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Wednesday 2 June 2010

Greatest Animated Fight Scenes

I’ll come straight out with it as much as I have a strong appreciation for well-plotted, well-acted, well-directed and well-produced dramas I have always enjoyed a good fight scene. What led me to like them were some of my earliest memories of TV, and these were watching cartoons like the animated series of “Godzilla”. The “Godzilla” TV series would often have at least one punch-up between the titular character of the show and some mythical or mutated beast. It wasn’t long after I became
hooked at that particular show that the live action fantasy films of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen caught my attention. These two men defined themselves through producing stop-motion special effects pictures that provided viewers with a vast array of fascinating creatures brought to life. The great thing these old pictures did, which I soon to find lacking in many more modern films, was show us what happened when different creatures clashed. 
The fight scene is a vital part of drama. It is often distilled as lowbrow entertainment, especially when one considers the action picture which relies on its appeal to our sympathetic senses. However, this doesn’t mean that a good fight scene cannot be beautiful, exhibit brilliant physical theatre and convey the drama well. It often serves as an emotional release for the audience, but many plot twists can also be introduced through the medium of the fight. Shakespeare used many duels, often clearly lain out in his stage directions that had a
significant bearing on the plot of his play. His four most famous tragedies, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Macbeth”, “Hamlet” and “King Lear” all contain duels that crucial to the storylines. A good professional wrestler or a veteran of the Peking Opera will tell how much depth goes into the psychology and portrayal of well-executed fight choreography. An animator has an even harder job and his pulling off of a memorable fight scene should be held in perhaps the highest regard of all.

Here is how I have broken up my favourite animated fight scenes.

Animation style: I make no bones about having a bias towards old style animation. I love stop-motion and 2D animation. There is something in them that seems to speak of real passion, craftsmanship and love. This is not to say I don’t appreciate modern 3D, capture-motion and CGI techniques, but many of them seem to insist on being real, when they are clearly not, whereas stop-motion and 2D relied on your sense of fun.

The Build-up: Like any fight scene the build-up and back-story is crucial if we are going to have any emotion for the two protagonists. Some fights had a long build-up whereas others are sporadic and instantaneous. Both worked well for different reasons. I look at the motive in the plot.

The Fight: I discuss how the actual fight was executed. What made it stand out from other animated tussles or fight scenes in general?

The Result: Who won the bout and what were the repercussions in the story. 

Kong versus Allosaurus (King Kong, 1933)

Animation style: Willis O’Brien’s pioneering stop-motion effects were unleashed to the paying public in this, his first talkie and most famous film. Quite simply miniature models were painstakingly shot in a series of poses to simulate movement.

Build-up: Ann Darrow (Faye Wray) is put in the nook of a dead tree whilst Kong dispatches most of her team of human rescuers. The height of the tree is perfect for a hungry allosaurus who makes its way to its screaming prey. Kong hears Ann’s screams and races to her rescue. The whole scene served as part of a series of constant thrills that had begun with Kong’s first appearance.

The Fight: Kong arrives in the nick of time and jumps the dangerous reptile. He appears smaller than his enemy who dominates early in the fight. O’Brien was apparently a wrestling fan and many of Kong’s movements demonstrate this. Whereas the allosaurus is all primal animal coming at Kong mainly with its vicious teeth then with its lashing hind claws and even its long tail, the giant gorilla uses strangleholds, throws and back positioning coupled with a few haymakers. He aims strikes to the dinosaur’s mouth when facing head on, but his main strategy is to secure a position on its back, where he has better control. The fight stills out today for the exciting to and fro psychology that kept viewers on the edge of their seats, and helped win Kong our sympathy at this demonstration of his courage.

