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EPICS : Let's talk the big talk


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More often than not, I'm bored with long, over extended stories. GWTW is fine as long as the war rages. The second half is overblown soap opera. ZHIVAGO has it's socio-political moments. But the total package is pretty dull. Why, you ask, did David Lean switch from the intimate, literary format to large scale projects? My guess is, lots of money! A PASSSAGE TO INDIA could cure anybody's insomnia. But I like "River Kwai."


BEN-HUR is the best of this category. I enjoy a story that follows characters through many years if it's interesting. This one is. The action sequences are exciting, the inspirational moments stirring. TEN COMMANDMENTS is harmless if you don't expect too much. But DeMille showed more talent with less ambitious films such as THE PLAINSMAN and THE BUCCANEER. Less is more.


GANDHI. Oh, Lord. Great man. Great message. Long, boring movie. I went to the bathroom. There were guys shaving! I bet my favorite movie that year was 90 minutes and had a small cast.


Great topic, Brigid!

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I would say that there have been many films that have over the years been called epic. But in truth those films being called Epic weren't really epic at all. Not in scope or story.


Some films that have had wonderful stories are often called epics, like 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. Being that this is my all-time favorite film, I have never given any thought of calling this grand adventure story an epic.


Many films in the past that were filmed with biblical type storylines have in their very nature been turned into epics. Epic in scale is usually the term. Especially when the producer has thousands of extras for scenes involving the collapse of ancient temples or the building of enormous structures. I am thinking Cleopatra, Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments.


Many historical films have been made as epics. And even though a great biographical film like Patton may only cover a very short span of time, that is what I would call epic in scope.


So here is a list of films I would call epic:


The Birth of a Nation


The Ten Commandments

The Thief of Bagdad


The Iron Horse

The Big Parade

King of Kings



Gone With the Wind


Quo Vadis


The Ten Commandments

Around the World in Eighty Days

War and Peace

The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Big Country


The Alamo


El Cid

King of Kings

How the West Was Won

Lawrence of Arabia

The Longest Day


The Fall of the Roman Empire

Doctor Zhivago


The Greatest Story Ever Told

The Bible: In the Beginning


The Sand Pebbles

2001: A Space Odyssey

Once Upon a Time in the West


A Bridge Too Far



The Right Stuff

Once Upon a Time in America

Out of Africa

The Last Emperor

Dances With Wolves


Schindler's List



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One might say that a non-epic film has an epic length, or epic characteristics, or pretensions; but I think several things have to come together to call a film an epic film. I also think musicals are a totally different genre. And I strenuously disagree with the person who wrote that *A Passage to India*, which I consider to be David Lean's greatest film, is boring. I think with that film Lean finally mastered the visual language of cinema.

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Ahhhh, yeah. I know.


The reason is that I can't think of one musical that could remotely be considered an epic. Sure there are some wonderfully long musicals, like A Star is Born (1954) and The Sound of Music (1965), Fiddler on the Roof (1971), but not many others that would come close. In the end I chose to select biblical, wartime and historical films as my epics.

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I think most people consider epics to be films with a big historical subject,

taking place on a large canvas, with a big budget and a "cast of thousands,"

which also have a long running time. The extension of both space and time

seem to go together. Films that have a long running time, but deal with more

personal subjects, are not as obviously epics.



TBYOOL does seem to glide by and hardly feels like a three hour film. The

interplay between the stories of the three returning servicemen keeps things

moving along at a perfect pace. Her character is unsympathetic, and for the

most part, straight from central casting, but I still find V(HT)M to being very


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I would agree that most, probably all, of your list are epics. But, I see a few omissions... One of my favorite epics is *Heaven's Gate*. At 219m, I think it's about 20 minutes short. I'd have to call *Seven Samurai*, at 207m, an epic. I'd call *Fitzcaraldo*, at 158m an epic. One of my favorite films, *O, Lucky Man*, at 183m isn't what most people would call an epic, but it's scope is vast, so I would.


The length of a film doesn't matter to me, if it sustains, and uses its time. I'm sure there are 90m films that are too long, and some well over two hours that could be longer. I have watched all 450m of Bela Tarr's *Satantango*, okay, in two sittings... so length doesn't scare me.

