Review: Learn the dueling secrets behind Rings and Star Wars

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Reclaiming the Blade is a documentary that poses the question: Why did most sword fights look so fake in old movies—and why are they suddenly getting more realistic? The answer reveals one of the world's best-kept secrets.

This documentary came out in limited release last April in theaters, and the DVD (which is packed with fun and fascinating bonuses) comes out July 7. John Rhys-Davies narrates a story that begins in Hollywood and shows sword fights from silent movies, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride and Star Wars.

Well-deserved focus centers on Bob Anderson, the longtime fight choreographer who trained Errol Flynn and was the man behind the mask of Darth Vader in the Star Wars fight scenes. Anderson is a Hollywood legend, and at long last he gets his own screen time to talk about his career in the movies.

Viggo Mortensen and Karl Urban tell stories of working with Anderson when they trained for Lord of the Rings. There's plenty of attention given to the design and making of their swords, including a peek inside the WETA Workshop, where a swordsmith talks about his work for the fantasy series and lets the cameras take a close look.

The rest of Reclaiming the Blade delves into the history of swords, revealing why filmmakers have recently been able to make fights look more realistic. Here's the secret: During the Middle Ages, weapons experts wrote books about their sword-fighting techniques. During the past 15 years or so, martial artists all over the world have discovered these ancient books and deciphered them. In other words, we now know how knights really fought, because people are reconstructing the sword techniques they used. Reclaiming the Blade introduces the experts in this field and the work they're doing. There's also a look at sword techniques used in the Society of Creative Anachronism, Asian martial arts and modern-day fencing.

The bonuses on this DVD are gems, including a closer look at weapons made at the WETA Workshop and their makers, as well as Mortensen telling stories about Aragorn and the details as to how the broken shards of Aragorn's ancestor's sword Narsil were re-forged into Anduril. My favorite is the short film about the real school for Jedi knights in New York City where students train with fake lightsabers. Who knew such a thing existed?