Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Series of Genres: Epic

This blog is going to take a turn for the epic, or at least its contents will. That’s right, we are going to talk about Epic and Historical films this week. A genre that could be renamed, Sword and Sandal, for the attire the characters wear in these films. An Epic film is a story that is larger than life, even if the story was embellished upon. Most Epic films are rooted in historical events and follow a hero with an extraordinary life. That is the type of Epic films we are going to explore this week. Epics can come in many forms; Adventure films can reach epic proportions like in The Lord of the Rings. Even some War film can have an epic scope like Saving Private Ryan. Even though these are good films in the Epic genre, I want to focus more on the Sword and Sandal style of film. If you want to see my opinion on the Tolkien films, check out my top five franchises in the Adventure genre, here. For my opinion on Saving Private Ryan and other War films, stay tuned to this blog because I plan on writing about War films near the end of my genre series. This week I’m going to break away from my format because of the nature of Epic films. Epic films tend not to have sequels, so I can’t really give a top five list in the Epic genre. Instead of skipping the Epic genre entirely, I decide to compile a top ten list. One of the lists, I drew inspiration from is, WatchMojo’s Top 10 Sword and Sandal Movies, seen here. Let’s compare their list to my list:
  1. Gladiator
  2. Ben-Hur
  3. Spartacus
  4. The Ten Commandments
  5. 300
  6. The Passion of the Christ
  7. Conan the Barbarian
  8. Troy
  9. Clash of the Titans (1981)
  10. Jason and the Argonauts
  • Gladiator follows the life of Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe). Maximus is Roman General in Marcus Aurelius’ army that becomes a slave because of Commodus’ scheming plot against him and his family. While in slavery, Maximus used his military training to rise in fame as a gladiator. As a famous gladiator, Maximus was presented with an opportunity to fight in Roman Colosseum, which impressed Commodus himself. After learning that Maximus is the identity behind the gladiator, Commodus arranged a fight between himself and Maximus in the arena that ends with Maximus restoring his honor as a good man. This story is mixed with a healthy amount of epic gladiatorial battle sequences that were obviously inspired from other film on this list, including Ben-Hur and Spartacus. Both Russell Crow and Joaquin Phoenix showcase Oscar worthy performance.
  • Ben-Hur follows the life of Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston). Judah Ben-Hur was a rich Jewish prince who becomes a slave at the hands of his childhood friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), who happens to be the newest commanding officer of a Roman Legion. Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) offers to be Ben-Hur’s personal trainer as charioteer because he admires Ben-Hur’s determination and self-discipline. Three years later Ben-Hur becomes a free man learning Roman rule from Arrius, his now adopted father, which leads to him becoming a champion charioteer. Ben-Hur longs for more than fame and fortune so he travels back home to Jerusalem. On his way through Judea, Ben-Hur learns about a chariot race being held in honor of Pontius Pilate from an Arab sheik named Balthasar. Ben-Hur declines the offer to compete even after hearing his friend, now rival, Messala would be attending. In Jerusalem, Ben-Hur meets with Messala, in an attempt to free his mother and sister from prison. The two women concreted leprosy while in prison and were sent out of the city. The women didn’t want Ben-Hur to find out about this truth so they asked Esther, Ben-Hur’s love interest, to cover for them. Esther tells Ben-Hur that his mother and sister have died, which in turns changed his decision to compete in the chariot race.
  • Spartacus follows the life of a gladiator named Spartacus (Kirk Douglas). Spartacus and his fellow slave buddy’s lead a slave uprising against Roman rule during the events known as The Third Servile War. Spartacus and Ben-Hur paved the way for most of the film on this list.
