black Pearl bombarding Port Royal shows her standing in to the harbour under damn near full sailnote , and judging by how she was heeling, running within a couple of points of the true wind. So that means not only is she having to fire any maindeck guns through her own rigging to reach the fort, she's sailing headlong into a lee shore with, as had been earlier established, no gently shelving beach to safely run aground on. This is known as a Bad Thing, but luckily the ''Black Pearl'' is capable of stopping on a dime without changing her rig, dropping anchor or even entering something's wind shadow although this could be due to the magical curse on her crew and captain.
- The Flying Dutchman's triple-guns cannot be reloaded, as cannon are muzzle-loading. Unless Davy Jones has invented breech-loading cannons. Which presents the additional problem of how the cascabel screw threads don't seize using 17th-century ironwork. Unless the guns are magical. Which presents the additional problem of why Davy Jones bothers to crew his gundecks.
- The stunt with the upturned boat in the first film would not work. While you could overturn a boat and float it across the water, you could not drag it underwater like a poor-man's submarine unless you were inhumanly strong (and heavy).
- (A boat turned upside down but still full of air still floats just as well as if it were laying the right side up. Even with no air in there a wooden boat plus two humans would barely sink. Ever tried walking in the deep end of a swimming pool? Imagine that, but with about ten times as much friction working against any forward motion.)
- Partial aversion: Master and Commander manages to avoid blatant errors. This was done by using a real period naval ship, and through meticulous detail to ensuring accuracy. The biggest mistake is that the ship is actually motoring in a few shots, as indicated by the sails being pushed backwards against the mast by the wind, while the ship continues forward. Due to the nature of filming out at sea using a real ship, and the nature of well, nature, the crew simply didn't have enough time to ensure fully accurate manoeuvring while filming the ship.
- Waterworld manages to multiply the sins, by having a fore-and-aft rigged Trimaran that is powered by wind so reliable the main character felt it wise to build a giant wind turbine on his mast. Lord only knows what would happen if the wind ever went slack and the sail slumped back into the turbine.
- The Spy Who Loved Me has the Soviet submarine (a Murena/"Delta I") missing its fairwater planes.
- Pearl Harbor featured an impressive effects model of Battleship Row which managed to use the wrong superstructure for the U.S. battleships, despite the production crew having several hundred pictures to work from, and also hideously messed up the sinking of the Oklahoma. There are also several seriously anachronistic ships present, most obviously Spruance-Class guided missile destroyers. Then again, this is the same movie that didn't notice an M26 Pershing tank in stock footage, the Arizona Memorial visible in a movie set before it even sank, or a large building with 'Est 1952' printed on the front.
- Also in this movie, the aircraft carriers on both sides were visibly modern designs with angled flight decks when viewed in long shots, due to the lack of "straight" deck carriers in Real Life since shortly after World War II.
- One of the Japanese intelligence photographs shows a North Carolina-class battleship. No such ship was in Pearl Harbor at the time.
- The Queen Mary appears in the movie in her civilian paint scheme: in reality, she was painted battleship grey during the war.
- Moving the battleships 100 feet apart just so they could film cool sequences of airplanes flying between the rows while Cuba Gooding Jr. shoots at them with .50 caliber machine gun even though he also would have been shooting up the ship moored alongside.note The real Doris 'Dorie' Miller was awarded the Navy Cross and certainly deserved a better portrayal of his heroism.
- In The Sum of All Fears, an American aircraft carrier is shown sailing without active escorts and no air patrols flying, within striking range of Russian airfields during a serious international crisis. If this had happened in real life, they would deserve to get sunk.
- It is common for warships to be 'played' by other classes of ship.
- The South Dakota-class USS Alabama (BB-60, now a museum ship) has stood in for several other battleships on film, such as in the miniseries War and Remembrance and the movie Under Siege.
- The Longest Day tried to get around this by only showing warships in silhouette, though all that did was exaggerate their anachronistic features, like post-war lattice masts.
