Last night I caught “The Dead Pool,” the final episode in the Dirty Harry series, on cable. It was really shockingly bad, inferior to your average episode of Law and Order. But it did make me realize that we’ve really progressed in the art of filming gunfights. The bad guys’ gunfighting style in “The Dead Pool” is sequential. One guy opens fire at Harry, who’s hiding behind a car or something, and empties his Uzi. When the bad guy stops firing, Harry stands up and blows his head off. Now, you would think this would be a perfect opportunity for another bad guy to open fire on Harry, but that guy usually politely waits for Harry to crouch back down behind the car before pulling the trigger.
Now, as anyone who’s ever been in a gunfight with members of the Italian Mafia knows, this is not how real gunplay occurs. What I described above was almost every gunfight filmed in the 1970s and 80s, but you never see it anymore. These days, gunfights are insane for a totally different set of reasons — the hero is usually opening fire on the villains while he leaps through a burning helicopter before landing on his motorcycle — but in a certain sense they are more realistic. The bad guys are not complete morons who exist simply to be cannon fodder. And this means that there was a generation of gunfight choreographers who really sat down and said, “Everything we’ve done up until now is shit. How do we make gunfights real?” And you’ve got to give them credit.