  • The Ten Commandments follows the life of Moses (Charlton Heston). Moses was a Hebrew boy born during Pharaoh Rameses’ decree, to kill all firstborn Hebrews males. Since Moses matched that description, his mother decided to place him in a basket and float him down the Nile River. Pharaoh's daughter finds the basket with the baby Moses and raises the child as her own. Moses is seen as a “Prince of Egypt” and equal to Rameses II, his brother and rightful heir. Moses discovers his heritage and realized he belonged with his people. Moses defends the Hebrew slaves and is banished out of Egypt by the new Pharaoh, his brother, Rameses II. Moses and his family move to the desert and settle in the land of Midian. While attending to his flock Moses is contacted by the Hebrew God via a burning bush. God requires of Moses to save his people from Egypt. Moses returns to Egypt and kindly asks Pharaoh Rameses II to free the slave, he refuse. God answers his refusal in the form of ten plagues. In the final plague, God sends the angel of death to take the life of all first born males, not protect by the blood of the lamb. After finding his son dead, Rameses II free the Hebrew people, but only for a moment. Rameses and an army of chariots pursue Moses. They meet at the impassable Red Sea. Moses raises his staff and the Red Sea parts, allowing the Hebrews to cross on dry land. Rameses and his army follow, but are washed away by the sea. Moses climbs Mount Sinai to receive God’s laws, while away the Hebrew’s create a golden calf. Moses returns down the mount with God’s laws, The Ten Commandments, and see the calf. Out of anger he smashed the tables on the calf. After this event the Hebrew’s wander the wilderness for forty years, finally stumbling upon Canaan, the promise land. Not being able to enter this promise land because of his disobedience, Moses appoints as the new leader of the Hebrew people. Moses life has been told many times on the silver screen in films such as The Prince of Egypt, and Exodus Gods and Kings but, I personally think The Ten Commandments is the best rendition.
  • 300 follows the life of King Leonidas (Gerard Bulter) and his 300 Spartans as they battle King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his massive Persian army. This story is rooted in history, but heavily embellished upon. This film is based on the graphic novel with the same title written by Frank Miller. Frank Miller took the main players and events in the Battle of Thermopylae and created a story fitting for a graphic novel. One aspect of the film I like the most is the panel by panel accuracy.
  • The Passion of the Christ follows the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Jim Caviezel), or at least the last 12 hours of his life. The film focuses primarily on Jesus arrest, trial, and crucifixion. The film does a decent job at compiling the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) into a signal narrative. The film also sprinkles in references to other religious text in the Judeo-Christian belief, to paint a picture of Jesus as Lord and Savior. The film is fairly accurate in historical science. It does this by showcasing the Romans meticulous facilitation of crucifixions and the choice to use regional and historical languages, making The Passion of the Christ a quasi- Foreign Language Film.
  • Conan the Barbarian follows the life of Conan (Arnold Schwarzeneggere). Conan is a barbarian who witnessed the savage death of his parent's by the wizard Thulsa Doom. Conan becomes a strong man by working in the slave pits. He earns his freedom by winning numerous gladiatorial battles. As a free man Conan set out on a quest to avenge his parent death. Taking up a sword he finds in an ancient tomb, Conan cuts down his enemies, unless they are female then he may sleep them for information. If this classic 80’s sword and sorcery film doesn’t spark your fancy, then maybe the remake starring Jason Momoa will.
  • Troy follows the life of Achilles (Brad Pitt) as a hero in the Trojan War. Troy is loosely based on Homer’s Iliad, which is an epic that tells the story of the quarrels between King Agamemnon and Achilles during the Trojan War. The Trojan War is a great war in Greek mythology between the Achaeans (Greeks) and the Trojans. This war starts at the hand of Paris, a prince of Troy, abducted King Menelaus’ wife, Helen of Sparta. The Greek’s retaliate by setting in motion a siege upon the city of Troy lead by King Menelaus’s brother King Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. King Agamemnon recruits many heroes to fight along his side, including Achilles and Ajax the Greater.
  • Clash of the Titans follows the life of Perseus (Harry Hamlin). Clash of the Titans is another movie rooted in Greek mythology. In this story, Perseus is sent on many quests to fight monster including Medusa and the Kraken, in doing so, winning the heart of Princess Andromeda. To complete his missions, Perseus is guided by the gods and gifted a sword, a helmet, and shield. Zeus himself gives Perseus a flying horse named Pegasus. After Perseus victories the gods, honor him and his companions in the stars. What I like most of this film is the stop-motion animation used for the monster.
  • Jason and the Argonauts follows the life of Jason (Todd Armstrong) and his Argonauts on their quest to find the famous Golden Fleece. Yet another story from Greek mythology, Jason is tasked from Pelias to find the legendary Golden Fleece. Jason assembles a crew to help him sail the ship Argo, among them is the hero Hercules (Nigel Green). On their journey the men fight many monsters including harpies, a giant bronze Talos, a hydra, and an animated skeleton army. Another favorite Greek mythology, film caulk full of stop-motion animation.
I’m sorry that it has taken some time to post this epic blog. I plan on focusing on Fantasy film in the upcoming weeks. With that being said, I will talk about the Tolkien films again, because they made a great impact on both the adventure and fantasy world. I will wait until after the premiere of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies this coming Tuesday (December 16), to post. In the meantime, give me your thought on either epic movies or the Tolkien films, since that’s where we are going to next.

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