- In any World War II movie, if you see a carrier with an angled flight deck (the catapults launch the plane forward, the landing takes place at an angle), you are seeing something built/modified after the war, which accounts for any post-WW2 carrier afloat. Sadly, there are no straight-decked carriers left in the world, as attempts to get the USS Enterprise (CV-6), the most decorated warship in history, preserved as a museum ended in failure.
- Averted, partly, in Battle of the River Plate, where the cruisers Achilles and Cumberland were played by the actual Achilles and Cumberland. Then again, Graf Spee was played by USS Salem, which looked nothing like the real Graf Spee, and Cumberland was minus a turret thanks to a refit. The Real Life Graf Spee, having been sunk in the titular battle, was obviously unavailable for filming. Lampshaded when the German Captain says sometimes they even disguise themselves as an American cruiser and the captured British merchantman Captain accepts that as being why they have a number painted on the bow. This treads the line between Truth in Television and Very Loosely Based on a True Story because there are plenty of pictures of the real Admiral Graf Spee disguised as a US Navy cruiser.
- U571 wasn't much more accurate in its ship displays than its accuracy to historical events.
- Mostly averted in Das Boot which in fact is praised for its realism of portraying how would be to live in a WWII Uboat. However, there're a few errors, most notably the film taking place in December 1941, when things were going much better for the Kriegsmarine than later in the war (1943 onwards).
- Avoided entirely in The Caine Mutiny, which replaced the novel's four-piper destroyer-minesweeper conversion with a Gleaves-class conversion. The only problem is that this leaves a few comments about the Caine being a rusty old tub sounding slightly odd, since she would've been less than five years old during the Pacific campaign.
- And sometimes, you just can't win: the production crew of the John Wayne/Kirk Douglas film In Harm's Way went to a lot of trouble to avoid this by using models for the battle scenes, but sadly they only sailed straight into another trope.
- USS Ranger, being among the last of the non-nuclear-powered aircraft carriers until her decommissioning in 1993, was often used by the Navy for filming movies for precisely this reason — not only were her internal spaces not classified, but she was a lower-priority operational unit and was thus available more for filming. USS Ranger appears in:
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, with the Enterprise crew members are even wearing USS Ranger ball caps. In addition to reactor spaces being classified, the actual Enterprise was out to sea at the time of filming.
- Top Gun
- Flight of the Intruder, although here it makes sense, since the Ranger and Independence were sister ships of the same class, with only slight differences in appearance.
- The Hunt for Red October:
- The film had USS Blueback play the Red October. Notable as the Blueback is a diesel fast attack sub rather than a nuclear ballistic missile sub, for obvious security reasons regarding nuclear propulsion. The Blueback, at least, was a modern design.
- Although the frigate Reuben James was being played by the Real Life Reuben James (FFG-57), the latter wasn't commissioned until two years after the film's setting. Possibly, however, a Shout-Out to Red Storm Rising, which had Perry-class "figs" in service in 1984.
- Although much of it was filmed aboard the actual USS Nimitz, with the participation of many of that carrier's crew, the scene in The Final Countdown that showed the carrier sailing into Pearl Harbor, in the present, showed USS Kitty Hawk, as at the time the movie was filmed, the Nimitz was part of the Atlantic fleet.
- Fictional depictions of RMS Titanic have something of a mixed history in regards to accuracy to Real Life.
- In Titanic, at first it appears that the production crew managed to get port and starboardnote mixed up, but in this case the writers and directors got it right and the audience didn't. At that time, crews and vessels (at least British merchant ships) were still under what are known as "Tiller Commands," which in fact reverses the directions: whereas today it's "Hard To Starboard = Bear Right" and "Hard to Port = Bear Left," using tiller commands it would be "Hard to Port = Bear Right" and "Hard to Starboard = Bear Left."
- SOS Titanic has the deck scenes filmed on the Queen Mary, with no attempt to disguise the Cunard Line's distinct differences to the designs of White Star Line ships.
- The 1953 Titanic film didn't even try to be accurate with the ship's interiors, relying on a stock "luxury ocean liner" setting.
- Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus. Stock Footage of an Iowa-class battleship is identified as a destroyer. The rest of the movie is equally ridiculous. The title does, after all, give a good indication of what type of movie it is.
