Have you ever watched an action scene and had no idea what was going on besides the fact that it is a fight scene? You probably only heard the sound effects of the blows connecting but not visually. Anne Billson, a writer and Film critic for The Guardian, states that “Hollywood has forgotten the art of filming combat.” In her article, she talks about the problem with action films in Hollywood and why fight scenes end up looking clunky. The writer makes a good analogy for why people go to see action films by saying, “You don’t watch Top Hat or Swing Time for the plot or dialogue; you watch them for the dancing,” meaning that you go watch an action film for the fights and stunt. If the fight inside the action scene is terrible, then you are just going to be disappointed.
One of the reasons why action scenes can be incoherent at times is that “few Hollywood actors are trained in martial arts.” There are only a few numbers of actors in Hollywood that actually know how to “fight” and do their own action sequence and stunts. Keanu Reeves, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen, and Tom Cruise are examples of actors who do their own action sequence and stunts. When actors do their own fight scenes it doesn’t require the camera to move around and “mask” the action, which allows the audience to see the full scene. When the camera moves behind an actor, it is to hide the fact that it is a body double or to make it seem as if the blow connects. Even Jackie Chan says this in an interview by saying “In American movies there is a lot of movement. When the camera angle movement, the actors, they don’t know how to fight.”
I want to use the movie, John Wick as an example for a good fight scene. In the scene, the action is clear the camera isn’t forced to swing around or go behind the actor to hide the fact that he can’t fight. The scene itself is coherent it is easy to see what is going on in the scene. Keanu Reeves knows how to fight and goes through intense training in order to make the scene itself good.
An example of a bad fight scene is the final fight scene in Taken 2. The camera moves around so many times in the scene that it is hard to see the action itself. The fight scene itself is incoherent and it is hard to see who is even hitting who. All you hear are the sound effects of the scene and not a full view of the action itself.
Making a good action scene isn’t easy as it takes time to practice for it and requires the actor to put themselves in injury prone positions. If you can just edit the scene to make it look like there is a fight going on, then it is faster than shooting the scene over and over again until you hit perfection. This not only saves time but also money as well. Next time you watch an action movie count how many times the camera moves during an action scene just for fun. You might be surprised by the number.