I love epic movies. In my spare time, I dream about the promise of the ultimate Hollywood movie in this genre. In fact, only Hollywood has the resources and the know how to do a great epic movie. In the many littered corpses of failed epics that I hated or felt deeply disappointed by, there are moments of pure brilliance. But despite an intense slate of summer blockbuster films, including Star Wars Episode III and a revived Batman franchise, there was something missing. There was no spark of imagination and no thrill in the movies for me. There hasn’t really a great epic movie for years.
Episode III’s plot was known to anyone with a passing knowledge of the film for years. It was a religious (Jedi of course) as much as it was a cultural duty for any self-respecting North American to pay pilgrimage to Star Wars. But as my review summed up, Episode III was something really special. It was a different kind of movie. It was George Lucas’ interpretation of a play we’ve had in our minds for decades, and it just so happens he got it right and he did it by being a great visual story teller and adding in the necessary connections to Episode IV we all wanted to see, or in some cases, didn’t expect to see.
But my gripe is different. Episode III was a fine movie, and so were Batman Begins, Sin City and War of the Worlds. But where are the epic movies? —The one offs, non-sequels, and movies that have no ambitions of a sequel. I’m asking for a single piece of film that tells the story of a great war that’s not dumbed down.
My short list of war epics that should be made includes a movie about Hannibal and Scipio in the great final showdown between Rome and Carthage during the Punic Wars. The Spartan stand and defeat at Thermopylae. Any number of battles during the Three Kingdoms period of Ancient China, and the great naval battles in the pacific (pick one, any one – Solomon Islands, Midway, Battle of the Philippine Sea, Pearl Harbor). I was plotting shots of some of these movies in my head when I remembered what Michael Bay did to Pearl Harbor and thought that all the above films would probably have to feature a sex scene, butchering of historical facts, flavor of the month actors (probably more Orlando Bloom) and sappy music.
Pearl Harbor aside, corpses of uninspired epics are everywhere; Troy, Alexander, and Kingdom of Heaven to name a few. Even Gladiator, still the best historical epic in recent memory, is marred by an overwrought revenge plot that Roger Ebert rightfully panned. Although I still loved the movie, watching Gladiator made me really want a movie about Rome’s grandeur, and only Rome’s grandeur and not Russell Crowe’s ego. I want an epic movie about a war that is centrally placed in the story.
Even in space, Hollywood can’t seem to deliver. After Lucas showed the world science-fiction can be more than ultra realistic Kubrick or cheesy Trek, with gritty world war II style aerial and fleet battles, no movie since has attempted to tell a story about two opposing factions locked in an inter-galactic naval and land war with any seriousness. The cloest anyone has gone to capture that spirit was Starship Troopers and FOX’s 1996 TV series Space: Above and Beyond, which like all good shows that wasn’t ruined by market research, was cancelled by it. What is in vogue in sci-fi these days are cheesy plots dealing with psychic soldiers, comic book adaptations, chicks with big boobs and great asses that need to spread their legs every 30 minutes, and something about a rebellion happening somewhere in an obvious
So what does that leave epic loving junkies like me? Taking screenshots from PC games Rome: Total War and Homeworld 2 to illustrate my points for one. But the sad truth is, I’ll probably end back in a theatre near you. I’ll pay my obligatory entry fee to the next epic just so I can sit through the next Maximus clone while I look at my watch and wait for the music to swell, and the armies to assemble and for the war to begin. Oh, that reminds me. Hollywood has also decided to make battles unintelligible. As if watching flashes of flesh and blood is supposed to be realistic. But that is for another rant.