There are few things in this world that gets my black heart beating like Usain Bolt after a 100 meter dash than watching epic battles scenes. Scenes that see the camera sweeping over huge fields of carnage as man/woman/beast/demon set themselves against one another in displays of bravery and utter madness. Of course we can break these battles into two categories; one being a realistic depiction of an even that has happened in our past and the other being of a more fantasy/science fiction nature. I’m going to look at my top five battles that cross both of these and offer some reasons as to why they are so memorable.
Ridley Scott’s 2000 Gladiator wowed audiences with its apparent historical accuracy, and, well, vicious bloody-gladiator awesome violence. Russell Crow stars as Maximus Decimus Meridius, a loyal general who gets royally screwed over by the ‘let’s keep it in the family’ son of the Emperor, Commodus -who’s played by the very talented Joaquin Phoenix. The opening 10 minutes sees the Romans throwing brains and fighting skill against the brawn of the Germanic tribes at Vindobona and win through sheer sandal wearing and wide eyes screaming alone. This in itself is worthy of mention in the top 5 but with the later gory gladiator battle scenes (can we say tiger!) and brilliant cinematography cements a spot in my top 5 list.
Peter Jackson for President, there, I said it. Sue me. I’m not sure which battle scene I should choose as there are different elements that make each brilliant. We have Helms Deep, a battle that had us knowing beforehand the outcome but still hoping for a different conclusion. I remember the cinema going deathly quiet (and not because my brother was threatening violence, this time) as we had our brave solders line the walls of a soon to be doomed resistance. Then we have the almost perfect final battle on the Pelennor Fields. Wow did they pull out all the stops. The legions of Sauron, which include war ‘oliphants’, descend upon Minas Tirith in a blaze of fantasy gooey love, and not just for Orland Bloom ladies. From huge catapult blocks sidestepped by smart arse orcs to the plains filled with thousands and thousands of minions the battle was EPIC in size, arrangement and execution… Until… The army of the Dead arrived. Less we say about that the better. Still I can’t think of anything that approaches the size of this battle being attempted by anyone else. Can you?
Pirates, what can I say! Arrrr! Well, actually, no. Not pirates, but close enough! This beautifully realised and savage telling by director Peter Weir of Patrick O’Brien’s stories of life in Nelson’s navy has children losing arms! What better excuse to replace with a hook I say! Master and Commander (2003), offers everything you hope to get from Assassin’s Creed 4 in way of wartime fighting on the high seas, cannons, reefs, drowning, swords, guns muskets, the list goes one. Oh, brandy! Throughout the movie we are peppered with minor (and some slightly not so minor) battles that ultimately lead to a huge finale that has men swinging from rigging onto enemy ships and galleons handbrake turning from dropped anchors. The obligatory mutiny is also touched covered and you’ll also enjoy a sterling performance by Russell Crowe. If you have not seen this do yourself a favour and remedy that situation, just be prepared from amputations under the numbing wonders of, well, sod all. ARRR indeed!
Never has one actor been responsible for thousands of forced laugh, rolling of eyes and poor Halloween costumes as Gerard Butler. The 2007 movie 300 tells the fictional tale of the Battle of Thermopylae based on the 1998 dark comic series by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Director Zack Snyder employed the digital ‘backlot technique’ to create a world where reality and cartoon merged and was interestingly shot in chronological order, something rarely seen these days. The battle scenes are intense and brutal and slowed down just in case you lose track of whose head is heading in the opposite direction as his now limp body. Violent and gritty have become words used to reinvent IP these days but Snyder took it to a whole new level that left the audience shouting SPARTA and feeling in need of a serious scrub down. I mean come on, the Director’s cut has dwarves with bows and arrows, what more could you want?!
There is a reason why many war veterans were not able to get past the landing of Omaha in this 1998 Steven Spielberg directed Second World War Movie. I was shocked to be honest with you. I think it was a combination of the sound, quick cuts and gore that really brought home the horrific nature of war. I think it has to be said that Spielberg, in a treatment of a script that didn’t have the most plausible storyline, really stepped up to the plate to remind us that war is not glorious. Early in the decade another movie tried to capture these horrors but focused on battles fought in the air; the 1990 Memphis Belle (directed by Michael Caton-Jones). Personally I found the lack of characterisation let it down and watching it 20 years later it has aged, badly, saving Private Ryan has not. Spielberg’s use of gore in Ryan was not just for the sake of gore as with some of the other movies I have listed and I think for this reason it will stand as one of the closest realisations to ‘real’ war in a fictional movie for a long, long time. I also think it is a decent nod to our men and women who lay down their lives so that I could write my opinions without fear of rebuttal (well, other than the usual trolls that is!)
So what do you think? Have I mentioned any you would completely disagree with? It’s a damn had thing to list as there are so many other movies with brilliant battles out there. Braveheart, Ben Hur’s sea battle, even Avatar all have memorable scenes of death and carnage. What would YOUR top five list be?
Last Updated: November 14, 2013