Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best "Modern" battle scenes

In my post on "The Lord of the Rings" the other day, I said:
I still think that the battle for Helms Deep is the best pre-modern battle scene ever put to film (the modern battle king is of course the opening of "Saving Private Ryan").
A reader, SS, respectfully disagrees:
Your main point here is LOR, but I take exception to your drive by comment that the best modern day combat scene is the opening of Saving Private Ryan.

Although good, it is by no means great.

At a minimum the true to life seizure of the field artillery battery during D-Day by E Co, 101st Airborne at Brecourt, in Band of Brothers is superior.

A. It is historically accurate, and actually happened, whereas Spielberg's depiction is a scene of chaos.

B. Although these actions almost certainly happened on Omaha Beach, it is as unlikely as the rest of Hollywood plot of SPR, that these events all happened to the Rangers at Point du Hoc.

C. Although I am no fan of Spielberg for his position on the 2nd Amendment, feel Dale Dye is over rated as a historical consultant, and there has been some recent controversy over Ambrose's work, in sum the wide lens of Band of Brothers at least tries to be accurate.

D. As to the scene itself, close in hand camera jerkiness should not be confused for depicting the "Fog of War" or the "View from the Trenches". This is a Spielberg trademark in his later works and the low camera angle lacks depth.

Again this is Hollywood focusing on the unfamiliar and not the routine. IMHO this is a trite contrivance.

It is the FUBAR that is routine and Courage that is uncommon. Please, irrespective of Hollywood, I have the utmost respect for the 2nd Ranger Bn, 5th Ranger Bn, and the 101st Airborne Div (506 PLR)."
This was my response:
SS. actually I agree that in general, Band of Brothers is superior to "Private Ryan". I just re-watched both scenes on DVD, and still feel the "Ryan" scene is the better modern battle scene by far; because of its scope, scale, and impact.

Yes, BoB was more accurate; but it was far "smaller". The scene depicted (in fact almost every scene from BoB, as well as most scenes other than the opener for Ryan) is a small unit action; whereas the Ryan opener captures at least some sense of the immense scale of the Omaha beach landing.
I felt like expanding that however; one because a comment response doesn't really cover it, and two, because this is a very interesting subject.

I should note that I was referring very specifically to the opening 24 minutes, portraying the landing at Omaha beach (as it happens, and not at all relevant to the quality thereof; some friends of mine are in that scene. The Irish Army made up the bulk of the soldiers; including some of my drinking and football mates).

Although the battle at the radar installation, and the push through St. Mer Eglise were good; they don't approach the opening sequence at all; and there are better scenes (in fact better scenes depicting the same events) in other movies.

In the Omaha beach scene, yes, the handheld camera action can be jerky and distracting; but it also represents the viewpoint of an individual soldier quite well. The scope and sweep of the thing is just crushing. The sound design is the best I've ever heard for ANY scene of any kind. The cinematography is perfect....

To my mind, there is no better single modern battle scene ever put to film.

At any rate, I thought I'd list my top five modern battle scenes here, and ask you for yours (I define modern in this case as post civil war, and not set in the future):
1. "Saving Private Ryan", Omaha beach landing
2. "Band of Brothers", artillery seizure at Brecourt
3. "We Were Soldiers", siege of IA Drang valley (admittedly, this is most of the movie, not just a single scene).
4. "Zulu", the battle for Rorkes drift (also my favorite Michael Caine performance)
5. "Tora Tora Tora", the bombing of Pearl Harbor
There are a lot of others that I could have put on this list. The airborne assault from "A Bridge Too Far" for example; or the landing in "the longest day".

Actually, five years after I first watched it, and at least two years after I last watched it, the battle for Bastogne from "Band of Brothers" still sticks with me; much more than Brecourt.

Then there's the river crossing in "Enemy at the Gates".

I can't watch Gordon and Shugart defending Super 64 in "Blackhawk down" without crying. No exaggeration; in fact just thinking about it now and I'm tearing up.

Speaking of tearing up; knowing about Rorkes Drift, and about Rick Rescorla (Ia Drang, and 9/11 both); I can't listen to this song without doing so:

Oh and when the hell is someone going to make a movie about Operation Hump? Yes I realize Viet Nam movies are unfashionable, but that's a story that should be told on film.

I LOVE the air cav assault on the beach in Apocalypse now; but it's not exactly a great battle scene... more of a crowning moment of awesomeness.

The battle for Hue city in Full Metal Jacket is a crusher. Sure it's all drama no accuracy; it's still amazing.

I could go on for hours. In fact I don't know if I can really make that list a "top five" or even a top 50, because some of these scenes are so different it's hard to compare them to each other.

So, what are your favorites?