And by let’s get it on, I’m not talking Marvin Gaye, I’m talking Tyler Durden. Specifically, I’m talking brawling, fighting, putting up your dukes, taking names and kicking ass, asking questions later, turning someone’s face into pulp.
Slate’s Dennis Lin takes a look at the evolution of the fight scene to understand how film goers got from The Duke to The Dark Knight. Mostly, it’s a look at how things went from a clear sense of geography to the epileptic shaky-cam that is in vogue now.
The trick is to determine where the viewer’s attention is trained in a particular shot and to cut to a shot that contains a focal point in the same area of the frame. But there is at least one major exception to this rule: the fight scene. “You actually want an element of disorientation?that’s what makes it exciting,” [editor Walter] Murch says of his approach to splicing together a fight. “So you put the focus of interest somewhere else, jarringly, and you cut at unexpected moments. You make a tossed salad of it, you abuse the audience’s attention.”
It is strange to watch a fight scene from a movie even just 10 years old. Look at Fight Club or The Matrix and then going back further to say Die Hard and the audience can absorb the scene, it’s not like we get the feeling of being abused ourselves. Seriously, after watching both The Bourne Ultimatum and The Dark Knight I felt like I had gone 10 rounds myself, which is not a bad thing. It’s just different and exhausting.
Of those movies that Slate uses in their slide show, the best of the bunch are fight scenes from Raging Bull, Die Hard, and recently, The Matrix. Why did the fight between Keaunu Reeves’s Neo and Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith set the gold standard for the past decade? It’s simple: it was a return to old school fighting choreography. It was, if you will, the anti-Michael Bay approach to shooting action. It was fluid and weightless. And because of that it resonated.