The reality of weaponry in Hollywood movies
It’s no secret that Hollywood’s relationship with reality is tenuous at best. Scriptwriters take liberties with facts all the time while filmmakers often don’t let pesky reality come in the way of a good movie. This is of course more obvious where the movie takes place in a made-up world. But even movies that are based on historical characters, actual events, or real people are not immune to Hollywood’s famous aggrandizing and making some characters appear so much larger than life.
The upside to this Hollywood phenomenon is that we get our minds blown with top-quality movies and cutting-edge visual effects that keep us at the edge of our seats. And when we like a movie, we often want to watch it again and again. We admire the characters. We try to dress like the star of the movie. And of course, we want to use the products they use in the movie. This is why product placement is so vital to brand growth and success. So if you have a product you want to market, there’s no better way to reach millions of people than to get your brand featured in a movie or a TV show.
The Magic of Weapons
When the movie takes place in an alien world many centuries in the future, it’s quite normal to see the intrepid protagonist wielding a laser gun or some other form of fictional weapon. These weapons can act in ways that defy the laws of physics and reality. And it’s easy to suspend our belief and accept how the laser beam ricochets or even curves around objects. This after all is the future and who are we as viewers to question the dazzling technological advances that might only be a few years away?
But even in “realistic” movies that take place in the present-day or historical epics, Hollywood seems dissatisfied with the limitations of the weapons it has at its disposal and always tries to give them superpowers. For example, Hollywood guns don’t seem to recoil. They fire smoothly and with ease without putting any noticeable stress on the hand holding it. If only that was true. Since every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the bullet that fires or the arrow that launches would trigger a strong reaction that the camera couldn’t fail to record.
The movie Eraser is a good example. Arnold Schwarzenegger in this realistic movie with futuristic weapons shoots aluminum rounds from a rail gun without twitching a muscle. You might say Arnie is a big guy and can handle the tremendous ricochet from a huge gun like this one. But even actors who are not as well built as Schwarzenegger seem to handle their guns with the same poise as if they were shooting a water gun.
The Fantastical Archers and Swordsmen
But it’s not just guns that defy the laws of physics as we know them. Even more traditional weapons such as bows and swords seem to get the Hollywood treatment as well. In historical movies, swords seem to be large and unwieldy. They need the bulky Arnold in Conan The Barbarian to hold and wield or the larger-than-life King Arthur to manage. But in reality, swords were not that heavy. In the brutal face-to-face battle, maneuvering the sword in your hand is more important than its weight. You need to attack, defend, and parry without struggling with a heavy sword that would turn the odds against you.
More importantly, a heavy sword is not easy to forge. It will crack easily when blades clash. The lighter sword will absorb the shock easily, but the heavy sword will crack and come to pieces. So from a practical point of view, the sword should be light, easy to handle, and durable to protect the warrior in the heat of battle. A cumbersome sword would not be to your advantage when facing a skillful opponent.
And then we have archers like Robin Hood and Hawkeye. For the most part, they hit the target at the first attempt and without even trying too hard. Granted this is not an over-the-top skill when you have enough practice and plenty of time to assume the right stance and poise. But that’s not what we see Robin Hood does. He’s always shooting from the back of a galloping horse. His body is moving everywhere in response so there’s little chance he can get a good aim every time. Even his posture is more for cinematic purposes than in line with good archery rules.
Hawkeye is another flight of fantasy that takes the cross and bows to new extremes. He’s wearing two arm guards not because they help in any way. They just make the actor look cool. The same applies to how he takes his stance. Hawkeye doesn’t put his back into the shot which is necessary to give the projectile force and accuracy. If you try to shoot arrows like Hawkeye, you will be lucky to send the arrow a few feet away from where you stand.
Hollywood’s affinity to embellishment and glorification doesn’t match its attention to detail and adherence to the laws of physics. But then again, isn’t that the whole point of watching movies that are not documentaries. We go to the theater to be entertained and to leave reality behind for 90 minutes. And in that, Hollywood movies have met if not surpassed our expectations.