This scene is second only to Kong’s final moment atop the Empire State Building for being memorable and is the peak of the whole Skull Island chase sequence. Animation techniques would certainly improve over the ensuing years, but not even “Son of Kong” or the original “Mighty Joe Young” would have a scene to compare in its complex choreography. Having Kong perform wrestling techniques was an inspired move that made it more aesthetically pleasing than simply having two monsters slugging it out. When it came to the first official remake of “King Kong” in 1976 fans of the original were bitterly disappointed with Rick Baker in a gorilla suit tangling with a giant snake as a substitute for all Kong’s great prehistoric monster bouts. It would take 72 years for Peter Jackson to pay a decent homage to this landmark moment.

Result: After a long and exciting exchange Kong locks onto his opponent’s deadliest weapon, the jaws and pulls them apart to breaking point. This kills the allosaurus. After wiggling the broken jaws Kong beats his chest in victory.

Cyclops versus Dragon (7th Voyage of Sinbad, 1958)

Animation style: O’Brien’s natural and very worthy successor was Ray Harryhausen, a man inspired by “King Kong”. Harryhausen brought stop-motion into colour cinema and he presented a far slicker and smoother style that would make him the first special effects auteur. People watched a Harryhausen film for his particular brand of special effects. They cared little that his mythology mixed up cultures worse than a new astrology or that he mixed up history worse than a young Earth creationist. Harryhausen provided viewers with an innocent eclectic child-like vision of a fantasy world that was pure escapism. The alternative to Harryhausen’s style of animation up until CGI and capture-motion was the much ridiculed “slurposaur” method found in some infamous B movies of the 1950s – real lizards and alligators with fins stuck on them – and the Japanese-inspired actors in suits method. Neither method won as much genuine affection, at least in the western world, as Harryhausen’s stop-motion approach.

Build-up: This duel was part of the climatic scene of the film. The cyclops is a giant one-eyed monster found in Greek mythology. However, it is also found in the “Arabian Nights Tale”, “The Third Voyage of Sinbad”. This story is clearly inspired by an episode found in Homer’s epic poem of ancient Greece, “The Odyssey”. The cyclops is a reoccurring menace throughout the film, making an early appearance at its beginning. Sinbad and his crew tackle it in earnest by the middle of the picture. Interestingly although the cyclops remains a mute monster he does do a number of things found in the original “Third Voyage of Sinbad” text, including imprisoning Sinbad and some of his crew in order to eat them. Sinbad eventually blinds him and has him fall to his death. However, another cyclops emerges at the end of the film. Sinbad and the rescued Princess Parisia  try to make their way out of the evil magician Sokurah’s lair little realizing this monster is waiting for them. But the cyclops is also in for a surprise. Sokurah has a guard-dragon who he unleashed on the escaping couple. This is a curious wingless and non-fire breathing variant of the species, but nonetheless is twice the size of the cyclops and has a deadly pair of jaws. Sinbad and Parisia lead the pursuing monster onto the cyclops.

The Fight: Harryhausen seemed to like pitting a biped against a quadruped in his battles. You can see this in most of his famous beat downs. This can offer a matador versus bull effect. Here the scene’s dynamic psychology is centred on the jaws of the dragon, just as this was a main feature of O’Brien’s dust-up between Kong and allosaurus. When the cyclops is not trying to free his arm or his throat from the dragon he is trying to secure a choke on its neck, a little like Kong but without the positioning, and reigns hammer blows with his free hand. Fans have commented that although a cyclops had been a major antagonist earlier in the film they found themselves rooting for him against the dragon who was just an instrument of destruction unleashed by the film’s main villain. I guess the familiarity of the cyclops coupled with the fact that he was the fight’s underdog helped matters too. It is also worth mentioning that he was the unwitting “rescuer” of Sinbad and Parisia.   

Result: This was a mismatch from the start. The cyclops may have the brains to fashion crude wooden cages and even to set up a spit to roast his captive humans, but he doesn’t bring these tool-making and using skills to a fight. Taro is a relentless force of primal savagery. Being much bigger than his opponent he eventually pins him down and his deadly jaws fasten themselves around the cyclops’s throat.

