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We decided to watch a "documentary" about "legendary creatures" because they seemed like contradictory terms to us. What are these "legendary creatures"? Bigfoot, Nessie…the creature from the Black Lagoon, chupacabras, vampire bats? What exactly?

And the answer is—wilderness wildlife—wild boars, wolves, brown bears, fire salamanders, etc.

I wouldn't consider those "legendary creatures" (except the fire salamander perhaps). That lead-in seems misleading to me. But it's not just that; the narrator is almost whispering, like it's a bedtime story, and uses phrases such as "creatures of folklore" while relaying only factual information about wildlife in their natural habitat (i.e., wolves, not werewolves or any Big Bad Wolf somewhere).

I don't know what you'd call this, but I don't think it's mysticizing (e.g., interpreting earthly events as alien) or mythicizing something or someone (e.g., a historical figure such as William Wallace). It's like the opposite of a mockumentary… I don't know; maybe it's just selling something.

I suppose it's a theatrical, albeit factual, storytelling technique referred to as _____, an attempt to turn a factual story into a compelling tale by cloaking it in nonexistent mystery.


Update:

Example of usage I found while spell checking chupacabras (Wikipedia):

The chupacabra or chupacabras is a legendary creature in the folklore of parts of the Americas, with its first purported sightings reported in Puerto Rico in 1995. The name comes from the animal's reported vampirism—the chupacabra is said to attack and drink the blood of livestock, including goats.

As quoted from the search page for simplicity. Emphasis mine (underlining due to added link), but it links to the same wiki page as the chupacabra page does.

Instead of being loosely or broadly defined, I think it's more a matter of whether you define the words together (as in the "legendary creatures" wiki page) or as two distinct words. There is probably a term for that; I may have seen it here before.

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    Apparently there are documentary modes. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Documentary_mode Your example might fit under “poetic” but that doesn’t really cover it. :-)
    – Xanne
    Aug 2, 2021 at 5:29
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    For 'legendary' Lexico gives 2 Remarkable enough to be famous; very well known. In other words "gives rise to legends" so the creature might be real but what is said about it is not. Also the creature might be well known but so rare that its existence is called legendary because so few people ever see it. On the other hand, a creature that is imaginary exists only in legends. Aug 2, 2021 at 5:56
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    'Embroidering the facts' is a reasonably common expression (though the first hits in a Google search wryly lead to articles about the Bayeux Tapestry). 'Fantasise' is often used for broadened imaginations largely based on reality (me with more money; me on holiday in Malibu; me without hay fever .... I'm not sure why 'mythicise' doesn't work (see Collins, for example). Aug 2, 2021 at 18:42
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    If this was a YouTube documentary...then the title is clickbaiting. Veritasium has interesting facts concerning the number of views that catchier or easier to understand titles attract.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 20, 2021 at 10:58
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    The word sensationalize is most often associated with journalism, where lurid details are emphasized or even dishonestly embellished to make a news story more shocking (and thus popular) than reality. This could be described as a "sensationalized documentary." Aug 20, 2021 at 11:13

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What are these "legendary creatures"? Bigfoot, Nessie…the creature from the Black Lagoon, chupacabras, vampire bats? What exactly?

And the answer is—wilderness wildlife—wild boars, wolves, brown bears, fire salamanders, etc.

Ha! I recognise that. It is an example of romanticizing.

OED:

romanticize. (v.) 1. transitive. To make romantic or idealized in character; to make (something) seem better or more appealing than it really is; to describe, portray, or view in a romantic manner.

1958 E. Cooper Tomorrow's Gift 129 In his own way Lukas had previously tended to romanticize the ‘noble savage’.

2007 Chicago Tribune (Midwest ed.) 5 Feb. i. 8/6 No one romanticizes academically failing schools.

And adjective:

1990 N.Y. Rev. Bks. 17 May 24/2 The glossy..and romanticizing photographs in travel books are no preparation for the wretchedness of the human condition in Patan.

and from Google Books:

The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence - Page 30 - Victor Marchetti, ‎John D. Marks · 1974:

Romanticized by myths, the operations of the CIA are also beclouded by false images and shielded by official policy.

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The OP in rejecting terms like mythicizing says:

It's like the opposite of a mockumentary… I don't know; maybe it's just selling something.

