by: Matthew J.R. Kohler
For the last decade, American fight scenes have used CGI to “enhance” the power of the fight. In actuality, this does not help a fight scene. If you want to make a fight scene more powerful, then really hit the dang guy. Society is getting accustomed to seeing these fight scenes. Interestingly, they are not reacting to said fight scenes nearly as excitedly as they were to more realistic fight scenes. Let’s stroll down memory lane to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury.
About six months ago, at my college, I showcased the fight scene between Bruce Lee and the remnants of the Japanese dojo. The average age of my class, mind you, was about twenty-six, and the majority of them had never seen a Bruce Lee fight scene. In this fight scene, Bruce Lee encounters a man wielding a sword. Lee, unarmed, tries every trick in the book to get out of the situation. Then, everything (music, motion, and sound) stops! Both men get into stances to prepare for the final strike. All of a sudden, Lee kicks the sword out of the Master’s hand. The sword flies into the air, and Lee holds the man as the sword lands through his back. The crowd went crazy! It was unbelievable that even after all of the dubbed dialogue and classic martial art stereotypes, these people were more engaged with this fight than what I’ve seen of any other audience with any recent fight scene.
Look at the differences between the fight where Lurtz fights Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring and the fight between Legolas, and the random orc in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In the fight between Lurtz and Aragorn, not only does Lurtz actually head-butt Aragorn, but Lurtz also throws a (non-CG) dagger straight towards him. I’m not saying we should kill actors (or try to), but because the filmmakers added a sense of reality and took time in that fight, the scene is very engaging. As for Legolas fighting in The Desolation of Smaug, you just feel like you are watching a cutscene from a video game, a poor one at that.
Today’s mindset is that we need fights to be bigger, better, and badder because that comes with the CGI territory. That mindset is flawed. Most of the time, the less complex the fight scene, the more lasting impact it will have. How many times have you seen a new movie about which the audience says, “I can’t tell what is happening in this fight.” That is not a good thing. Instead, people should be able to see every blow every hit. I did a test with my Senior Overview project. The only thing I made impactful was me running into a tree. The scene sets up with the main villain catching my knee and throwing me into the 2-foot-thick tree. While writing the scene, I told myself that there needs to be one thing that makes the crowd go “AHHH!” The shot was pretty simple; we just had me run into a tree at full speed. The impact was immense, but it was worth the payoff. When we released the video to an unknown crowd at the Senior Overview festival, they went ballistic at that moment. They gave a real, heartfelt response. Why? Because they saw something that was real and heartfelt. Maybe they’ll get to see more of that from more action filmmakers in the near future.