Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Smooth fighting

Massive spoilers for Star Wars incoming.

I think I have a weird thing with action movies.  I have watched a few recently and had really strong feelings about them that nobody else seems to share.  The thing that is really getting me is how important action scene continuity is to me to maintain interest in the movie.  I really need action scenes to make sense, to flow, for the consequences of them to feel real.  I also respect an action scene that transitions from stage to stage in ways that keep things new and surprising while maintaining the flow of the story.

That doesn't mean the scenes have to be 'realistic'!  Star Wars has lightsabers and faster than light travel and blasters and sound in space and all of that is ridiculous but it is all part of the base assumptions.  The world has weird magic and violates physics in these specific ways and that is all fine.

The problem is when even if you believe in those standard sillynesses a battle scene doesn't flow.  The easiest example I have of this is a battle scene in The Force Awakens where TIE fighters fly in and begin blasting away at a bar / ancient stone temple.  Firstly they are supposed to capture a particular thing intact, and leading off with random mass destruction really seems like a good way to blow up the thing you are trying to find.  As the battle progresses, the cavalry arrives in the form of X Wing fighters from the rebellion that fly in and blow up all the TIE fighters.  Then, having blown up said ships, they start picking off random Stormtroopers.  Kind of ridiculous when you consider how hard it is supposed to be to hit tiny targets (and how much trouble they have hitting huge targets) but whatever.  Team Good is winning, huzzah!

Then Team Evil decides to kidnap Rey.  They do this by leisurely carrying her onto their ship, flyinig up into the air with a static formation of TIE fighters, and meadering away.  No X Wings follow them, blow them up, or seem particularly interested at all.  What the hell is going on?  Why did Team Good, having swung the battle in their favour, decide to just ignore the enemies?  Then more Rebel ships land and their general hops out of the ship.  Because you need your general to be on the front lines, to make completely sure that if the battle goes badly or something weird happens then she can die and really screw everything up.

It bothers me because I can't feel invested in a battle, can't be immersed in it, desperately wondering at the outcome, when I know that the course of the battle will be randomly ignored at any given moment.  Who cares if the X Wings win the fight if the fact that they are winning will be completely ignored a couple of frames later?

This isn't the same as pulling a star inside a planet.  That is ridiculous, but at least changing it would require a lot of work.  The stupid battle scene isn't like that at all!  They could have, at no extra cost, had the ship containing the prisoner zoom off under heavy fire while its few escorts were demolished by the X Wings.  Set it up so that that one ship gets away because of the delaying action of the last few TIE fighters available.  That makes the story of the battle make sense, and people get the gut punched feeling of 'we won, but at what cost?'  At least the X Wings showing up was relevant!  If they are just going to be ignored, then why try to have their arrival be a big thing in the first place?

People are generally giving The Force Awakens good reviews.  I can see why.  The acting is solid, the scenes at the beginning are great, and there are a lot of good references to the original series and the events in between.  But damn folks, if you are going to write a battle scene at least write it so that the big turning points of the scene end up *mattering*.  When you don't have to give anything up to make a scene better, do that!

If you fail to do that you might as well not have the battle scenes at all.

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