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07 July 2007 @ 01:42 am
Modern/futuristic sword-fighting  
Something got me thinking about Highlander (wonder what that could be), and I was thinking about how awesome it is (an undisputable fact).

Anyway, part of what makes Highlander so awesome is that it manages to bring the ancient art of sword-fighting into the modern world. Because, clearly, if you're wanting to kill someone these days, using anything other than a modern weapon of some sort (gun, bomb, etc...) is going to make you look like a bloodthirsty psycho.

So, our hero needs a reason to resort to using a sword to combat the villain, if our story is set anytime after the invention of practical sidearms. Highlander neatly brings swordfighting to the modern world by making the protagonist and antagonist immortals that can only be killed by having their heads cleaved from their bodies. Neatly sidesteps the issue of why they don't just shoot each other, and also lends a certain gravitas to the final battle. Like I said, Highlander is awesome.

Anyway, this got me thinking about other films/books that bring swordplay out of the past and into the present/future. Star Wars is an obvious example. At first glance, duelling with lightsabers does seem a little pointless - why can't they just shoot Darth Vader? The first film hints at the reason, as we see Luke training in the art of deflecting blaster bolts with the lightsaber itself. However, in the second film we see that Darth Vader can stop a blaster bolt by force of will alone (well, by willing with the Force). So, unlike in Highlander in which getting shot isn't fatal, in Star Wars actually shooting a powerful Jedi/Sith is nigh-on impossible. Hence the lightsaber.

Similarly, Dune has the concept of the personal shield that can stop anything fast-moving. So any kind of gun will be unable to penetrate it, necessitating the use of a rather odd slow-moving duel with edged weapons.

Can anyone else think of any good examples of books/movies that gives a good reason to bring sword-fighting out of the past? Does anyone have any examples in which sword-fighting was conspicuously anachronistic?
 
 
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there's a rabbit in the moon: What Heterosexuality?frabjously on July 6th, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)
Honestly I love sword fights so much that I really don't care if they're horribly anachronistic. Blade is a franchise that could be one of those since he uses silver bullets quite frequently but uses his sword more. Then again if you consider the sheer number of vampires I guess making silver bullets would get pretty fucking expensive after a while. And that scene in at the end of the first movie? Awesome.

Goddamn. I should really start fencing again.
Jacob: spikeyak_boy on July 6th, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)
I vaguely remember watching the first Blade, but never got into the franchise... but isn't it vampires you kill with silver bullets?

Anyway, you made me think of another one. Buffy! The big season 2 finale is a perfect example, and right throughout she has to fight vampires with medieval weaponry because bullets won't kill them.
there's a rabbit in the moonfrabjously on July 6th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
I think swordfighting is usually done very well when vampires are involved.

What was a bit contrived was that scene in Pearce Brosnan's last James Bond. They're meant to be fencing with modern fencing equipment and they end up trying to kill each other with real swords.

Firefly did swords pretty well since dueling seems to be a pretty valid thing to do in the culture of the time.
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Jacobyak_boy on July 7th, 2007 03:58 pm (UTC)
The swordfighting in Kill Bill only "worked" because the movie was incredibly silly to begin with (as is TMNT). Yeah, not a huge fan of what is essentially a four hour movie in which very little happens.

I almost said the same thing about the modern weaponry in Buffy. When she pulls out the rocket launcher, it's so beautifully unexpected. The Judge's reaction says it all.

The rocket launcher notwithstanding, Joss Whedon determined from the outset that any time guns appeared on Buffy they would be either ineffectual or have dire consequences.
Some guy called Lap?harkon on July 7th, 2007 03:10 am (UTC)
Fantastic fiction seems to like putting swords into things mainly because it adds complexity and the sense of spectacle to fights. In story it is explained as the sword being special (lightsabers, the Silver Samurai's sword), the swords granting/unlocking special abilities (Hiro's kensei sword) or because the conventional weaponry because less effective in a given situation, either due to target invulnerabilities (Higlander) or to take advantage the wielder's superhuman strength (a troll in shadowrun). There is also the whole lack of ammo thing, but that advantage isn't really a reason to put swords in specifically.

Settings where it seems randomly gratuitous from a logical point of view include the 40k setting and the sword fighting in Equilibrium. Also Kill Bill is anachronistic when applying real world reasoning to a movie that at most pretended to be in the real world. Then you have all the scenes (books and movies) where the sword is really just a weapon of opportunity.
Jacobyak_boy on July 7th, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
The sword-fighting in 40k can kind of be seen as a continuation of the bayonet charge strategy, since the soldiers generally fire guns as they move in to engage in hand-to-hand.

Okay, it probably doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, but I think it's one of those cases where anachronism works. The 40k setting is such a mish-mash of sci-fi and fantasy settings and concepts anyway.

See my earlier response for what I think about Kill Bill.
splatchtrocksplatchtrock on July 8th, 2007 07:09 am (UTC)
Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) sets up a world essentially split in two, with modern-ish (1920s?) technology in one part and no technology and magic in the other. The tech doesn't work ing the magic areas or when the wind is blowiong from the magic areas. Leads to the frontier trrops having Maxims and swords.
Jacobyak_boy on July 8th, 2007 07:15 am (UTC)
The magic/technology dichotomy is a relatively common one in fantasy literature. And from there, of course, it has spilled over into the gaming world: the video game Arcanum, the roleplaying game Shadowrun. Often in games it is used as a balancing mechanism; in both those examples the more tech you use, the less magic you can use (and vice versa).
parakleta on July 8th, 2007 12:05 pm (UTC)
Ooh... Arcanum... I'm still hanging out to play that game.