- Most of the ships in the Kamikaze movie For Those we Love only exist in the FX computers. However there are a number of action and beauty shots of what is recognizably an American Destroyer Escort. Much of the filming was in the Philippines and apparently the crew were able to use the Philippine flagship BRP Rajah Humabon (Ex Cannon-class, USS Atherton, later Naval SDF Hatsuhi). Even better, it still carries its WWII-era 3 inch, 40mm, and 20mm mounts. The only jarring part is the lack of deck clutter near the stern (the depth charges are long gone).
- The production crew seem to think that a 50,000 ton warship can perform handbrake turns.
- Firing 16 inch guns like AK-47s in semi-automatic.note
- The Real Life John Paul Jones is the third ship in the Arleigh Burke Class of Destroyers, which means she is a Flight 1. Flight 1s have a helipad, but lack a hangar. USS Sampson (which was destroyed) is a Flight 2A. These models HAVE a hangar. However, someone in the film studio seemed to think that all Burkes have hangars, which would be excusable if the ship and hull number were fictional, but USS John Paul Jones is one of the better known of the destroyer fleet, and there are hundreds of photos to reference from.
- Under Siege:
- The main guns of USS Missouri are loaded and fired by a crew of maybe 10 sailors who were not specialist artillerymen. It took 47 highly trained men for each gun's machinery (charge hoists, shell hoists, gun laying, firing) during World War II.
- The 16 inch gun fires at a distant target as small as a surfaced submarine in the night, supposedly under turret-rangefinder control. The sub would be nearly-invisible in Real Life, to score a hit in wartime conditions it needed complex calculations using data from radar plotting, main rangefinder plotting, a specific charge for the gun and so on. This assuming the gun can depress enough to fire at such a close target.
- PT-109. Since there were no surviving examples when the film was made in 1963 the PT boats in the movie were actually 88 foot Air/Sea rescue boats heavily modified to resemble wartime 80 foot Elco's.
- They Were Expendable, the fictionalized story of MTB Squadron 3 in the Philipines at the start of the war. MTB Squadron 3's boats were PT-20 class 77 foot Elco's, but were portrayed in the movie by PT-103 class 80 foot Elco's. The same class boats as JFK's PT-109 mentioned above.
- Three aircraft carriers were used shooting Godzilla (2014), none of them the USS Saratoga as the movie says, because the real Saratoga was decommissioned in 1994, making it safe from bragging by current sailors. The hull number on the Saratoga is CVN-88, which isn't even being planned yet, so go with Alternate History again on this.
- Discussed in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when the narration points out the logic of having the ship's galley in the bow. In a motor-powered ship such as readers might be familiar with, engine smoke trails behind a fast-moving vessel regardless of wind direction, but sailed watercraft normally move with, and more slowly than, the wind. If the galley were in back, smoke from the ovens would flow forward onto the deck.
- There was an illustration in a Robert Lawson book which pictured a 3-masted ship, all the sails full of wind, with flapping flags facing the wrong direction (i.e, flags were pointing to the stern). The flags and the sails are affected by the same wind, and so the flags should be pointing more or less toward the bow.
- The Hunting of the Snark had fun with this - see "Fit the Second".
- John Winton's novel Aircraft Carrier:
- Combined with Just Plane Wrong: the fictitious HMS Furious (probably based on the real HMS Hermes) defends itself against enemy missile attacks with 60s-vintage Seacat missiles (good in their day, but by no means an adequate anti-missile defense even in the 1980s) and 40mm Bofors guns (only an adequate anti-missile defense if Lady Luck is at the controls) while the Sea Harriers of its air group carry AMRAAM missiles. By the time AMRAAM was available to the Fleet Air Arm, 20mm Phalanx anti-missile guns and the much superior Seawolf point defense missile would have been available to a fictitious aircraft carrier.
- The aviation blunder has the ship's air group sacrifice itself by going out to tackle an incoming bombing raid and then being unable to land back on the carrier due to rough weather, whereas in fact the Harrier, of all aircraft, is best suited to doing this (the pilots elect to eject and be picked out of the sea, and drown to a man instead; the author appears to have done this for dramatic effect, in order to make the carrier's gun and missile fit the only thing that was still defending the convoy).