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Well thank-you. I appreciate your comments.


This is just a list of what I would consider epics. Almost all of the titles I have included were produced by English and or American companies.


Many of these are my favorites.


Unfortunately for you, IMHO *Heavens Gate* is one of the worst movies ever filmed. The others I am not big fans of either. That is why they do not appear on my list.


But who knows in a few years my choices might be different.

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Of course I know that popular opinion of *Heaven's Gate* was very negative. A few years after its original release at 149m, I saw the 219m director's version in a theater. I was stunned. I find it to be the best epic film about the US in that era I've seen. Its biggest problem is that there are too many gaps in the last third. Thus, I say it needs to be 20m longer.

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h4. A Tentpole does not an Epic make.


Independence Day

2001: A Space Odyssey

Harry Potter series


Master and Commander




The Lord of the Rings


Dr Zhivago


Alexander Nevsky


As good and as sweeping a story of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it doesn't feel epic to me. But what of the Star Wars series?


Edited by: casablancalover on Mar 7, 2011 12:51 AM

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Let?s take a film like ?Shoes of The Fisherman? from 1968. This is a film that could have been considered routine or even an average major release. Instead, MGM decided on going the full distance in promotion and marketing. The film was impressively presented as a roadshow release. This was a film that cleverly utilized a vast amount of film footage from various other sources, incorporated into the usage of its widescreen vistas. Basically shot on location, the movie gave off with a high degree of an above average film, due probably in large part to the stellar cast and not so much the need to showcase so many different scenes with a vast amount of extras and there were no tremendous battle scenes. It was a modern story centered on the Holy Vatican, easy enough to find film of crowds and just about anything relating to the religious district in Rome. Adding a terrific music score by Alex North, having the expected overture, intermission and exit music, placed ?Shoes of The Fisherman? in the epic category. And, let?s not forget the souvenir program!


Despite all the extravagant efforts by MGM and moderately good reviews, the film failed to make an impact at the box-office. In fact, it?s ?roadshow? status ended quickly and the movie went into general release, in the hope of getting most of the investment back. This led to a misconception on the part of the film?s original ?roadshow? ranking. Going into general release, meant that the overture, intermission and exit music would be usually omitted. I noticed this when I went to see the film at a local drive-in theater, only to discover it had been cut or edited and turned out as a different sort of film from the one I had first seen during its original ?roadshow? engagement.


It?s believed by some historians that the situation of editing a ?roadshow? film began with the 1954 production of ?A Star is Born? and then this cutting of footage went into full-swing around the mid-1960s, leading towards the huge debacle that had doomed the 1963, 20th Century-Fox production of ?Cleopatra.? It?s been to this day that I?ve felt cheated about the editing and cuts made to ?Cleopatra? that have since never been rectified or the missing footage reinserted. The most obvious cuts were made to the ?Battle of Actium? segment. When the film went into general release, the historic naval battle would turn out to be the most constantly cut segment of the film, until today we have little in the way of anything that originally had been technically impressive and what audiences expected from all the fanfare that resulted from what was up to that time the most expensive film produced in the western world.


This mess of editing got really crazy, when in 1968 ?Camelot? went into general release. Here, the situation was very noticeable when the beautiful ?Follow Me? musical segment was butchered and a totally different atmosphere resulted in viewing the scene. About ? of the entire movie had actually been edited, until around the mid-1970s, somebody at Warner Brothers decided on re-release of the original ?roadshow? print that occurred at the once wonderful Plaza Theater in New York City. The new screening of ?Camelot? was surprisingly successful and everything about the movie was as fresh as when it first appeared in the late 1960s. This I think is a nice exception to this rule of cutting out footage in order to create a possible acceptance to a motion picture that wasn?t exactly a hit at the box-office. And, let?s not forget about what happened with David Lean?s masterpiece, ?Lawrence of Arabia.? Here too, we had a classic ?roadshow? epic cut beyond reasonable belief. Luckily, Marty Scorsese and Steven Spielberg saved the film and offered their support in its re-release and what a success it has been!

