The Dying is in the Details: Hollywood Warfare, Part One

So, now that I’ve pissed off at least half of my not-considerable readership by an overly-insensitive set of addresses towards ongoing real-world issues, it’s time I retreated back into comfy, cozy, cocoa and marshmallows abstractions. Like that simile. Ahem. It might be argued that I should’ve done this sooner, but I hope the four of you still reading my drooling rhetorical onslaughts have figured out that I am not a man who does things by halves. Excluding two-piece articles that I just decide not to finish, that is. Moving on…

Hollywood likes to show people dying on camera. Can we agree on that? Of course we can! It’s Hollywood! They’re so easy to make fun of that they’ve developed their own subculture to do it for them. And the paparazzi are there too. So Hollywood death comes in a number of flavors, of which their favorites are falling from unhealthy heights onto unhealthy materials, getting shot, getting stabbed, getting set on fire, getting blown up, getting shot, and getting stabbed. I had to repeat the last two because, well, heck, even Optimus Prime got stabbed. And shot. Sheesh, it’s a wonder Jurassic Park didn’t end with the Air Force bombing the park. Y’know, like Crichton’s original novel did. Come to think of it, why didn’t Michael Bay film Jurassic Park? That just seems like a natural fit, aside from the part where Michael Bay isn’t Steven Spielberg, and Hans Zimmer is not John Williams, though I think Hans’ biggest problem is that he’s just spread too thin these days. He’s like the early Continental Army of AAA film composers, much in the same way that I am the Black Plague of tortured similes.

Exhibit A, a sharp pointy thing as might be seen in a Hollywood film involving numerous sharp pointy things!


This is a sword. Specifically, it is a longsword. And by that, I mean a double-edged European-style longsword with distal taper (AKA, a bastard sword) in the 30-36 inch range for length of the cutting edge. DISCLAIMER: Lengths are not absolute because swords are made to fit the heights of their masters. Fair?

Hollywood is often very bad at swords. Not necessarily their design, because we’ve got a good number of both master smiths here and skilled polishers, the latter group being of absolutely paramount importance for katana and other weapons where part of the blade’s beauty comes from the patterns within it. So, anything folded steel, for example. But so many AAA films are just awful at portraying their use. How bad? I can guess that most of the recent actors and choreographers trained at the same stage-fighting schools, because they all use the same set of moves, all of which range from useful but unoriginal to just plain moronic.

First, the classic trio of uppercuts into thrust, with the thrust always coming out of the third cut, which always starts on the right and ends on the left, and the thrust always involves a long swooping motion to bring it down to gut level. As opposed to, say, stabbing your opponent in the face, neck or center chest, all of which are prime killzones where anything you hit will be important. But no, let’s aim for the gut, where it’s a toss-up as to whether we’ll puncture the aorta or hit some other organ which the enemy won’t start missing until some time later. You know, I don’t think Orcs are bound by any kind of courtesy clause to just fall over when you hit them once. Though we are talking about Dark Lords here, and they never struck me as strategically competent, so perhaps that clause exists.

Still, that sequence is at least sensible. Three good cuts and a thrust. You may not kill instantly with any of them, but your enemies will definitely feel them. But then, of course, there’s the, er… you know, that thing the actor does where he/she spins his/her weapon in a long twirling wind-up motion behind his/her back before bringing it around font, in a length of time which would easily allow any sane person to just cut their legs off while their swords are behind their backs, then stab them while said swords are pinned beneath their wielders. And, of course, let’s not forget the lazy horizontal swing that the ‘awesome’ swordsman carries out way behind herself/himself, to show her/his, um… astonishing lack of control over weapons which are generally of no more than moderate length? Really? I personally like to keep a sharp cutting edge whose length equals that of my legs in front of me where I can see it, but sure, I guess you can do that. It leaves you open, but maybe somebody is impressed.

Picture 60

This is a salute position, showing an extension of my arm and blade placement already far enough back I should never see it in the course of an actual battle involving any kind of finesse.

Picture 61

This is about where my sword would be in a popular TV series where I need to cut some little piece off of an enemy directly in front of me. Why does it need to be back there? Who knows, that’s just how they’ve always done it!



