Yep, it’s going to be that kind of post, and I’m going to make the commitment to come back here again sometime.
A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, unless they choose to out themselves in the comments section, once confided that their default position on reviews for GoodReads was 3*. It needed to be really worth it to post a review on a book worth less and the book really had to be going it to earn more. The useful thing about this is that when I do spot a 4* review, as I did recently, I know that I should really go out and read it as soon as possible. TBR pile permitting…
The problem that I find with most reviews is that the scale is quite linear – one way or another you come down to some kind of fairly arbitrary assessment of poor, average, or excellent. In the education business, part of best practice is to a) offer constructive feedback for improvement and b) to explain what you liked and why; that will only take you so far in reviewing a book or film though.
When I was little, I probably watched far too much television, but one of the things that I really enjoyed was the classic serials – Zorro, the Lone Ranger, King of the Rocketmen, even the occasional Flash Gordon. When these were originally made, they were pretty cheap TV, or more properly cinema – you would go to the flicks and watch an A-movie (the Feature), a B-Movie (cheaper production values!, and this of course is where the term comes from), a serial, and a news reel, and perhaps a few shorts – cartoons, five minutes of someone like Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. There is a part of me that is sad I never got to experience this for reel (sic).
What has all of this got to do with gold? Bear with me. I am a fan of the Indiana Jones Trilogy (we’re not going to mention Crystal Skull, ok?). A big fan: I would give every film in the trilogy 5*. The films were, in part, an homage to the serials of yesteryear, and some of the special effects, stunts and situations are deliberately a bit over the top and/or creaky as a result. The thing that I really like about these films is that you focus on a McGuffin – a single thing that is important to the plot and drives it forward. The thing itself is almost incidental – the most famous McGuffin is probably the Maltese Falcon, the real thing never actually making an appearance in the story. In the IJ series you’ve got the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones and the Holy Grail – and they all have an active part in the plot. In some ways the series has become a bit of benchmark for this kind of film, perhaps even the type specimen, if it were a zoological specimen. Roll forward 15 years and you come to National Treasure. There are all sorts of films I could have chosen here, but this is a pretty good one for my purposes. The film is absolute tosh – I say this with love and affection, but whilst there are somethings that I would give it 4 or even 5* for, it is taken in the round a 3* film. One feature in particular that I think shows the direction that films and perhaps stories in general are showing serious inflation is in the McGuffin – in this case a vast treasure amassed over many years. In other respects the films are similar – the following of a series of clues, a villain who, whilst you probably wouldn’t want them in your social circle, is not entirely unsympathetic, a feeling that there are bigger things in play than we normally find in our lives. So far so good. This isn’t a critique of the films, and so far we haven’t talked numbers, or gold.
The pay-off, at least for the characters, in National Treasure is when they find the treasure-chamber. They know they’ve found it, but they’re still uncertain as to what it is that they have found. Ben Gates puts his torch (flaming, of course, not a flashlight) to a little bowl of what turns out to be gunpowder and this lights a trail that runs through the whole space, lighting it up. I’m glossing over this a bit, of course. The treasure chamber turns out to be vast. I haven’t been able to find numbers, but from memory, and a rather grainy photo, I think we are talking about a space 3 or four storeys in height (although to some extent this is not very relevant) and about 50 m by 200 m in length. So the $6 million – or perhaps $10 billion dollar – question(s): how much gold do we think is in there, and is this realistic?
I say $10 billion, because this is the bribe that Ben Gates (jokingly) offers to FBI Special Agent Sadusky. If we take that at face value, the cost of gold in 2004 was $454.2/t oz or about $14,500/kg. So that gives us about 689.7 metric tons of gold (10 billion divided by 14,500 gives us 689,700 kg). To put thing in perspective, it has been estimated that around 2.5 million tons of gold have been mined throughout the whole of human existence (that’s the optimistic upper limit), and that 1.5 tons were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Remember that current scholarship suggests that as Pharaoh’s went, he was pretty poor. On the other hand, he kept hold of all of his gold, whereas everyone else’s went back into circulation. That would give us about 35 cubic metres of gold and if we put this in one block it would be 3.2 metres on a side. This compares with a block 50 metres on a side for all the gold ever mined.
From the point of view of monetary realism, then this is probably fairly accurate. I started off the journey for this blog thinking about the size of the space – could you fit all the gold in the world into the space. It turns out you probably could. You’d need to do some trigonometry to get a better measurement of the treasure chamber (or perhaps ask Disney directly), but if we return to that 2.5 million tons the same article suggests that this could form a block that if it stood on Centre Court at Wimbledon would stand 143 metres high. Laying it down, I think it would easily sit in the space of the National Treasure secret chamber, but as it is, there is an awful lot of space left unaccouonted for.
Of course the treasure wasn’t just about the gold: there are objets d’art, statues, books/scrolls/”wisdom” accumulated over millennia. I think the real question then comes with respect to how on earth were the Templars/Masons able to move it all in secret…maybe that’s another post… $10 billion might just represent an easily transportable bribe, and you can argue that much of the contents are priceless. You couldn’t buy them – they belong in a museum…