As far as combat sequences on film, the only two who stayed with me were Apocalypse Now and the opening of Gladiator... until I saw Sergei Bondarchuk's 1968 version of War and Peace: seven years in the making, 120 000 extras, 35 000 costumes, no special FX or CGI bullshit... just glorious vision & talent on a mass scale. As far as I'm concerned, it blows Coppola and Ridley Scott right out of the water. What is this thing, which Tolstoy called the Russian soul? Something far greater than the sum of its parts.
"It was a vibrant scene, astonishing in its splendor, but what struck Pierre most forcibly was the battlefield itself, borodino. The ground was overhung by the kind of mist that seeps down and thins out to let the bright sun come shimmering through, revealing the landscape and painting it in magical colours. Gunsmoke wreathed its way in, and the intermingling smoke and mist was everywhere shot through with lightning-flashes of early morning sunlight glinting on water, dew and bayonets in the hands of soldiers swarming through Borodino.
Through the mist you could make things out: a white church here, there the roofs of shacks in Borodino, with fitful glimpses of great masses of men...and the whole scene was writhing, because of the mist and smoke drifting across the entire landscape. All across the misty hollows, from copse and meadow puffs of smoke curled up out of thin air, either singly or in clusters, sporadically or in big, rapid bursts, weaving together on high then swelling, billowing out, seeping away and merging together all over the landscape. It was this swirling gunsmoke, with the ensuing bangs, that gave the whole spectacle its special beauty."
"Prince Andrey's regiment was among the reserves. All his energy, like every soldier's, was instinctively concentrated on distracting himself from the horror of his situation. He paced the meadow, dragging his feet and rustling through the grass, and he watched the dust thickening on his boots.
'Look out!' yelled a terrified soldier as a grenade came over like a little bird zooming down with whirring wings on the look-out for a landing place, and plopped down with a dull thud a few paces away from Prince Andrey. The smoking shell was spinning like a top, near a clump of wormwood growing in the ditch between meadow and field.
'Is this death then?' Prince Andrey wondered, and he was swept with a new sense of longing as he gazed down at the grass, the wormwood and the spiral of smoke swirling up from the spinning ball. 'I can't die. I don't want to die. I love life. I love this grass, the earth, the air...'" tolstoy