- Partly averted elsewhere in the same novel, when the fires on the ship are licking at the walls of the missile magazines. The captain orders them flooded to prevent the ship from exploding, despite the fact that there are still men inside. This has been done in the World Wars, and would be done again if necessary. Whether the missiles would survive the dunking is another matter.
- Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen series is both played straight and averted. The bulk of the named ships, especially the World War II-era ones, never served in said war despite clearly taking part in the battle of the Java sea and later engagements in the book. However, wherever else possible, the series is brutally accurate with very few licenses in regards to the ships and their operations wherever possible. The changes made are intentional: the author did not want to disrespect sailors killed in combat by using a ship that participated in the war. (Mahan and Amagi for instance were decommissioned and scrapped before the second world war, while Walker was scuttled seventeen days after Pearl Harbor.)
- Invoked In-Universe in the second novel of the X-Wing Series. The Rogues find a freighter named Construum's Pride. Lt Cracken, a native of Construum, takes one look at its IFF and declares that it's hostile: Due to the naming conventions for spaceships on Construum, if it had really been part of their merchant marine, Pride would have been named for an animal or a river, not a virtue, something that was restricted for warships.
- Discussed in Jane Austen's Persuasion. The protagonist, Anne, finds Admiral Croft bemusedly looking at a painting in the window of a print shop. When she approaches him he asks "What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that?" and declares "I would not venture over a horsepond in it." He goes on quite a bit about it, not at all like a modern day geek ranting about their particular area of interest.
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who:
- In the episode "World War Three", a Trafalgar class attack submarine was depicted with Trident nuclear missiles, found only on ballistic missile submarines in Real Life.
- In "Cold War", the Soviet nuclear submarine Firebird, despite looking like a Murena-M class (Delta-II class) missile sub, seems to be far more massive. For comparison, the more modern Akula (Typhoon) class is larger than a Delta-II, and yet the protagonists are dwarfed by the conning tower when standing on the bridge in the epilogue of the episode. This is not something anyone was at risk of with a Typhoon.
- Airwolf features a "Delta III" submarine with vertical launched SAMs. Which just happen to look like US Polaris ballistic missiles. Between shots it turns into a US Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine. The submarines look completely different, with different functions. The "Delta III" doesn't even carry surface-to-air missiles.
- In Once Upon a Time, Captain Hook starts out in flashbacks with a sizable crew for his brig, the Jolly Roger. In the "present day" portions, he continues to sail around single-handedly on the same ship, somehow managing to control multiple sails on two masts just by standing at the helm. Possibly justified: it's stated in-universe that the Jolly Roger is unnaturally fast because she is built of enchanted wood—perhaps the same magic assists her captain in controlling his under-manned ship.
- H.R. Pufnstuf's intro includes an especially severe example. A sailboat is scudding along on a broad reach, sails properly filled and trimmed, then when Witchiepoo dispels her illusion, the boat turns sinister, the weather turns dark, and the boat is now "sailing" directly into the wind.
- JAG: In "Cowboys & Cossacks", the exterior of the Russian destroyer is actually stock footage of a British Type 42 destroyer.
- Most US Navy vessels on the show, other than decommissioned ones or historic references, have fictional names. This may have been intentional.
- Generally The Last Ship is alright with it's portrayal of naval warships, but in "Two Sailors Walk into a Bar", the aft deck of what is supposed to be a Kirov-class guided missile battlecruiser has a prominent turret with three large guns. This is because, lacking a proper Kirov to film on, that scene was filmed on the USS Iowa.
- In the intro of Running Wild's "Under Jolly Roger", it only takes seconds for the pirate crew to man and fire their cannons after spotting a ship.
