The Ballet of Battle
One of the things that is popular, and is increasing in popularity is what I disparagingly refer to as Battle Ballet. The two combatants, or small groups of combatants fight, but their combat, be it hand to hand, or firearms, or giant robots, is invariably the same. Whatever weapons they have are ineffective, because of a high speed, high precision dance of blocks, misdirections, deflections, and whatever hits are landed are completely ineffective. This works in Kung Fu movies, as we expect the fighters to be evenly matched, and want to watch the Hong Kong Martial Arts Show. This style has expanded outwards to where every criminal, cop, soldier, random scientist, background extra, and some animals are capable of high speed hand to hand combat.
Fighting is ugly and dirty, and full of unpleasant consequences, and there needs to be a balance between thirty minute choreographed fights that go on like 0-0 futbol matches, and realistic fights that tend to be over in a matter of seconds to a few minutes. MMA fights are notoriously short, especially to an audience that has been tempered by round after round of punches and footwork of boxing.
The Impossible Dance
Related to Battle Ballet, the Impossible Dance is the ongoing action scene where the hero/es scramble through falling debris, firefights, monster attacks, dinosaur assaults, or whatever sudden massive explosive threat surrounds them. They deftly run in a serpentine wobbling line and avoid a dozen trampling dinosaur feet, or magically cartwheel through the middle of a three way machine gun fight, often resplendent with slo-mo and bullet time special effects. Dodging one such event is luck, twice is damned lucky, three times and its just turning into a gimmick.
Similar again to Battle Ballet, the Impossible Dance is incredibly popular right now because it lets film makers blend close up action shots of the cast with dazzling special effects and capturing the high adrenaline of a car chase scene. The car chase scene works because almost everyone has driven, or been in a car. Running from dinosaurs is less immersive because most people dont have close contact with large animals, and eventually the dazzling special effects and PERFECT timing just start feeling less like movie magic and more like cinematic fakery.
The Trope 3D Experience
3D media is doomed. The technology isn't new, we had 3D before color film. What dooms the technology is regardless of what decade or century it is, film makers keep using literally the same camera gags to exploit the 3D, creating highly unrealistic camera movements and forced scenes that allow for objects to zoom in and out of the viewing area.
Something is going to fly at you, omg, better juke to the side on the couch so you don't take a dinosaur tail to the face. The gimmick only works the first time you ever see anything 3D, and in commercials.
Plot Armor and Evasion
Heroes don't get shot or hurt in the course of a film, unless that is essential to the story. The trick is to make sure that the audience doesn't become wise to this. Some films, like John Wick, subvert this by allowing the protagonist to be harmed, and inconvenienced but they badass through it. Other films mask the invulnerability of the protagonist be emotionally abusing them, or racking up a body count around them. Finally, and perhaps the worst In my opinion, is Plot Armor and Plot Evasion. The protagonist takes shelter behind highly questionable cover, or partial cover, or just by dumb luck, the swarm of guns pointed at them hit nothing but air, all but leaving outlines around them where the bullets missed.
There is a trope about stormtroopers being the worst shots in the galaxy, despite being elite crack troops. This is generally countered by a half You Can't Kill the Heroes, and Vader instructed them to let the heroes escape. In the cases above the protagonist will hide behind car doors like they are made of battleship armor, or every round improbably misses, even to the point of the protagonist and buddy making quips about just how lucky they are to avoid being shot.
The scene has been played out in dozens of films, neat ranks and columns of soldiers and vehicles sally forth into battle, moving on their cues. These lines of battle are dismayed by the clash of violence and scattered, and the carnage ensues. This typically forms the background in which a Combat Ballet is played out. This works because it is a movie, and that's about it. Napoleonic warfare comes close, but most of those battles read out less like heroic encounters and more like which commander was the least mentally deficient while their men demonstrated an almost moronic level of discipline. There is a story about where either French of Russion battalions, lacking orders, simply stood in place, while taking fire, and found the best way to limit losses while waiting for instructions was to sit the fuck down.
Combat Choreography looks pretty but it is patently dishonest and Hollywood fakery. The greatest generals and military leaders are the ones who could kinda pull off some of that Hollywood magic without everything falling apart. In real battles there is friendly fire, and ships maneuvering in close quarters really do slam into each other. You do not rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. Massed battles are quagmires, full of confusion, the potential for panic, and the fact that any given time a lucky shot, mistake, or just fate can turn a hero into a statistic. The trick is finding a balance between the godawful visual CGI fuckery that was the first Battle of Naboo with the Trade Federation droid army fighting the heroic and moronic Gungan Army, and more realistic representations of combat where the protagonists have to deal with lack of sleep, constipation and dysentery, idiotic COs, and that 90% of the time war is about surviving your own side and only 10% dealing with anything akin to being in actual combat.
For those interested, recently finished the HBO series Generation Kill
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? Responses (6)
Interesting as always and a 5/5.
Could you imagine trying to reimagine Star Wars with say, Band of Brothers combat realism?
I would like to see a Generation Kill/Stormtrooper cross over where we see what the Empire's elite look like when they aren't fighting Jedi
I'd watch a Star Wars movie with combat realism.
Rogue One's movement in that direction was one of the things that endeared that film to me. The fights seemed more realistic, and when something unusual (like Force manipulation) appeared, the main characters found those events shocking and unexpected.