I’ll say right off that this list probably won’t contain many of the films that you’d expect to see when I put EPIC in the title. When I come up with a Quick 5 or a Top 10, I usually try to choose films that are either off the beaten path or ones that just don’t get enough attention. Hey, it’s what I do.
So before we start, let’s just take a look at this blurb which helps define and identify the makings of an epic. I think this is important as most people (mainly the ones I know) think an epic is simply a “sword and sandal” film. As written below, an “epic” is more encompassing than that:
“An epic is a genre of film that emphasizes human drama on a grand scale. Epics are more ambitious in scope than other film genres, and their ambitious nature helps to differentiate them from similar genres such as the period piece or adventure film. They typically entail high production values, a sweeping musical score (often by an acclaimed film composer), and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, placing them among the most expensive of films to produce. The term “epic” comes from the poetic genre exemplified by such works as the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.”
Below, you will see that I have left off films like Lawrence of Arabia, Gone with the Wind, Gladiator, Ben Hur, etc. Not fair you say? Well I think it’s not fair if I do include them. Since everyone knows how great those films are, I believe omitting them as “givens” it will allow me to compile a more diverse list. It would be like saying, name the most famous space/sci-fi films…but you can’t say Star Wars, Star Trek or 2001…what else would you put on it??
So here they are…Go, See, Talk’s Top 10 Favorite EPIC Films (Part I)
Dances with Wolves – Kevin Costner’s film won him high praise, Oscars galore and the distinction that he can do more than just act. If you haven’t seen this yet, I highly suggest it but make sure you pack a lunch as it is a 4 hour movie. This film is filled with sweeping locales, incredible music and the touching (and slightly preachy) story just gets me every time. Visually stunning and grand in scope and setting, it’s the story of one man who finds a cause worth believing in after nearly giving up all hope in everything he’s known. It shows us to dig a little further for purpose in our lives and we’re bound to find it in unlikely places. Call me crazy but I take the message to heart. At face value this movie is a simple character study but what makes is epic is how it is set against a time of American expansion. Epic in every sense of the word, even if most of the movie had us looking at simple yet magnificent Western vistas.
Kingdom of Heaven – Like I wrote above, I have forgone Gladiator and the other expected epic battle films. In what some (including myself) term the longer and less exciting follow-up to Gladiator, Ridley Scott tells the tale of an Englishman who travels to Jerusalem attempting to find religion when he (like Dances With Wolves) has lost everything. Along the way he gets caught up in the middle of the Crusades and that’s no small story. Personally I don’t think Bloom was the right choice to carry this all but the rest of the cast was perfect.
Harry Gregson-Williams, creates magical and memorable music which enhances the ferocity of the battle scenes and the softness of the gentler ones. If you find that the story is a little disjointed (as that’s the most common criticism I’ve heard) the costumes and visuals are jaw dropping, the music is sure to please, the battle scenes make up for the meandering plot the plot, and if that doesn’t do it, there’s always Eva Green. All in all, it’s better than Troy.
The Right Stuff – Well this is probably on no one’s list of Epics but to me, this deserves a spot. For a time in our history (sadly before my time as I would have liked to witness it first hand) the space race was on nearly every American’s mind. It inspired TV shows/films, automobiles, restaurant decor and even music lyrics. But for a movie to recreate that abundant sense of national pride coupled with the drive to be first in space, a story that spanned a decade felt cohesive, fun and more importantly as exciting as seeing a man walk on the moon. Granted this is the story of those who came before Neil Armstrong, the look and feel (in visuals and dialog) was so convincingly vintage and genuine. Add to it the memorable and inspired music of Bill Conti, this movie truly shoots us “into the wild blue yonder”.
Star Trek – OK a bit of a change from the ones above, but this is most definitely a space epic for sure. Most films these days (especially space/ sci-fi films) can get away without practical effects and rely heavily on CG (yes, I’m looking at you Lucas). That only gets you about half way home in terms of selling the story but abundant CG is a major shortcoming and that’s where a film can fall very flat. To create something convincing, sometimes you just have to do it the old-fashioned way…bulid it all from the ground up.
Creating the sets, the famous “bridge”, miles and miles of pipes and cable to bring the Enterprise to life was a feat in itself. But all the visuals can seem rather bland without the right music. In the way that Michael Giacchino touches the hearts of the viewer with his PIXAR scores, his music here is engaging and takes off at near Warp Speed and really gets you into the film. Add to that the fine acting by a very diverse cast who seemed to channel the stars of the original series and make them fresh and exciting for newbies to the franchise. Hey, it all worked for me!
The Last Samurai – The more I watch this the more I fall in love with it. In a way this is exactly the same story as Dances with Wolves but not quite a doppleganger/rip-off. Few civilizations enchant me like Japanese and this film is a simply a visual feast. Again visuals only take you so far, and here Hans Zimmer, in one of my top 5 favorite scores of all time, captures the majesty and mystique of feudal Japan in a way that not only compliments the sets and visuals but in most ways, one ups them…and for a country that is that beautiful, that’s not easy to do. The costumes and armor looked impeccably accurate to the time and if I didn’t see the spread in Architectural Digest, I would have not known that many sets were not indigenous or authentic. Wow, could have fooled me. This film is astoundingly gorgeous and even Tom Cruise’s ego is dwarfed by the grandeur of this wondrous film.
That’s what we’ve got for Part I. Check back next week for Part II. Boy, dragging this out is starting to make this post feel, rather “Epic”. Sorry, couldn’t help myself:P