Gryphon versus Centaur (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, 1974)

Animation Style: Harryhausen’s second Sinbad feature may be less entertaining overall, despite Tom Baker playing a good villain, but it certainly has some standout animation. 16 years since his first Sinbad film and with such creature-packed adventures like “One Million Years BC” and “The Mysterious Island” under his belt among other classics, expectations were high for his return to the franchise that had first elevated him from being just the special effects bloke to an associate producer. His projects had become far more ambitious and although the animation remained fundamentally the same from 1958 until his final feature in 1981, the production values around them had increased. The centaur and the gryphon are presented with great manoeuvrability. The centaur not only swings a club at Sinbad early on and exhibits arm dexterity with his man half, but also rears up on the hind legs of his section. The Gryphon, also a multi-beast, flaps its eagle wings, bites with its eagle beak and claws and wrestles with its lion half.

Build-up: At the legendary Fountain of Destiny, the film’s main antagonist another evil magician, Koura, summons up a centaur to dispatch Sinbad. Armed with a club this one-eyed and mute variant of a beast usually only ever found in Greek mythology attempts to do his master’s bidding. Then from out of a cave appears a gryphon, a creature from nose mythology, who comes to Sinbad’s rescue. If sympathy for one monster were often ambiguous in stop-motion classics before, this time matters couldn’t have been more straightforward. This duel was a prophesied eternal contest between the forces of good, represented by the gryphon, and evil, represented by the centaur, which could only be tipped one way or another by the intervention of “weak and mortal” men. 

The Fight: This is perhaps the weakest of my selection despite the brilliantly colourful protagonists and the clear psychology. The gryphon, like the dragon of “7th Voyage”, bites the centaur’s arm a lot and the centaur, a la the cyclops, hits back with his free hand. The gryphon doesn’t fly and the centaur doesn’t kick. Instead they both wrestle a lot in a symbolic deadlock. However, the gryphon appears to have the upper hand almost getting the centaur down several times.

The Result: The “weak and mortal” man turns out to be Koura, who brandishes his scimitar and slices the back of one of the gryphon’s hind legs. The centaur then proceeds to wrestle his opponent to the ground and strangle him to death.

Troglodyte versus Smilodon (Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, 1977)

Animation style: If there wasn’t much noticeable progress from “7th Voyage” to “Golden Voyage” over the 16 year period then it was predictably less negligible over the next three years as the stop-motion era moved towards its end, making way for mechanical model monsters. The odd cameo could be seen in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Robocop”, but it was all becoming very twee for new generation of fantasy and science fiction moviemakers as the computer age promised more realistic looking imagery. However, before Harryhausen would sing off with one last majestic hurrah in the form of the brilliant “Clash of the Titans” it is appropriate to note that “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger” is a wonderful demonstration of the theatrics brought to his creations. The great horror/comedy director John Landis commented in his interview with Harryhausen about how well the great filmmaker conveyed feelings and personality through his animated models. The trogolodyte in this picture is a wonderful exemplar of this, bringing a real sympathy to the role.
The Build-up: Now Harryhausen mixes science fiction with pre-scientific Arabic
mythology with giant troglodyte and a smilodon (sabre-toothed “tiger”), as Sinbad, his fiancée, crew and a bewitched prince embark on a quest to find a sacred shrine. Prince Kassim has been transformed into a baboon by his wicked stepmother, Zenobia, who wishes for her son to be crowned caliph. A giant troglodyte is found towards the end of Sinbad’s quest befriends the group after the bewitched Prince Kassim uses the curse of his baboon form to communicate. The troglodyte helps lead them to shrine, and opens its great gates. After the final struggle appears to be over with Zenobia and her son is killed, and Kassim is reverted back to normal, the shrine’s temperature begins to rise causing great icicles to fall. Zenobia isn’t quite finished yet and in one last act of vengeance she possesses the thawing body of a smilodon…          

The Fight: This is strongest and last of the Harryhausen creature duels. Happening at the climax of the film ups the drama stakes and this time we have vested emotions in the characters. Unlike the majority of Harryhausen punch-ups these are not two mindless brutes, but creatures with complete personalities. The smilodon is Zenobia, the film’s main antagonist, in all but physical appearance and the troglodyte is the kindly and protective guardian of mankind. The fight itself is an extended and varied battle that goes one way and then another. The troglodyte is a fighter in the Willis O’Brien Kong mode he not only throws haymakers and hammer blows as the smilodon latches onto his arm, but also uppercuts when out of grappling range. In addition to this he executes throws, slaps on chokes from the back position and even uses a weapon first like spear then as a club. Meanwhile the smilodon is all animalistic ferocity that claws, bites and grapples with its opponent. 