- There are a fair number of older Harpoon scenarios that pit a Soviet carrier group against an American one. The actual Soviet use of the "Kiev"(armed with really shitty Yak-38 jump jets) and "Moskva" (which actually was a helicopter carrier) classes were to defend areas for missile submarines, not engage in a suicidal tangle against a Nimitz group, unless the latter got close to the Soviet mainland. If the Soviets were going to take on a U.S. CBG (Carrier Battle Group), they'd use submarines and/or land-based aircraft. Even then, the Motherland would lose a lot of units in the process. Harpoon predates the current ubiquitousness of AEGIS ships in the USN, meaning there was a greatly increased risk of the heartstopping "SS-N-12 SANDBOX detected. METHOD: Visual" happening. This did not stay true for long after the game's release though.
- Invoked in Munchkin Booty - several of the level up cards depict the characters entangled in ropes, with the card name describing what they are doing: "careen the futtock-shrouds," "splice the forecastle" and "belay the aft topgallants". None of these make any degree of sense.
- Some players of Pirates Of The Spanish Main build their models with the flag (properly called pennant) flowing backwards (although that would indicate that the ship is sailing directly into the wind) because they find it looks funny the other way around.
- Somewhat justified, as the flags of the ship's nation ARE pointed backwards, leaving you the choice of having the pennants going the "wrong way", or having two flags flying in opposite directions.
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker takes some care to play sailing realistically: Link can quarter by turning the sail at an angle to the boat so that it catches the wind fully, and goes faster when the wind is directly behind. However, Link doesn't need to turn the rudder while doing this, can quarter at a right angle to the wind, and, by picking up speed and making a sharp turn, can sail against the wind. Since lacking these abilities would make the game immensely tedious and frustrating, this can be filed under Acceptable Breaks from Reality.
- Golden Eye 1997 was supposed to feature a La Fayette-class frigate like the movie did; the ship actually looks nothing like the La Fayette and rather more like an American Brooke or Garcia-class.
- The majority of naval simulators offer far more customization than would be feasible on any Real Life design, along with the usual abstractions.
- Modern Warfare:
- The third game has one level set in New York harbor, which is an active battleground between American and Russian ships. Quite apart from the aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, Tarantul missile corvettes, and submarines slugging it out at Napoleonic ranges, there's the whole bit about having an SSGN just offshore instead of at standoff distances, or the insanely short minimal range on those SS-N-19s.
- Modern Warfare in general is just awful about this. In the same battle, you drive over the sunken USS Nimitz (CVN-68), which is stationed in Washington state. Even worse was in 2, when the Sixth Fleet was transplanted from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.
- Pixel Piracy given that there is a ship editor in which anything can be placed anywhere. this is inevitable.
- Assassins Creed III has Connor take command (and helm) of the Aquila, a Revolution-era frigate, despite never setting foot on a ship before. The experienced former captain of the ship becomes your Number Two and just gives out advice. The Aquila is extremely maneuverable for a frigate, and the cannons reload way too fast. Also, you can go from "no sail" to "full sail" in two seconds, with the ship immediately accelerating to that speed. There are no consequences to having all sails unfurled when sailing into the wind. This can be explained away as being a heavily abstracted and condensed reconstruction of Connor's memories by the Animus 3.0 (which is supposed to be the most realistic Animus yet).
- Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag falls prey to many of the same pitfalls with its increased focus on naval gameplay, but also makes the Hand Wave explicit. Abstergo is trying to make an entertaining game out of Edward Kenway's experiences, not a minutely-detailed naval simulator.
- Disney's Atlantis The Lost Empire features the Ulysses, a Steampunk submarine the size of two aircraft carriers that can dive as deep as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In real life, submarines of that size cannot dive that deep because the high pressure underwater would cause their hulls to implode-the bigger the ship, the more pressure it has to deal with. The Ulysses would have trouble getting even that far because its steampunk engine would consume all interior oxygen if it dove underwater, and as a result the crew would all die of asphyxiation. Real-life diesel submarines exist, but ordinarily they can only use their diesel engines at or near the surface where they use a snorkel to draw in air. For completely submerged operation, most use electric engines powered by batteries, but this greatly limits their submerged range. Attempts to carry oxygen on board for a combustion engine were never really succesful, until Kockums developed AIP stirling engines.
- In their defense a steam propelled submarine with AIP did actually exist. So long as they didn't show anybody shovelling coal in an engine that part would still be plausible.