East side to the West side

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Courtesy of Wikipedia

I have never thought I’d be reading books about volcanoes one day. There’s hardly anything I hate more than earthquakes and related catastrophes. But when you’re travelling to Sumatra, Indonesia – situated somewhere in the Pacific Ring of Fire, it only seems appropriate. And if I was to get into it, I wouldn’t have settled for anything less than the real thing. This is how “Krakatao – the Day the World Exploded” ended up on my desk.

I remember having seen at some point in childhood a movie called “Krakatoa, East of Java”. While it didn’t leave me with more significant memories other than that of a volcano spreading ashes and lava all over, it at least left me with some knowledge as to the geographical position of the mountain/island. Which, I realized as I opened my newly acquired book and had a look at the map on the first page, was completely wrong. The last thing I expected was to find Krakatao very much opposite where the movie title so self-confidently placed it. Because (and there go some years of conviction down the toilet) Krakatao is, was and, unless some massive tectonic movements put it elsewhere, West of Java!

In a moment’s hesitation, I do a quick mental review of my understanding of the four cardinal points. Did I skip the wrong geography class? Well, someone evidently has. I get mad at the thought that my intelligence has been so badly insulted for years and start playing the detective. What I found on Wikipedia is priceless. It goes like this: “some problems with the film include inaccuracy in detail. Krakatoa is, in fact, west of Java.” Come again: SOME problems? No, no, no, Wiki, this is huge, biiiig, biiig problem; this is a non-fiction movie which shamelessly sells geographic inaccuracy to an audience already unacquainted in its large majority with the subject matter: the regular popcorn-eating cinema goer in want of special effects.

But wait, it gets even better – hang on: “While the film was in production, its makers became aware of the geographic error in its title but used it anyway, apparently believing that this was a more exotic title than “Krakatoa, West of Java.” So let me get this straight: a script (with a carefully chosen title) is drafted and sets the real volcano somewhere it is not. Only THEN, at a much later stage (and I don’t even dare to think how many people are usually involved in the approval of a movie production) does someone finally have a look at the map and understands that Krakatao is in the other east, traditionally called west.

I admit, I was seriously impressed with this. One always is when it comes to things that go beyond one’s own capacities, I suppose. Now, no one is perfect, but how can a screenplay writer (oh, wait, there were two!) and a movie director refuse to put in the minimum effort of documenting themselves on the volcano, the base on which they were building on their entire story, and check the accuracy of the title? After all, they were trying to recreate historic events, for Christ’s sake and the title only consists of 4 words! How can one move a real volcano and the actual events to the wrong side of the island? This is just too huge not to be impressed.

I’d be seriously disappointed if I were to find out that the production team did not make any public apologies. Later on, having collected a series of complaints, they decided to play it safe and the movie was eventually reissued under the name “Volcano” – much less exotic, if you asked me, but at least it leaves aside the risk of spelling mistakes and the like. Their greatest achievement with this movie was probably to make a mistake commensurate with the size of the cataclysm itself, but fortunately, with fewer casualties. While Krakatao is described as “the 1883 volcanic eruption known as the world’s most spectacularly recorded natural disaster that sent shock waves across the globe seven times” (Dennis Schwartz), the script (and title) of the eponymous movie will be remembered as “man-made disaster.” At least some consistency on the catastrophe line.

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