I propose a more general expression for a narrative device that runs the gamut from sales-generating dramatizing to myth-making untruths.

shade the truth or color the facts/truth

Judging by this Google Ngram, shading the truth has become much more popular since 1980.

shade (v.)

SLANT, BIAS m-w

color (v.)

Misrepresent by distortion or exaggeration.
witnesses might color evidence to make a story saleable Lexico

To cause to appear different from the reality dictionary.com

colour (v.)

To exhibit in a false light; to put an unfair or untrue construction upon; to misrepresent (OED).

This is not to say that all primary sources should be taken at face value; people lie, or they misremember, or they have some ax to grind that causes them to shade the truth leaving out some critical piece of information in otherwise truthful statements.ref.

Zola's purpose is to strip all myth from his story that might shade the truth from reality. Flaubert, on the other hand, continues to remain the universal prophet of articulation and rhetorical economy. We have him to thank for firmly establishing discours indirect libre, the multidemsional fusion of the narrator's voice as it quietly merges, undetectably, with the character's thoughts. ref

Chomsky provides extensive, detailed documentation of the extent to which reports in the major American media shade the truth, omit crucial facts, and distort ...ref.

Bagdikian’s warnings about potential conflicts of interest occasionally were borne out in more serious ways when journalists appeared to shade the truth in favor of company owners. ref.

Of course, with fossils there’s always a lot of room for conjectures and honest mistakes; our beliefs color the facts, especially when the facts are scarce. However, Lomax rarely strays from the path of confirmed, broadly accepted knowledge (at least among paleontologists;... Review of Locked in Time: Animal Behavior Unearthed in 50 Fossils(2021)

This is a documentary sketch of the growth of an American midwestern city, its architecture, its people, its culture, and last but not least, the foibles and the gossip that color the facts. ref.

The myth of human evolution from so called "ape men" has been completely demolished... After reading the book, one is convinced that evolutionary scientists because of their faith, color the facts of their discoveries. ref.

Every day courts are filled with witnesses who color the facts everywhere from exaggeration to perjury. ref.

There are few newspapers in the world which refuse to color the truth, to tamper with facts in order to make a sensation, but these few are the solid pillars of journalism. ref.

It's not surprising that the allure and sensational language common in cryptozoology has made its way into the narration of some serious animal documentaries.

I think this expression works well in the OP's example:

I suppose it's a theatrical, albeit factual, storytelling technique referred to as shading the truth, an attempt to turn a factual story into a compelling tale by cloaking it in nonexistent mystery.

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Hyperbole maybe.

  1. obvious and intentional exaggeration.

  2. an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally, as “to wait an eternity.”

From dictionary.com.

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"Defamiliarize" occurred to me.

to present or render in an unfamiliar artistic form usually to stimulate fresh perception

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When storytellers shape a man into a god, the man undergoes apotheosis.

In art, the term [apotheosis] refers to the treatment of any subject (a figure, group, locale, motif, convention or melody) in a particularly grand or exalted manner.

A documentary writer is perhaps exalting bog gas into the Loch Ness monster. The bog gas undergoes apotheosis.

If a wildlife creature is raised to mythical status, perhaps the locals have mythologized it.

To convert into myth; mythicize.

  1. To construct or relate a myth.
  2. To interpret or write about myths or mythology.

The documentary writer is debunking or explaining away the mythologizing of the locals. That vampire bat is just a bat, not a man with porphyria.

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Apocryphal? Meaning dubious account of something. Typically used to describe scripture, but it fits the question. Google 'apocryphal etymology' for more information.

Legendary? May also be appropriate, as it strictly speaking is an 'elaboration of invented details and distortion of historical facts produced by popular tradition'. This is not the understood common usage however, and therefore may not be appropriate depending on what you are trying to convey.

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I believe the term Marchenize would fit here.

Marchen from Collins Dictionary: a story or tale; esp., a fairy tale or folk tale

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/marchen

An example of usage of "Marchenize": https://books.google.com/books?id=YVHb-B3piJcC&pg=PA9&lpg=PA9&dq=define+Marchenize&source=bl&ots=PvNDf6MAuz&sig=ACfU3U19qtJs1GUnwsaEpWAzh9UCn_Go4w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjnu_zonsvyAhWtIjQIHd7SC3cQ6AF6BAgCEAM#v=snippet&q=marchenize&f=false

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