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I agree Lord Jim is so often overlooked and it contains marvellous performances by O'Toole, Kurt Jurgens and James Mason. Another epic I haven;t seen mentioned was THE SAND PEBBLES another film allowed to run 45 mins too long, but solid epic by any standards

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Folks, I find myself in the bizarre position of not knowing how to reply to my own thread ! There have been so many posts about: lists of people's favourite epics, definitions of "epic", comments on whether the term refers as much to length as to scope and subject matter - I'm overwhelmed, and can only thank people for contributing to this epic discussion (sorry, couldn't resist. I always go for the obvious word play.)


"Epics" that I have never seen but would like to are *Ben Hur* (both versions, why not? Although not back to back ! ), *The Sand Pebbles* (if nothing else, I'm sure I could handle three hours watching Steve McQueen), and *Patton* (because it's a film I've heard so much about.)


The thing about films that go over 2 hours (2.5, tops ) is, I tend to get bored and fed up with them. The problem is likely with me and my attention span, but I also get a feeling watching huge long epic movies that they are "showing off", that the director and producer often get caught up in making a big statement, in showing the world what they can do. Sometimes - not always, (I like to equivocate) - I feel a lack of connection to the movie because of this. Or maybe it's just that I probably would not like a real life person who sits on a horse and stares nobly into the horizon. They're just not ordinary enough for me. I dunno.


I'm the same when it comes to reading; I'm intimidated by any book over 500 pages. That's not to say I've never read a long book, just that these days, I don't want to invest the time it would take to read a long novel. Now, with long movies, the most time spent would be 4 hours, so I suppose it's hardly analogous.


Ok, let me put it this way: In general, I feel a story is told most effectively with economy. (Maybe I should take my own advice and edit my posts more.)

A lot can be said in 90 minutes.

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Your not wrong and your not alone mswonderly Every epic film I`ve seen (and I`vs seen most of them) could have been improved with a little judicious pruning of between 30 to 45 minutes.

*The Sand Pebbles* would have been improved if the camera had spend about 15 minutes less in the bar scenes, 15 minutes less of the film travelogue of the Chinese country side, 30 minutes lopped off that would never have been missed.

*Lord JIm,* I loved it but surely 30 minutes of the his personal pain could have been lopped.

Ben-Hur, 55 days, and all the rest of the epics were just too da** wordy sometimes for their own good.a few minutes here and there might have been a very good thing.


Edited by: stjohnrv on Mar 7, 2011 3:08 PM

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I thought of you several times this weekend while we were viewing the newest release of Robin Hood. I know, we're discussing "classic" movies, but this one is worth around 2-1/2 hours of time. You may not like the actors but the producer rarely makes a mistake, and this reworking of the Robin Hood legend is interesting, the cinematography is stunning, and the slant is ingriguing. ( I have never watched the TCM version scheduled for this month, but I would like to see it for comparison of history and plot.) This movie portrays again graphic violence but it is all essential to the movie's success. This is a period of history that never fails to fascinate me, and if the sujbect is well-developed and historically correct, all the better. I have very much enjoyed your dialogue, and hope you can view Ben-Hur at some point. I believe you would be pleased.

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My Top Epic's list:


1 Gone With the Wind (1939)

2 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

3 Ben-Hur (1959)

4 Spartacus (1960)

5 The Ten Commandments (1956)

6 Doctor Zhivago (1965)

7 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

8 Quo Vadis (1951)

9 Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

10 Giant (1956)

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> {quote:title=ValentineXavier wrote:}{quote}

> I agree with your other "tentpoles," but to me, *2001* is an epic, certainly far more than Star Wars, and LOTR.

I see your point, but for me 2001: A Space Odyssey is not such a sweeping story; there are many elements, but it tells the story unemotionally for me. When the character shifts to focus on Hal9000, and little is done to engage us more with the characters on the spacecraft with "him", the story sort of drifts into the final journey for Keir Dullea. I am not faulting the director either; Kubrick gave us Spartacus a great epic! 2001 is unique unto itself.


2001 is a great movie, and fascinating to watch, but I guess I mean it engages intellectually rather than emotionally. Epics engage me emotionally.


I take my coffee black, others prefer creamer. Neither of us are wrong, just different definitions for our coffee.

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