The Result: Harryhausen’s fights seem to rarely end with the “face” getting the victory. This swansong is no exception. Despite the wider ranger of techniques used by the troglodyte, he is eventually pinned against some stairs and savagely mauled to death. It is only at this stage that Sinbad and his crew decide that they better help their selfless protector and take on the smilodon themselves. No acknowledgement is made for this unsung hero of the picture after his demise.

Bigwig versus General Woundwort (Watership Down, 1978)

Animation Style: “Watership Down” is perhaps one of the boldest feature length animated movies ever to get a “U” certificate in the UK. This is reflective in its animated style that varies from simplistic aboriginal drawings to depict rabbit fables to surreal dreamlike or nightmarish sequences. However, the 2D animation used for the film is realistic without being too detailed. It allows enough to carry the human voices, but does not do much to anthropomorphise the characters. Watercolours were used and the background scenery of the hills, forestry and farmland would not look out of place in a typical country landscape painting.

Build-up: “Their chief is called Woundwort, General Woundwort. I don’t think even you’d match up to him, Bigwig”, so states Holly, former Captain of the Sandleford Warren as he explains his terrible experiences at the autocratic Efrafa warren. So far Bigwig has established himself as the toughest and bravest rabbit of Hazel’s group of refugees. He is loyal and intelligent, and volunteers to infiltrate Efrafa in order bring back other rabbits to their warren at Watership Down. We see him defeat every rabbit he confronts with ease, survive a snare and even voluntarily lead off and evade a fox, all before he finally confronts Woundwort as part of the movie’s thrilling climax.

Woundwort is an admirable achievement in cinematic and literary history. Between Richard Adams’ book and Martin Rosen’s animated adaptation they actually created a legitimately menacing rabbit! Rosen actually makes his picture even darker than Adams’ book. In the novel Woundwort almost killed a cat when he was growing up. This isn’t mentioned in the film, but it doesn’t need to be such is the way this character fiercely dominates every one of his scenes. He allows Bigwig to become an officer in his warren, but despite later telling Bigwig he trusted him it doesn’t take long for Woundwort to have some strong suspicions. Bigwig only just keeps one step ahead of him, as he rescues the turncoat Efrafens, but Woundwort is not easily beaten. He doggedly pursues the party and eventually tracks them all to Watership Down, where he personally leads the assault on the warren, eventually becoming separated from the rest of his army as he searches for Bigwig.

Woundwort is more nightmarish than ever in these scenes, which are probably the ones adult recall scaring them the most as children. As he moves through the tunnels he is ambushed by Blackavar, an ex-Efrafan with serious grievances against his former chief, having had his ears slashed to pieces and then publically humiliated on a daily basis for trying to escape. Woundwort tears him to pieces, leaving his bloody corpse behind him as he makes his way down the final tunnel to his quarry. This savage scene was entirely of Rosen’s creation, as Blackavar survives Adams’ book. Woundwort looks even more monstrous as he digs his way into the tunnel and pursues the small nervous rabbit, Pipkin, who is acting as scout. Woundwort’s pace slows down now and Angela Morley’s music is a noticeable thunderous dirge-like anthem of drums. We see the full figure of the film’s main antagonist as he walks into Bigwig’s tunnel, his cruel-looking blind eye now accompanied by a bloody and frothing mouth, for their inevitable showdown…

