Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
June 2013

Epic

Bite-sized 'Epic'

Blue Sky Animation's latest effort is hampered by thin characters and narrative shortcuts

Epic
20th Century Fox
Director: Chris Wedge
Screenplay: James V. Hart, William Joyce, Daniel Shere, Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, based on the book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, by William Joyce
Starring: The voices of Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, Chris O'Dowd, Steven Tyler, Jason Sudeikis and Beyoncé Knowles
Rated PG / 1 hour, 42 minutes
Opened May 24, 2013
(out of four)

I'm not sure if there's been a less accurate title in recent years than Epic. The word "epic" suggests something grand and sweeping in scale. But everything about this movie is small, from its miniature people to its exceedingly modest ambitions.

At least I think the ambitions are modest. If director Chris Wedge and his team of (gulp) five credited screenwriters were actually shooting for the stars with this one, then the movie fails in ways I haven't even considered. But no, I'll take it at face value, and assume that Epic is just what it seems - a small-scale adventure story on a small canvas. And based on that assumption, we can assume that the studio simply decided to slap it with the most deceptively nondescript label they could find, representative of neither the film's scope nor even its genre.

Ill-fitting title notwithstanding, Epic fails not because of a lack of magnitude, but because of the fleeting inconsequentiality of everything that happens. Nothing is done that can't quickly be undone, no character is in any danger from which they can't easily escape, no stakes are raised that aren't easily overcome. The film is pretty enough, but it's weighted down by the kind of lazy simplicity that's a disservice to both kids and adults.

In Epic, we have a mystical forest whose continuing survival is tied entirely to the fate of their queen - a perfectly strong (and familiar) conceit, undone in this case by the ease with which the queen can be found and killed. She is protected at all times by an army of "Leafmen" - led by the stern, noble Ronin (Colin Farrell) - except as it turns out, the Leafmen do about the worst job protecting anyone or anything that you could possibly do. If the Secret Service were this bad at their job, there would be assassinations constantly.

The death is necessary, as the film's premise rests on the fact that the queen dies and bestows upon a young girl the responsibility of protecting her successor in order to save the forest. Still, the film didn't have to get to that point so halfheartedly. That kind of laziness permeates every aspect of the film. The tiny forest creatures are under assault from the odious Boggans - led by Mandrake* (Christoph Waltz) - who hope to destroy the forest by spreading what they unambiguously call "rot."

* No relation to Lionel, I assume.

But Mandrake is no better a villain than Ronin is a protector. He makes the gains he makes because the plot requires it, and his plans are thwarted for the same reason. All the characters are treated this way, in fact - that is, with just enough care to make sure they fulfill their roles in the plot, and nothing more. For example, there's a pivotal development at the end of the film involving a peripheral character. Does this mean something to us in any way? No. The character is awkwardly shoehorned into a scene near the beginning just to be brought back at the very end in a presumably "emotional" climax, even though we have no relationship to this character whatsoever.

At a certain point while watching the film, even as I knew it must be drawing close to its conclusion, I was struck by how little ground it had covered, how little it had accomplished. The characters had all clicked into place when they needed to - but not because the film did any work to get them there.

And that's not even taking into account the ostensible protagonist, M.K. (Amanda Seyfried), whose journey toward discovering that her estranged, eccentric scientist father (Jason Sudeikis) isn't insane falls flat because they spend virtually no time together on screen. He has spent years convinced that the forest is populated by an entire civilization of tiny people, a fact M.K. discovers for herself when she's shrunk down to miniature size. But the narrative - something like a grown-up Alice in Wonderland by way of FernGully and Avatar - plays out more like a listless action movie than a character piece. Like so many other animated films these days, Epic suffers from the tendency to inject a lot of action for its own sake - to superficially present the illusion of perpetual motion when the story itself languishes to a standstill.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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