Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Battle of the Ice

Recently, Al Harron over at The Blog That Time Forgot reminded me about a film I haven't seen in a while and that I regard very highly: Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 historical epic, Alexander Nevsky. The film principally concerns an invasion by the Teutonic Knights in 13th century Novgorod, an invasion repulsed by Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky. Nevsky's efforts culminate at the Battle of the Ice, so called because it was fought atop the frozen surface of Lake Peipus on the border between what are now Russia and Estonia.

Eisenstein's film depicts this battle in a sequence that's one of the most famous in all of motion picture history. Set to the choral score of Sergei Prokofiev, it's an amazing piece of work that, like so much of Eisenstein's output, has proven extraordinarily influential on other movies. Likewise, Prokofiev's score, which is widely regarded as the best movie score ever composed -- and rightly so in my opinion -- has proven similarly influential, especially in genre films that feature pitched battles between the forces of good and evil.

Anyway, here's a clip of the Battle of the Ice, in case you've never seen it before. It's an impressive example of film making and a perfect marriage of image and sound to create a memorable viewing experience.

21 comments:

  1. The Germans!

    Seriously, that's great; never seen that before. Those were the days when you could get so many live actors for a big battle scene.

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  2. I love this movie, although the only time I ever watched the whole thing the subtitles were in French. I have long recommended it to others.

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  3. Great movie with a great soundtrack!

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  4. This is one of my favorite movies. I love the score and own a copy. There are some great scenes using a shield wall and deploying skirmishing units in the battle.

    Several scenes from this movie ended up being rotoscoped by Ralph Bakshi for "Wizards". Boy, there was a trippy movie.

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  5. Interesting to look at and certainly a pioneer to other great films like Ran and Throne of Blood, but I don't think it's Eisenstein's best work. That, I still say is Battleship Potemkin.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euG1y0KtP_Q

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  6. The little I know about the Teutons role in history at Lake Peipus certainly doesn't make me want them to win, but their helmets are so much better looking rather than the Russians, who appear to be all wearing a Dairy Queen ice cream cone on their heads.
    Really great film clip.
    Tom said, "Several scenes from this movie ended up being rotoscoped by Ralph Bakshi for "Wizards". I vaguely remember scenes of men with shields and spears intercut with footage from WW2 in to rotoscoped parts of Wizards... and, if memory serves, some footage that looked like Zulus (whose inclusion in the horde of evil ones kind of rubbed me the wrong way). Thanks for letting me know where those images came from.

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  7. Yay! I loved Alexander Nevsky - the film's Teutonic Knights really set my standards for what an epic evil/possibly undead army should look and act like, so I'm delighted to see someone else actually likes and perhaps draws gaming inspiration off the thing.

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  8. Ah yes the Teutonics, the successful crusader knights. Did you know the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack was inspired by Alexander Nevsky's. If there was any movie I'd like to see a modern re-make of, it might be this one.

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  9. I like very much Nevsky's scale armor and helmet. Put a horse on his shield and that is the exact appearence I always imagined for king Theoden, instead of the anachronistic plate armor and goatee from the LOTR movie.

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  10. Very cool! Never heard of it before, but now I'll have to see it. :)

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  11. Music does really set the mood.Don't think any CGI can match the scene either.

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  12. Damn! I was going to post that on my blog due to the pseudo-Teutonic Knight group that is in my campaign setting. Oh well.

    That clip is awesome.

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  13. We watched clips of this in a Russian History class I took in college (mainly as an example of how the Russians had mythologized the events depicted, and how it was used as propaganda in the run-up to WWII).

    I remember the professor mentioning how George Lucas lifted a bunch of stuff from this movie for Star Wars, beginning with the fact that the bad guys were the ones wearing white (and so, then, too were the Stormtroopers...). Eisenstein's brilliance is in the details like that, I think.

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  14. Why is it a sign of Eisenstein's brilliance that the Teutonic Knights wore white? Dude, they actually did wear white. Eisenstein was not around in the days of their founding.

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  15. The brilliance lies in how Eisenstein took that existing historical fact and used it in his shot compositions (solid blocks of white, just like with Lucas's stormtroopers) and as a ironic/dramatic device (there are other scenes in the movie with these white-clad "holy" knights literally chucking babies into fires).

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  16. I mention this in the comments on the hats post, but I'll put it here as well, just in case. This movie is available through instant watch on netflix.
    Thanks for bringing the movie to my attention, James; I've never heard of it before.

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  17. Did you know the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack was inspired by Alexander Nevsky's.

    There are quite a few things in Conan the Barbarian that are inspired by Alexander Nevsky. That Teutonic Knight's helm at 1:40 in the video, for instance: somewhat similar to Thulsa Doom's helmet, no?

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  18. "Again, I won't fault Eisenstein for his decision, because the galero is a great hat."

    I believe these are the exact words Robin Wood used in one of his critical essays on Eisenstein.

    [Apparently I originally wrote this as James's next blog was being posted, so it appeared as an odd non sequitor among comments on upkeep costs.]

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  19. I once watched Alexander Nevsky and The Adventures of Robin Hood, which were made the same year, back to back or nearly so. It was surprising to me how primitive and crude Alexander Nevsky came out in comparison.

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  20. I watched it last night. I love the ingenuity and imagination that went into it. I completely enjoyed it.

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