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'True Lies' ' False Lessons in History : Movies: The action film has taken flak for its depiction of Arabs. But who'd have thought its props would cause a stir?

August 12, 1994|DAVID J. FOX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some Arab American organizations and Muslim groups have expressed a variety of objections to what they see as stereotyping of characters in Arnold Schwarzenegger's "True Lies." And if there were more active groups representing historians and archeologists, there might have been an outcry from them as well.

Stuart Smith, a research associate of the Institute of Archeology at UCLA who teaches courses in ancient Near Eastern history and archeology and Egyptology for UCLA Extension, for example, found himself getting steamed during a recent screening of the film.

Smith took exception to the knowledge, or lack thereof, displayed by an antiquities dealer played by Tia Carrere. In one scene, she shows Schwarzenegger artifacts, including a winged bull door entrance carving, that she has been able to surreptitiously steal from their home countries: "You see, a lot of these pieces are from ancient Persia," she tells Schwarzenegger.

Not so fast, said Smith: "I thought, no, those look Assyrian."

Not only were there cultural differences between the two regions, but Carrere was off about 300 years by referring to the art, especially the winged bull, as Persian, Smith said. The Assyrians used winged bulls to flank doorways of major buildings to ward off unwanted intruders. They were introduced by the Assyrian king Ashur Nasirpal, who reigned from 883 to 859 BC.

"I would expect that the Nasirpal prototype was the one used for the movie," Smith said of the winged bull, a large example of which was found in the 1800s in what is now modern Iraq, formerly Mesopotamia, where the Assyrians lived. The Persians lived in what is now Iran.

A spokesman for Lightstorm Entertainment, which produced the movie, said the Carrere character is not specific about which of the antiquities--in a room full of them--are Persian.

The film's production designer, Peter LeMont, who is currently working on the 17th James Bond movie, "The Golden Eye," said that "we took a bit of artistic license" and made the bulls look "more like horses."

The concept of a horse, however, never entered Smith's mind. "They did a good job of imitating (the original)," Smith said. "But someone went to a book and found the pictures. So they must have known what they were making. It was odd that they didn't mention Assyria."

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