Game of Thrones Battle of the Bastards has been heralded as the greatest battle scene on the small screen, but how does it measure up to cinemas best?
From Spartacuss battles with the Romans to Maximus Decimus Meridiuss ruthless destruction of the Teutonic hordes in Gladiator, Hollywood has always been obsessed with showing humanity in monumental, monstrous conflict. But with some critics labelling the epic Battle of the Bastards smackdown in the latest episode of Game of Thrones the greatest screen ruckus of all time, does it measure up to some of the big screens most impressive dust-ups?
The Revenant: Opening battle
Remember in old westerns when some other woefully misrepresented Native American nation would helpfully circle the wagons, usually without actually attacking anyone, while the brave pioneers picked them off one by one with their vastly superior firepower? Well, according to The Revenant, that wasnt a particularly realistic rendition of historic Native American fighting techniques.
Alejandro Gonzlez Irritus harrowing frontier revenge thriller was the kind of movie that made you wonder if being a movie star might not be worth all the hassle after all. Leonardo DiCaprio may have won the Oscar, but he had to eat raw liver, cauterise his own wounds, fight an angry momma bear and sleep inside a dead horse in order to take the big prize. Irritu uses the terrifying opening battle scene, in which DiCaprios fur trapping expedition is suddenly attacked by a party of Ree braves, to set us up for the epic horrors to come. Featuring some simply superb tracking work, it is cinematic defibrillation of the highest order.
Zulu: Battle of Rorkes Drift
In which Michael Caine and his heroic band of 150 British riflemen successfully hold off 6,000 Zulu warriors thanks to their command of modern martial techniques, incredible bravery and possession of actual guns. In order to bring the epic 1879 battle to life, director Cy Endfield employed 2,000 Zulu extras but baulked at employing the extra 4,000 required to depict the full majesty of the army. In the modern era, the movie would have used CGI to create the illusion of a grander force. But this being 1964, producers simply asked each warrior to carry bits of wood, with shields and head dresses stuck on top, to help pad the numbers.
Lord of the Rings: Battle of Helms Deep
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, from 2003s Return of the King, may have been the almighty rumpus that won Peter Jacksons epic trilogy all those Oscars, but it was the Battle of Helms Deep, from 2002s The Two Towers, that showed the Kiwi film-makers mastery of high fantasy mega-bedlam. The sheer scale of the confrontation between Sarumans orrible Orcs and the weaker, Aragon-led combined forces of the Rohirrim and elves of Lothlorien was like nothing seen on the big screen before. That the vast, evil army of Christopher Lees treacherous old wizard could be ultimately defeated with a bit of dwarf-throwing and Gandalfs magic sunshine staff made victory all the sweeter.
Saving Private Ryan: Omaha Beach scene
Making a war movie about a desperate, foolhardy attempt to return a mothers last son to the bosom of his family is a very Steven Spielberg thing to do. But the cold clarity of the films key flashback scene, showing the Normandy landings in all their gruesome glory, cuts through the sentimental schmaltz like a bayonet through human flesh.
Costing $12m and reputedly featuring 1,500 extras, the 30-minute scene has no equal as a realistic representation of the horrors of the second world war battlefield. War here is a grim cauldron of blood, guts, vomit, tears and burning flesh. But this being a Spielberg movie, the humanity shines through in snatches of gallows humour and fragments of selfless individual heroism.
Game of Thrones: Battle of the Bastards
It was once thought that TV fantasy could never hope to mirror the epic spectacle of, say, Jacksons Lord of the Rings movies for budgetary reasons alone. In season one, Game of Thrones got around the problem of shooting huge numbers of soldiers, horses and grunty hill tribesmen by following Tyrion Lannister into the blissful depths of unconsciousness for the entirety of the Battle of the Green Fork.
The Battle of the Bastards pulled no such trick, even going so far as to give viewers a bravura tracking shot (of sorts) as Jon Snow is reportedly saved from instant death at the hands of the opposition forces or just as likely his own by the kind of crazy sheer luck that Lady Melisandre would probably have to sacrifice several small children of royal blood to the Red God in order to achieve.
Knights barrel into footsoldiers and axe-wielding horsemen are taken out by spear-wielding horsemen, just as all of them are about to stick the Stark Who Lived with the pointy end. Quite how anyone knows who theyre supposed to fight in the midst of all this murderous melee is beyond us, but thats pretty much the point. War is a terrible, random mess of mud, blood, guts and imminent instant death which is why the best place for it is really on TV, where we can at least ensure that the bad guy gets his comeuppance at the end. And, boy, did that bastard get it.