The Fight: Rosen opted to tip the physical advantage well in favour of Woundwort, showing that Holly was not exaggerating in his opinion. However, Bigwig is as intelligent as he is brave and comes up with a plot to ambush his enemy to give an early advantage. He has Pipkin bury him so that he can get the jump on the mighty general. But Woundwort is no fool and hesitates just before he places his foot on the freshly buried Bigwig. Bigwig doesn’t hang about and immediately remerges taking the fight straight to his nemesis and pinning him to the ground. Woundwort immediately fights his way up inflicting terrible lacerations on his enemy. The fight is a fierce and brutal confrontation that continues to cut back to the action outside the warren, where Hazel’s fastest runners are leading a dog to the warren to attack the Efrafans. This cutting between a climatic duel and other action is not uncommon in action films and is a staple of the Star Wars major light sabre fights. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is annoying, especially considering the more personal nature of a duel compared to a more en masse action sequence. In “Watership Down” it works very well. The fight is relatively brief, but its savagery and bloodiness works well within this pace. There is a pause with both Bigwig and Woundwork exchanging words briefly and for the audience to appreciate the seriousness of the fight.

The Result: Technically it is a stalemate with no clear winner, but Woundwort seems to be pushing the advantage. In the book Woundwort is so shocked at Bigwig’s resilience that he retreats out of the warren, which would edge the fight in favour of our mop headed warrior. However, Rosen has Bigwig just struggling from a life-threatening maul, where the general had him pinned to the ground and had begun tearing into him. Bigwig succeeds in wrestling the bigger rabbit to a standing position albeit with his back legs slipping against his weightier opponent’s bulk and then hastily retreating down a narrower tunnel. There he remains facing his enemy until the sound of the Efrafans being slaughtered by the dog pulls him away.

Dogtanian versus Count Rochefort (Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds, episode 26 “Dogtanian’s Dream Comes True”, 1981)

Animation Style: BRB are a Spanish animation company that made their name with the TV series “Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds”. Working alongside Nippon Animation, they were among the first western companies to fully embrace the advancing animation methods of the Japanese. As the ‘80s progressed we would see many of the top US produced cartoon shows working alongside Japanese studios and more anime growing from cult status to mainstream success. By the 1990s and 2000s Manga became the rage. Dogtanian presented clearly cartoony type anthropomorphic animals with plenty of comedy, but serious action sequences too. Despite being clearly aimed at a children’s audience, episodes would not always end on a happy note, Queen Ann’s affair with the Duke of Buckingham from Alexander Dumas’s original novel was more or less kept intact, there was blood and even the occasional death.

Build-up: This duel occurs in the final episode of the classic TV series. It has been built up since episode two when Dogtanian first meets Count Rochefort and briefly duels with him. Their bout is interrupted by Rochefort’s henchman and a bribed innkeeper. After this confrontation the two had the odd unresolved skirmish, as Rochefort followed the plans of his master, the evil Cardinal Richelieu, and Dogtanian fought to thwart them. In the end, Rochefort decides their duel is an inevitable battle of honour and challenges Dogtanian formally. He even warns his opponent about a plot to poison the young musketeer cadet.

The Fight: The two draw swords and hold them aloft, the ends almost touching, as the camera pans around them in a circle. It is a truly cinematically inspired moment that elevates the whole general childish cartoony nature of the series. Few TV programmes have better shown the a “This is it!” moment with as much class, as this scene that was never a part of Alexander Dumas’s classic novel. There is a little movement from Rochfort’s sword and then he strikes with lightning speed and it is on! The fight is complex and exciting, with Dogtanian often using acrobatic and aerial attacks and Rochfort constantly advancing the attack but also busting out his own surprising series of flip-flaps.

The Result: It’s a draw! The villainous Milady (a cat) is hiding in a tree determined to exact her own revenge on Dogtanian. Previously Rochfort had given her express instructions to stay out of the fight. She shoots, but misses her quarry and instead tags Rochfort in the shoulder. Her actions actually end up incurring a reconciliation between Dogtanian and Rochfort, which helps get Dogtanian attain his dream: to become a musketeer.   