Some other things which don’t necessarily constitute ‘moves’ but are notable none the less: superfluous spins, twirling in between every attack or as part of an attack or for no reason at all, combat rolls that offer an opponent all sorts of fun, slot-machine like chances to hit various important muscle and organ groups, and generally overswinging wildly whenever there’s a choice between exerting a tiny amount of control and looking like a bad Conan rip-off. If it takes a huge power stance and the weight of one’s entire body to swing a sword intended for someone one’s own height, the sword either has terrible balance or it’s time to hit the gym. Repeatedly. For like, a year. Probably more in the area of two, and for pity’s sake find an instructor! The worse thing, of course, is simply forgetting that a given sword’s grip has plenty of room for two hands, and unless you’re fighting a very stabby, long-range duel, the extra ten inches of reach offered by letting the sword shoot forward on a lunge isn’t as useful as more speed, power and control. Stage-fighters never use the extra reach either, so I can’t help but wonder what the point is.

Now you could say “But Cullen, it’s Hollywood, why are you being such a dusty old nerd?” Firstly, I resent being called old, and I’ll have you know that my dust makes me a valuable collector’s item in certain circles. Secondly, and more on-topic, because when you want a fight to look more intense, and I want you to stick with me for this part, you make it faster. Bruce Lee was noted for having to slow down his punches in order for them to actually be caught on film. Bruce Lee was exceptionally dedicated, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t try to get at least some of that fury and discipline into our own mock-murdering. If someone wanted to pay me millions of dollars for a role involving fight scenes, I don’t think it would be unreasonable for them to expect me to do them with a bit of zeal.

I mean, c’mon, swords are fun! Swords are just the greatest thing ever! Yes, guns are more efficient, but swords are freaking shiny. You can tell their quality by their ability to cut people and still be shiny! Why yes, this is getting creepy and stunningly amateurish, I’m glad you noticed. It’s critical irony, or at any rate that’s what I’m telling you it is. Or chronic arrogance; I can’t tell the difference, I’m too close to the issue and my head has expanded to the point where my eyes are having trouble seeing anything past my glorious, gleaming sense of self-importance.

Now, here’s my counter-question: why do stage-fighting schools exist if all they serve to do is demonstrate movements that any bro in his parents’ back yard can copy with his Buster sword replica? Ha, actually he can’t, there’s no way he could do the same moves as, say, Michonne in the The Walking Dead. Buster swords are vastly too heavy for human use, you see. Any man who could even wield a replica Buster sword would earn my immediate and unalloyed awe. They weigh about 7o pounds (or was it 70 kilograms?), and that’s assuming they’re made from aluminum-zinc, so that’d be a hell of an achievement. Still, on the topic of the smaller, more spine-friendly weapons, twirling something repeatedly around a pivot point doesn’t take much work if you can hold it comfortably, that’s why levers are so awesome. The difficulty with a sword comes in controlling it and using it with some kind of precision over a long period of time, often in ways which mitigate or eliminate the usefulness of that lever effect (unless you’re using two hands. I’m serious, it’s really useful!) A sword only has one or two cutting surfaces and a really pointy bit at the end, all of which hurt because they’re very narrow, which means it’s very hard to line them up properly with the angle of a movement even if that movement isn’t stupidly complex. A tiny error in alignment makes a huge difference to cutting power.

And please, enough with the whole back-sling routine. Swords are meant to be worn on the hip if they’re to be drawn at the start of a battle, or stored in wagons if they’re too long for that. And as for wearing a six-foot sword on your back to draw it- how’s shortening your reach going to help if it’s too long to drawn from in front of you? Maybe it’s practice for all that rapid archery, which would work better if most bows didn’t require years of training and obscene shoulder strength. Try bending a stout wooden pole and see how far you get, hm?

And don’t mention Elves. Their muscles are allowed to ignore physical law because magic. This does not apply to any of us. Sorry, I know that’s very disappointing. Next time- archery. And explosions. And immense tactical miscalculations. Be there or be not wasting minutes of your life reading my tripe!

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