This is the opening to the battle of Helm’s Deep scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, one of the most famous scenes from the movie. A sequence of shots later in the battle looks greatly similar to a scene from D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, but I will be examining the opening sequence of this scene (this video) in order to analyze certain characteristics of editing for today’s typical battle scenes.
To begin, Peter Jackson juxtaposes many sweeping shots of the opposing sides, showing sweeping shots of the Orcs side by side with those of the elves and men (and dwarf) as well as the women and children sheltered in the Deep. This combination of shots is typical of the battle scene in that it is used to show the battle’s opposing sides, and it certainly displays graphic relations between the Orcs and men.
There are more examples of graphic relations between shots. The most obvious combination is the shot of Aragorn commanding orders to the Elves and men, followed by a shot of an Orc leader roaring to his army as well. The most amusing combination is the shot of Gimli laughing at Legolas’s joke followed by a shot of an Orc roaring. Later in the sequence, right before the battle begins, there is a shot of the Orcs banging their spears on the ground, followed by a shot of the Men and Elves unsheathing their swords and pulling back the strings of their bows, both sides getting ready for battle. These graphic similarities between shots display clever uses of editing that play up on the similarities between the opposing sides, sides that would seem very different from each other if it were not for the many combinations of shots that highlight their similarities. Also, the insertion of shots of the women in children in the middle of all this shows how everyone is affected by the battle.
When it comes to rhythmic relations between shots, to build up suspense, the shots are continually shortened until the one clumsy man shoots his arrow at an Orc. Once this man lets fly his arrow, all the suspense built up by all preceding shots has reached its climax, embodied by the shock felt by both sides. Once King Théoden says, “So it begins…”, the tempo has shifted from climax to a new building up of suspense to be felt now that the battle has begun.
Other examples of editing in this scene can be seen in the vast amounts of special effects created in post-production (for the landscapes, the huge amount of Orcs, etc.), as well as the following of the 180 degree rule when Gimli and Legolas converse with each other, to maintain special continuity.