Justin versus Jenner (The Secret of NIMH, 1982)

Animation style: The whole style of this film is often seen by many as the manifestation of a single protest against the way Walt Disney Studios were going in the late ‘70s. “The Secret of NIMH” was created by no less than 10 ex-members of Disney filmmakers and two ex-Disney executives. The animation’s look and style is clearly aimed at children, but is darker in tone and style to anything Disney had produced for decades. There are two songs in the entire picture, but neither is sung by the characters as they would have been in a Disney film. Despite first struggling out of director Don Bluth’s garage at first, Don Bluth Productions eventually got themselves into Studio City with some impressive shorts and the animated sequence of “Xanadu”. They eventually forged a deal with two Disney executives who ran Aurora Productions. The film experimented with many new animation techniques, creating particularly unique visuals with backlit lighting and transparent shadows. The result is an exciting and expressive film that matches anything Disney threw up.

Build-up: “The Secret of NIMH” takes the story from Robert C O’Brian’s classic children’s science fiction story, “Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” involving anthropomorphic rodents and turns it into a swashbuckling fantasy. It’s a good decision, despite often not making a lot of sense, as the result is a spectacle that provides a far more satisfying conclusion in the animated fantasy mould and the fight scene I am discussing. This sword duel occurs when the power hungry rat Jenner, having killed the rats’ wise leader, Nicodemus, tries to take the magic amulet gifted to Mrs Brisby (Frisby in the book). Jenner’s role has been increased from the novel, where he was no more than a minor rebel with six other ill-fated rats. Here is a clear villain hungry for power and set against the rat leader’s decision to stop stealing electricity from the neighbouring farm and to move. The hero is Justin, captain the guard, who takes an immediate liking for Mrs Brisby and is a faithful supporter of their leader, Nicodemus. After arranging a fatal accident, Jenner tries to take control of the rats and seeing a magical amulet given to Mrs Brisby by Nicodemus, Jenner tries to take it for himself. Justin steps in to protect her…

The Fight: It’s a great sword duel with Justin first doing his best to fend off Jenner’s wickedly jagged blade with a stick. This doesn’t hold up for very long and Justin ends up with a shoulder injury. It all looks bleak for an instant until an unlikely ally, Sullivan, once Jenner’s fellow conspirator, throws Justin a sword and suffers a fatal injury himself. Now the fight really gets underway. Set around muddy, wet and rocky terrain the two engage in a high spirited fight that involves climbing and jumping, and a good deal of verbal exchange whereby Jenner reveals his crimes.

Result: Justin wins by stabbing his enemy in the stomach. However, it is not over quite yet. Like any villain worth his salt, Jenner’s not below going for a comeback stab in the back. He climbs up a rock behind Justin and goes for just that. But he didn’t account for his ex-mate, Sullivan, who kills him with an expertly thrown knife before sinking back into the mud dead. This was no Mickey Mouse fairytale…

Optimus Prime versus Megatron (Transformer: The Movie, 1986)

Animation style: “Transformers” were at the cutting edge of animation during mid-80s. Like other classics of the era they were a successful combination of American and Japanese studios. It was little surprising considering that despite the huge success of the cartoon series and the comics in their own right, they were all extended adverts for a toyline that had originated in Japan and were repackaged and remarketed in the US. It wasn’t without its faults. A common one was the repetition of characters in the background that weren’t supposed to be there and bad continuity with colour schemes. These continued in the movie even with increased production values. Nevertheless, the film used state of the art computer technology that allowed for complex action sequences that were very engaging. In fact, I would say they are far more satisfying than the mass of whirling nuts and bolts that make up most of Michael Bay’s mega-budget live action reimagining of the franchise. The film’s look presents a motion picture style that translated well to the cinema, but still retained the familiar good qualities of the TV series.

