Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Greatest battle scenes

As a dyed in the wool movie buff I love coming up with lists. So here's my latest contribution...the best battle scenes of all time are profiled.

Lord of the Rings Return of the King-the assault on Minis Tirith was mesmerizing in the book but the movie version takes this epic battle and feeds it a few steroids. The catapult duals were unreal. When Theoden shows up with his Rohirim and cuts through the orc army like a sickle through grass every hair on my neck stood on end. Then the Haradrim show up with their monstrous mumakil, giant and fearsome elephants, and go at it with the Rohirim while Theoden gets tossed by a Nazgul. Aragorn shows up with the army of dead and carries the day, a plot variation from the book but it worked. This encounter was utterly gripping and losses were not so much witnessed as they were felt. Dizzying special effects combine with emotional pull to make this the best battle sequence ever put to film.

Apocalypse Now-many critics and lay persons contend that the part where the Huey helicopters attack the Vietnamese village to be the greatest action sequence ever. I’d be hard pressed to disagree. The formation of helicopters flies in out of the rising sun. About a mile out Robert Duval gives the now legendary command, “Put on psy war ops, and make it loud!” Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries blares and the village is reduced to rubble in a blurring sequence of buzzing helicopters, firing machine guns, and explosions galore. After the village is captured Duval utters yet another unforgettable line, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning…smells like victory.”

Empire Strikes Back-the ice planet of Hoth sets the stage for the coolest battle space has ever seen. The ominous sight of the Imperial AT-AT walkers punctuates the plight of the fledgling rebellion. Luke Skywalker does his Jedi bit and single-handedly brings down a walker but not before the rebel base is in ruin from the relentless onslaught of Darth Vader and his army. Great stuff!

Braveheart-Mel Gibson may not have directed the best battle scenes ever but they are probably the goriest. Multiple decapitations, dismemberments, and disembowelments abound. Then there’s Mel’s/William Wallace’s speech before the battle at Falkirk (sp?), “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom!” When both sides charged then went careening into each other a pit formed in your throat and stomach as nervous tension gripped you in anticipation of non-stop blood letting.

Gladiator-the thing I liked about the opening sequence was its intensity. Ridley Scott really captures the frenetic energy that must have been ancient warfare. There’s blood spots and mud on the camera lenses, the fire catapults were deadly, and cold ruthlessness of the Roman war machine shone bright. Russell Crowe was gritty and dirty and wholly believable as a veteran general who’s just burnt out on the conquering thing.

The Matrix Revolutions-I had a hard time watching this movie because frankly it stunk. But the final battle where the sentinels attack Zion and the fight between Keanu Reeves and the deliciously evil Hugo Weaving as Mr. Smith were worth the price of admission. The numbers of squid-like machines were seemingly infinite while the humans countered with war walkers equipped with hellacious machine guns and two man rocket crews that eliminated the giant drills. Meanwhile, Neo is going toe to toe with Mr. Smith in Machine City in a realm where the laws of physics don’t apply. The special effects rival even the more celebrated Return of the King.

Kingdom of Heaven-Ridley Scott makes another appearance on this little countdown. The climactic battle lasts nearly thirty minutes and features a stirring catapult exchange, masses of tightly bunched fighters, and daring yet effective cinematography. Much like Revolutions this movie was mostly quite tedious but Ridley Scott knows how to get the blood pumping.

Saving Private Ryan-this movie grabs you by the balls and doesn’t let go. The opening D-Day scene is furiously intense and had me ducking for cover. World War II is depicted in raw and graphic realism. The film is grainy, the camera angles stark, and the mood throughout was somber. The cut sequences that show how confusing the fog of war can be were brilliant along with Tom Hanks’ gripping performance all lend to a truly gut wrenching experience.

Jason and the Argonauts-based on the ancient tale of the search for the Golden Fleece this movie has what for my money is the coolest battle outside Empire Strikes Back. When Jason and his merry band are confronted by denizens of living skeletons all hell breaks lose. The battle rages on as the skeletons pop up out of the ground. The imagery and effects are classic and timeless.

13th Warrior-yes Antonio Banderas as an Arab exiled for shagging the wrong girl is far fetched but hear me out. The set up for the last battle was great as the devout Muslim, Banderas, actually recites an ancient Norse prayer. As Ibn utters the closing line, “In the halls of Valhalla, where the brave will live forever”, the flesh eating enemy swarms down upon the Vikings and the lone Arab. The charismatic Buliwyf kills the leader of the blood-thirsty Bendo but succumbs to a previous wound. Far from the most artistic battle scene ever this one makes up ground with its heart.

Honorable mention-Gettysburg (the cannon barrages were stunning), Ben Hur, Platoon, Aliens