Monday, 10 June 2013

Movie Review: Epic (which actually is)

This past Saturday, I saw Epic, the new movie from Blue Sky Studios. First off, in case there is any confusion, this is a movie marketed at kids. I am a firm believer in C.S. Lewis' dictum that a children's story which can't be enjoyed by adults is a bad children's movie. Second, everyone should read this review, by Stephen Greydanus; I don't agree with everything he says, but he says a number of things rather well.

I have to say, on the whole, I loved this movie. On the other hand, there were a few things I hated, including one which bordered on unforgivable.

Mild Spoilers from here on: The basic story: a forest is the seen of an on-going epic struggle between the heroic leaf-men (a bit like a cross between the Jedi and Tolkien's rangers) who seek to preserve the life of the forest, and the boggans, who seek to lay the forest to waste. Humans are unaware of this partly because sides take care to conceal themselves from “stompers” as they call us and also because both sides are only inches tall.

Near the forest lives an eccentric professor who has destroyed his career and his marriage with his monomaniacal determination to prove these creatures exist. His ex-wife has just died, and his teenage daughter Mary Katherine (she prefers MK) is coming to live with him. On the relationship between the two, I have nothing to say, read Mr. Greydanus, he says it all.

The leaf-men are servants of a Queen Tara, the source of life in the forest, without the Queen, the leaf-men can't do there jobs and the forest is doomed. Tara is beautifully animated and drawn and there are a number of scenes which show her the centre of a wonderful pageantry. She is the perfect embodiment of what the queen of a mystic realm should be... until she opens her mouth, at which point I begin to wonder if anything could be more seriously deficient in gravitas. There is one scene when the (oddly named) leaf-man general Ronin kneels before her, every inch the archetype of the valiant, yet humble warrior, the queens response is to make fun of him. Modern Hollywood, it seems, can not to hierarchy or gravitas.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, there is an ambush, involving boggans, M.K. Who happens to be passing by, is mystically shrunk to the size of a leaf-man and, next thing we know, M.K., Ronin, a young leaf-man name Nob and two comic-relief gastropods are on an epic quest to save the life of the forest.

Mr. Greydanus, and a number of other critics, have criticised what they see as the lack of individuality in the main characters. I feel I must disagree. It's true, these are not the deepest or most well-rounded characters I've seen, Mr. Greydanus' phrase is “generic archetypes”, but, here;s the thing. I think they are such good, solid, realisations of their archetypes. Ronin (aside from his name) is the embodiment of what a brave, loyal warrior ought to be, Nob captures both a wonderful free-spirit and the journey of a boy reluctantly embracing the duties of man-hood. M.K. Is harder to describe in archetypal terms, but her banter with Nob frequently reminded of similar banter between Han and Leia.

Slightly less mild spoilers. I said earlier that, when Tara spoke, I wondered if anything could be more deficient in gravitas; unfortunately, the movie answered my question. About midway through the film, we come to the house of Nim Gallu. Nim is,the librarian who keeps the scrolls of knowledge which record, in full, the history and wisdom of the forest. I was prepared for such a character to be eccentric, even for him to be played for a certain amount of comedy. What we got, however, was just awful; a jazz singing glow-worm played by Stephen Tyler. Seriously; memo to the script-writers, the keeper of wisdom is an archetypal figure deserving of way more respect than this.

Heavy Spoilers: The film climaxes in an appropriately epic battler in which M.K., with some help from her dad, manages to save the day. I have to say, however, I was annoyed by one thing. Ronin, who had earlier sacrificed himself to enable the others to get away, and was left fighting for his life against impossible odds, suddenly turns up at the last minute to battle the head boggan. This was vaguely reminiscent of Gandalf in Moria, but there Gandlaf's sacrifice and return had a fundamentally transforming effect on him, as well on those around him, here it just seemed mindlessly deus ex machina. I was especially annoyed because, when Ronin seemed dead, I thought it a bold move for such a central and likeable character to be killed that way. I know, I know, this is a kid's film, but I think a battle of this magnitude needed causalities on the good side as well as the bad.

The movie had some real faults, typical really of the culture in which it was made, but I still liked it. If the story-telling doesn't exactly break new ground it was, for me, a reaffirmation of the value of traditional themes in storytelling.

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