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Movie Commentary: Crusade: A March Through Time March 15, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Children's Crusade, Crusade A March Through Time, crusades, historical fiction, medieval period, movie commentary, movie review, movies, the crusades, Uncategorized.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

This 2007 movie involves a young soccer player accidently transported back in time to what history now calls “the Children’s Crusade.” This event from the crusading period is often considered the epitome of religious fanaticism leading to tragic foolishness.

Summary of the History:

(Summarized from A History of the Crusades, Volume III, by Steven Runciman.) In 1212, a shepherd boy of about twelve years old named Stephen, with a gift for preaching, convinced several thousand children to rescue Jerusalem for Christendom. He promised that God would part the seas for them once they reached the ocean. The group gathered at Vendome, France and marched, mostly on foot (Stephen rode in a cart with a canopy and some children of royal blood brought their horses) to Marseille. The journey was difficult; many died—others deserted. When they reached Marseille, and the sea did not part for them, some turned against Stephen. Two merchants offered to convey them, free of charge, to Jerusalem.

In 1230, a priest arrived in France with news on the fate of the ships the French merchants had provided eighteen years earlier. Two of the ships sank due to bad weather—all drowned. Five ships were escorted by a Muslim squadron to Algeria where the children were sold into the slavery, by prior arrangement with the two seemingly magnanimous merchants. Some ended up in Egypt. Some were executed for refusing to convert to Islam. Others ended up in the service of Saladin’s nephew, al-Kamil, who utilized them as interpreters and did not demand conversion to Islam.

Stephen’s effort inspired a German “Children’s Crusade,” led by a boy named Nicholas. This “crusade” broke up into groups, but with the same basic results. When the children arrived at the coasts (Genoa, Brindisi, Pisa, Rome), the sea again just wouldn’t part. In Genoa, many of the children became Genoan citizens. Some tried to wander back to their homes in the Rhineland, but few were able to complete the return journey. Nicholas’s father was hanged by angry parents for encouraging his son to take the children on the journey.


The Movie:

Rudolph “Dolph” Vega, in his late teens or very early twenties, wants to undo a bad result in a soccer game, so attempts to use the time machine his mother is working on to change the game, earlier that day. He ends up in the middle of a procession of children, apparently the so-called “Children’s Crusade.” The crusade story-line appears to combine aspects of the various children’s crusading movements detailed above. At first, it appears Dolph will be overwhelmed by the brutality of the era. But when he saves the son of the King of Pomerania—when he “breathes him back to life” using artificial respiration—his education, his knowledge- advantage, places him in a position to influence the entire crusade. His IPod and Mars candy bar offer humorous interactions between him and his Thirteenth Century companions on the march. Most present-day elements mix credibly into the story though I found it a stretch to believe that Dolph would be able to find gunpowder among the elements along the way, and then use them effectively in a rescue of some children taken captive. As Dolph tries to bring a 21st Century perspective to events, sometimes with positive results, sometimes not, one of the characters says to him “Your ways are not our ways.” That is the true fun of the movie, determining just how the different “ways” play out during the 13th Century.

The time travel parts of the story are weak. Not once do we hear a discussion of the time-travel paradox, even when Dolph insists on going back in time to rescue his romantic interest. (What if she was destined to play an important role in history, or give birth to an important person, or an important line of line of descendents?) But this has to be considered a story-teller’s license to allow us to take a contemporary young man back to a more brutal, less learned time period.

As to the history, the events of the historical “Children’s Crusade” are broadly observed, and used as a setting for the interaction between the eras. There is one added aspect added, however, that I will note for this post. The film-makers add a truly despicable villain, a Christian priest who is a leader of the crusade, depicted as having a great deal of influence over the child preacher. This man schemes to turn the children over to slave merchants in Genoa. There is no record of priests behaving that way. This is another example of a vile Christian villain, a phenomenon I discuss in my final post on the “Pillars of the Earth” mini-series, in the section The Church and Church Characters in “The Pillar of the Earth” Mini-Series.

Also, this is not a movie with big set-piece battles that we might expect from a movie about the Crusades. As with history, the children never reach the battlefield.

“Crusade: A March Through Time” is a harmless, entertaining exploration of how a modern young adult might fare in the brutal world of the Middle Ages.

Crusade: A March Through Time

Crusade: A March Through Time

Crusade: A March Through Time (widescreen)

Crusade: A March Through Time (widescreen)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume One)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume One)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Two)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Two)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Three)

A History of the Crusades - Steven Runciman (Volume Three)


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