Build-up: Optimus Prime and Megatron were respective leaders of the heroic autobot and the evil decepticon transformers. From the beginning of its US conception they were pitted against each other as mortal enemies and remain to this day the most popular characters. This was scheduled to be their final battle, designed to make way for the next toyline and the subsequent new season that would follow on from the events depicted in the film. Few of those behind the scenes realized just what an emotional response this duel would arouse. The whole film was darker in stylistic look and tone with beloved characters getting wiped out throughout the first act.

Having taken the transformers home world, the decepticons then successfully ambush an autobot shuttle and steal their way into the autobots’ base on Earth. Optimus Prime arrives just as Megatron and his troops have broken the base’s defences. He declares that “Megatron must be stopped no matter the cost” before transforming and singlehandedly charging into a squad of decepticons led by Megatron…

Fight: Full of cheesy ‘80s machismo, Prime’s heroic attack and duel with Megatron is accompanied by a soft rock anthem by that decade’s premier movie soundtrack artist, Stan Bush. It makes for an emotive moment normally reserved for films like “Flashdance” or “Rocky”. Prime fights his way through a gauntlet of decepticons with balletic ease before reaching Megatron. Here he declares “One will stand, one will fall”. The fight is a brilliant to and fro affair. Despite the villain’s declaration that he will crush his enemy with his “bare hands”, after having his original unarmed assault repelled Megatron uses every intended or incidental weapon that comes to hand. This includes a missile taken from debris, his mounted fusion cannon and a light sabre. Prime meanwhile goes at it unarmed successfully countering every attack, but sustaining horrendous injuries in the process.

Result: After throwing his enemy across the ground for the last time, Prime decides it is time he better arm himself and “finish him off” once and for all. Megatron has one last trick, however, and as he fakes applying for mercy creeps towards a discarded handgun. This is seen by Prime’s fellow autobot Hot Rod, who intervenes. Unfortunately this just gives the bad guy a shield which he uses in order shoot from behind, inflicting fatal wounds on Prime. The decepticon tyrant then stands over his arch-nemesis ready to deliver the coup de grace only for Prime to draw upon his remaining strength to send his enemy crashing off the top of Autobot City. Technically it is Prime who gets the win, but he dies from his injuries whilst Megatron, after being thrown into space by his treacherous lieutenant, gets changed by the monstrous god-like villain, Unicron, into Galvatron.

Kong versus Vastatosaurus Rex (King Kong, 2005)

Animation style: I am very selective over my CGI choices. However, if handled with the love, care and attention of the Weta Workshop, it provides a worthy replacement for the days of Harryhausen. As with all classics you need people whose competence match their understanding and reverence for the original material. Jackson and Weta had the vision to do just that. C’mon this was a team that got so much into the “King Kong” remake that they actually went and reshot a missing/unfinished stop-motion scene from the original picture – the notorious spider pit sequence – and had it added to a US release’s bonus features. Back to the actual remake and as with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy Weta carefully blended the capture-motion effects with miniatures and bigatures, a method that helps make everything seem that much more tangible than the majority of films that rely a lot on computer animated sequences. They also re-employed the great Andy Serkis, who almost stole the show in the two LOTR sequels as Gollum, to don the blue suit and portray all of Kong’s movements for the capture-motion animation. The result is a brilliant homage the original picture that makes demands on the viewer to suspend disbelief and fall into the fantasy. 

Build-up: Unlike the unfortunate 1976 remake, Jackson brings in all the prehistoric monster action big time for his version. In all instances he makes the scenes bigger and with the creatures in larger numbers. He also makes the whole movie a period film rather than trying to bring it into a contemporary setting, as the original did, and sets in 1933 when the first film was shot. The original story is expanded upon and homage is paid throughout. As with the original picture, Ann is kidnapped and sacrificed to Kong by the island’s natives. Kong makes off with her. Faye Wray may have been the queen of screamers, but Naomi Watts’ version is more proactive damsel in distress, winning Kong over through her talent and even admonishing him at one stage. This time she has made her own escape rather than waiting for anyone else. However, having first run away from Kong she runs into a dinosaur that chases her into a hollow log only to bump into a giant creepy crawly. It’s back to the other dinosaur, which suddenly stops attacking. However, it’s not much of a reprieve as the reason for the monster faltering is because it has been chomped on by a Vastatosaurus Rex (Jackson’s evolutionary take on the allosaurus). Worse still, there are several of these vicious giant reptiles and they all want to eat Ann…

