The Fourth of July means many things to many people, but one thing nearly everyone thinks about on Independence Day are the fireworks. They’re loud, they’re big, and they’re beautiful–so of course they grab our attention, and of course they are a great way to convey action, celebration, and emotion in a visual medium, including film.
Here are five great uses of fireworks in cinema:
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Before several hours of over-the-top groundbreaking cinematic action take place in Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy saga, we get a light show thanks to Gandalf the Wizard and some mischievous hobbits. Gandalf recounts the notable battle between Bilbo and Smaug (later depicted in its own trilogy of blockbusters) with the use of crowd-pleasing fireworks, which goes awry once Merry and Pippin bungle things up and set more off than they can handle.
One of the most powerful dramas ever made, the background use of fireworks by visionary director Ang Lee serve a more subtle purpose than usual. Ennis (Heath Ledger) is a married father struggling with the love he has for another man. When he faces a pair of drunk, troublemaking bikers who challenge him and his wife, Ennis saves the day and beats them in an affirmation of his traditional masculinity. With the fireworks blazing behind him, it seems like a perfect patriotic cheering moment, but masks the unconventional road Ennis’s life has taken.
Oz the Great and Powerful
“Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” The Sam Raimi-directed, James Franco-starring sequel had a lot to live up to when it was released nearly 75 years after its predecessor, The Wizard of Oz. That classic film used bright technicolor to bestow wonder on its cinematic audience. Oz the Great and Powerful attempts to do the same with a fiery explosion of color during the heightened climactic battle between the good and the wicked.
Land of the Dead
Zombie godfather George Romero’s long-awaited third sequel to Night of the Living Dead introduced some novel concepts to the franchise of brain-eating ghouls. One was a zombie-proof tank of a vehicle called Dead Reckoning that used “sky flowers” to distract hordes of the undead. By firing fireworks straight into the sky, the living could buy themselves some time as the zombies gawked up in slackjawed awe–Romero’s films are often a critique on actual, breathing humans, and this metaphor might not be too far off.
The final battle between Disney warrior Mulan and villain Shan Yu is an epic climax and one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Fireworks are used for good triumphing over evil–a classic trope used with simple yet bombastic fanfare. Fireworks were also invented in China and are an important part of Chinese culture, bringing poignancy to the scene. Will the planned 2020 live action remake outdo this explosive sequence? We’ll soon find out…