Battles can be hit and miss, especially in print. How does one portray a good battle scene? Is it the strength of the army and its numbers? Is it a charismatic leader knowing how to rally his troops? The massive amount of bullets and missiles whizzing through the air? EXPLOSIONS?!
Or is it something else?
When I was a younger man full of adrenaline and testosterone, it was easy to be dragged into the monotony of endless killing, shooting, and sword clashing and be entertained. But as I got older, I started asking for more. A good way to portray an awesome battle would be the use of tactics and clever ways to outsmart your foe, as well as the portrayal of how the character is involved. Sun Tzu knew this as he wrote “The Art of War” so long ago, and I advise anyone to pick up a copy if they intend on writing battle scenes.
But in the meantime, allow me to present you some battles and fights in movies that truly stand out:
The Battle of Sterling – Braveheart
The first time I saw this battle scene, it was beyond the overly used word “epic.” William Wallace brings his battalion of common folk and convinces the nobles to drive off the invading British forces. Wallace provokes the enemy by taunting them during the preceding talks, using massive spears to take out their horse Calvary at the last second of being charged, and then mooning the rest of the opposing army across the battlefield. All of this, as well as much more that happened during this lengthy but worthy fight scene truly classifies what elements are needed to make an exciting action scene.
Plus, Wallace’s speech to rally the troops to fight when they decide to leave was truly EPIC!
Battle of Klendathu – Starship Troopers
Some would argue this movie as being lame; giant bugs waging war against humans? Um, ok.
But the first battle on the bugs’ home planet of Klendathu is not easily forgotten. Here, a futuristic army known as the Mobile Infantry are deployed against hordes of giant bug-like aliens, and the scene turns into a massive meat grind of both races.
The humans don’t win this battle due to a lack of leadership, but the battle itself is a mix between being a highly gratuitous and hysterical portrayal of ridiculous onslaught, and makes one glued to the screen as the fear of giant bugs truly crawls into your own head.
Normandy Beach Landing – Saving Private Ryan
Giants bugs aren’t the only ones that are vicious; humans truly can be as well.
The opening battle for this movie, starring Tom Hanks, was the first film ever to truly give me a nauseous feeling in my stomach, and I almost had to run out of the theater to go throw up.
The fact that this battle actually happened didn’t help that feeling either. Men would get torn apart by bullets, artillery shells and landmines. And to see a man aimlessly searching around the beach for his ripped off arm? That stuff haunts you for life, and truly gives you the notion that “war is hell.”
The OK Corral – Tombstone
I was never into westerns. I thought they were cheesy, and overly formulaic. But it wasn’t until I saw this movie starring Kurt Russell as the legendary gunman Wyatt Earp and his companion Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer, who practically steals the show) truly changed my outlook.
The OK Corral is perhaps the most famous of all western gunfights in history. The Earp brothers along with Holiday take on a gang of outlaw cowboys who continuously harass the town of Tombstone, and it all comes down to this one standoff that would be the catalyst to the war between lawmen and outlaws.
The feelings here are intense: Doc is drunk (as always) and sick, but still more than willing to shoot someone, the youngest brother Morgan is nervous of never actually being in a fight, and the cowboys are all hungover and anxious.
The gunfight is fast and furious, and the hysterical lines from Val Kilmer are pure gold.
The Last Dogfight – Top Gun
Most people classify this 80’s gem as the best fighter jet movie ever made. The fights between the filmed fighter jets were so good that they hold up to today’s standards of movie action.
It was the last scene that wrapped up all the threads about our hero’s ambitions though; Maverick (Tom Cruise) being the rebellious protagonist throughout the film, comes to finally realize how to truly be “the best.” These lessons included never leaving your wingman, applying what you have learned from flight school (like hitting the brakes…?) and overcoming crippling self-doubt.
The action was impressive, but it was the feelings of our rebellious hero that truly made the scene worth watching as he overcame his flaws and grew into the best fictional fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.
In the end though, the fight scene is truly about the character and what he or she takes from it. They say that “events are the learning experiences of fools,” but there is truly enough evidence to argue against that claim. These instances develop who one truly is, and you cannot neglect that in a story, or life for that matter.