The Fight: Of course, Kong comes to the rescue and what ensues is both a wonderfully new and imaginative fight scene that finishes with a perfect homage to the original one. Kong is more mobile than before and, having to contend with multiple opponents, needs to be more versatile. To make matters worse, Ann gets involved again and much of the fight has the great ape fending off his reptilian adversaries with his “bride” being swapped between his hands and dextrous feet. Complicating matters even further, the whole fight ends up down a ravine with the monsters fighting from jungle creepers. Eventually Kong is left facing one last V-Rex as they return to terra firma. It’s an alpha male square off to decide whether Kong, last of his species, is king of Skull Island.

Result: The fight that follows lifts plenty from Willis O’Brian’s brilliant original right down to its jaw snapping conclusion. Kong even tests his enemy’s bust jaw before thumping his chest and roaring his victory. Like the original, this is one of the film’s most memorable sequences and survives endless reruns.

Beowulf versus Grendel (Beowulf, 2007)

Animation style: Not since the film adaptation of “Final Fantasy” had there been such an ambitious attempt to bring three dimensional CGI to such a high standard. “Beowulf” contrasted one of the oldest surviving pieces of English literature – old English in this instance – with capture motion animation. It’s an interesting concept. Live actors are filmed and then replicated through animation. There is little questioning the high standards achieved by this motion picture. Unfortunately - and this often seems to be bane of well-executed CGI – the attention to detail actually dehumanizes the characters and highlights any shortcomings. In this instance the eyes of the characters are memorably inhuman detracting from the otherwise very impressive visuals.

Build-up: Beowulf’s unarmed duel with the monstrous Grendel is the embodiment of Scandinavian alpha male mythology. For many years Grendel, a son of Kane, has cursed the great hall of the king of the Danes, Hrothgar, and has killed and eaten many of the king’s men. Beowulf and his men are called in to aid the king and thwart Grendel once and for all. Robert Zemeckis produced a very interesting interpretation of the story. He retained key elements of the story, but added new layers and twists by envisioning a version that looked at the nature of mythology. The original epic poem casts Beowulf and other characters as shallow archetypes, idealistic symbols of the era. Although Zemeckis keeps and even adds magical elements to the story, he looks at the development of the characters and critiques man’s weaknesses. Grendel becomes more sympathetic, something of a tortured soul, and the curse Hrothgar experiences that will be passed onto Beowulf looks at new ideas behind the poetry. Nevertheless, Zemeckis does well to build the horror of Grendel’s arrival at the great hall. This version has Grendel several times bigger than Beowulf who ops to face the demon in the nude.

The Fight: It’s a chaotic battle with Beowulf using guile and agility against the inhuman ferocity of Grendel as everything sight appears to get smashed and destroyed. The size difference between the monster and hero make a simple one-on-one a la the poem seem a little ridiculous. Nevertheless he does do the lion’s share of the fight and even climbs up Grendel’s back attempting strangle holds.

Result: Like the poem, Grendel ends up with his arm torn from his socket although not from an incredulous arm-lock. The monster will go away to die only to be avenged by his mother. Zemeckis’s decisions in this film were criticized by fans of the poem that really missed the point. The duel between Grendel and Beowulf, as it was told in the poem, is actually re-enacted with puppets later on helping to drive home this particular point about the word of man. It is but a small example for the interesting twist Zemeckis makes with the whole story and particularly with the way he handles Grendel’s mother, the supposed Sea-Hag!

So there we have it, my personal choice of animated fight scenes. I have selected scenes I felt drove or provided worthwhile climaxes to the particular feature.

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