Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fightin'! - A Case Study

I like action movies. No, I LOVE action movies. I'm a total sucker for knock-down, drag-out big swinging dick flicks, and just like many other things, I blame 'Star Wars'. Han Solo going berserk on that hall of Stormtroopers by just running at them with his blaster set to 'Whoop ass'? Hell to the fuck yeah. Sign me up. I've been hooked on the adrenaline rush of sitting in a darkened room and watching the people up on the screen do all the stuff I wish I could do for my pretty much my whole life, but for whatever reason, it's only recently that the fight scenes in these kinds of movies have started to seem more real than ever.

Sure, I love the bar fight scene in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' where Indy wipes the floor with the bar full of Nazis in Nepal, but come on - did that feel real? Do you honestly think you could pull off a bar brawl of that scale with that much panache and style? If you can, then you're far cooler than I'll ever be, but honestly, that scene doesn't feel real at all. Not to its discredit, of course, as it's still one of the greatest movie fight scenes of all time. However, with the current wave of action films coming our way, it seems that the more the camera pulls in to show what is actually taking place in these fight scenes and epic chases, the level of reality attached to them becomes exponentially heightened.

Let's take the fairly recent Jason Bourne trilogy as an example. There has been much criticism attached to Paul Greengrass' 'shaky cam' style of filmmaking, but for me, it serves as a truly immersive tool that brings us right into the forefront of the action. What's more, it challenges both the filmmakers and actors as well to truly hone the craft of choreographing and filming a movie fight scene. Anyone can face off against an advancing swordsman in a crowded alleyway in Cairo and shoot them from 20 feet away and pull it off with expert comic flair, but man, when you're right up against your opponent in close quarters and have no choice but to beat his ass with nothing but a book and a towel as your primary weapons, you've gotta have your shit together. Let's take a look.

Now I can understand how someone prone to motion sickness might get a little queasy watching stuff like that for too long, but you've got to admit that's a kick-ass action sequence. It feels like you're RIGHT THERE, and what's more, it barely even seems staged at all. Not that I get the chance to watch two Filipino Kali masters duke it out with any kind of regularity, but I imagine that if I did just happen to come across Jason Bourne and Bad Guy Desh beating each other into a fine paste, that's probably more or less what it would actually look like. There wouldn't be any perfectly timed smart remarks or slow-motion shots of anyone falling off a building, either. This scene feels more brutal and violent, and therefore more realistic.

I'm a fan of this new brand of fight choreography, and judging from films like 'Batman Begins' and 'Children of Men', it really seems to be the choice being made by the new generation of action film directors. Gone are the days where an action film is concluded simply by blowing up the $10 million setpiece and then filming it from 3 blocks away. That brand of over-the-top spectacle stil has its place in movies, of course, but showing it in such a removed, third-person fashion really seems to desensitize the viewer to the reality of what's going on. A tight action sequence or finale should have a little more punch and visceral force on a viewer than a light show at Disneyland.


  1. Well I can say this much I've been in 1 fight in my whole life, and I lost to a guy 2 years younger, and half my size... I think it's safe to say fighting is not my strong point. As for fight scenes I tend to find myself entertained but almost a bland observer to big budget fight scenes... though you're right the Bourne films do a good job of putting you right there, granted as viewer sometimes it's nice to see that right jab connect instead of just hearing it :).

  2. I just figure that if I'm going to have to watch an action scene, I might as well feel like I'm really there watching it up close. Watching stuff blow up can be a decent spectacle, but it's far more gripping and interesting if it's blowing up all around you rather than a mile away.

    Thanks for commenting!