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The Return of the Epic Film

The Return of the Epic Film: Genre, Aesthetics and History in the 21st Century

Edited by Andrew B. R. Elliott
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Return of the Epic Film
    Book Description:

    Explores the return of the ‘epic’ in twenty-first-century cinemaWith the success of Gladiator, both critics and scholars enthusiastically announced the return of a genre which had lain dormant for thirty years. However, this return raises important new questions which remain unanswered. Why did the epic come back, and why did it fall out of fashion? Are these the same kinds of epics as the 1950s and 60s, or are there aesthetic differences? Can we treat Kingdom of Heaven, 300 and Thor indiscriminately as one genre? Are non-Western histories like Hero and Mongol epics, too? Finally, what precisely do we mean when we talk about the return of the epic film, and why are they back?The Return of the Epic Film offers a fresh way of thinking about a body of films which has dominated our screens for a decade. With contributions from top scholars in the field, the collection adopts a range of interdisciplinary perspectives to explore the epic film in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-8403-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: The Return of the Epic
    (pp. 1-16)
    Andrew B. R. Elliott

    In the spring of 2000, some three decades after the well-publicised flops ofCleopatra(Mankiewicz 1963), The Fall of theRoman Empire(Mann 1964) andThe Greatest Story Ever Told(Stevens 1965), unsuspecting cinema audiences were once again presented with the lavish and costly historical epics which had ruled the box office a generation earlier. Ridley Scott’sGladiator, in a seemingly sudden departure from many of Scott’s previous films, told the epic tale of a Roman general-turned-gladiator ‘who defied an emperor’ and who (albeit posthumously) founded a new Roman Republic. Though few could have predicted it at the time, the...

  6. Part I Epics and Ancient History

    • CHAPTER 2 Sir Ridley Scott and the Rebirth of the Historical Epic
      (pp. 19-35)
      Jeffrey Richards

      It was Sir Walter Scott who, in the first decades of the nineteenth century, invented the historical novel. It was Sir Ridley Scott (no relation) who, in the first decades of the twenty-first century, reinvented the historical epic. Of Walter Scott’s medieval romances, Henry Beers wrote:

      Scott apprehended the Middle Ages in their spectacular and more particularly their military sides. He exhibits their large, showy aspects: battles, processions, hunts, feasts in halls, tourneys, sieges and the like. The motley medieval world swarms in his pages, from the King on his throne down to the jester with his cap and bells...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and America since the Second World War: Some Cinematic Parallels
      (pp. 36-56)
      Kevin J. Harty

      The Founding Fathers clearly looked to ancient Rome as a model for their new American republic. A 2009 exhibition at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia traced the classical Roman influence that shaped the American nation from its founding through its growth and expansion to the present day, noting that the lessons which the rise and fall of Rome offered fuelled both ‘the hopes for national greatness and fears for the fate of the American republic’.² Those same Founding Fathers consciously rejected Greek models in favour of Roman ones, and the lasting influence of Rome continues to be felt in...

    • CHAPTER 4 ‘There’s Nothing So Wrong with a Hollywood Script That a Bunch of Giant CGI Scorpions Can’t Solve’: Politics, Computer Generated Images and Camp in the Critical Reception of the Post-Gladiator Historical Epics
      (pp. 57-73)
      Mark Jancovich

      In 2001, Ridley Scott’sGladiatorwon the Academy Awards for Best Actor and Best Picture. However, on its original release, it was not the critical success that one might assume in retrospect. On the contrary, many of the most respected mainstream publications gave the film lukewarm, and in some cases overtly hostile, reviews, a situation that demonstrates the ways in which critical judgements can change over time. The following chapter is a study of the reception of the cycle of films that followedGladiator, films that were understood as resurrecting the epics of the post-war cinema which includedThe Ten...

    • CHAPTER 5 Popcorn and Circus: An Audience Expects
      (pp. 74-92)
      Robert Stow

      In early 2010, I watchedGladiator(Scott 2000) with a friend. While discussing it afterwards they asked me how accurate it was and why I thought they had changed things. The discussion got me thinking; I was aware that the re-creation of the ancient world in film was a popular area of research among classicists but was often discussed in relation to arguments and debates about the potential of cinema and film as an educational tool.¹ Martin Winkler’sGladiator: Film and Historyis a prime example of the academic’s analysis of historical film; a series of works by professors at...

  7. Part II Epic Aesthetics and Genre

    • CHAPTER 6 Colour in the Epic Film: Alexander and Hero
      (pp. 95-109)
      Robert Burgoyne

      Charged with symbolic meaning and laden with cultural associations, colour is one of the emblematic devices of the epic film, conveying stylised messages of sexuality, race, and power in ways that sometimes overwrite the genre’s ostensible themes. A key feature of the genre since the appearance of the tinted and stencilled Italian epics of the 1910s, colour technology and design constitute a direct line of formal innovation that extends from the earliest iterations of the genre to the exalted colour symphonies of the present. The significance of colour in the epic, however, has largely been ignored. Although chromatic design communicates...

    • CHAPTER 7 Defining the Epic: Medieval and Fantasy Epics
      (pp. 110-128)
      Paul B. Sturtevant

      Before embarking on a discussion of the contemporary epic, its characteristics, tropes and sub-genres, it is crucial first to define what we mean when we call a film an ‘epic’. Taking examples only from the medieval and fantasy sub-genres from the period roughly drawn betweenFellowship of the Ring(Jackson 2001) andThe Hobbit(Jackson 2012), we can see that there exist a handful of clear, easily agreed-upon examples of the genre:The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King(Jackson 2003);King Arthur(Fuqua 2004);Kingdom of Heaven(Scott 2005);Arn(Flinth 2007—8); andRobin Hood(Scott...

    • CHAPTER 8 Special Effects, Reality and the New Epic Film
      (pp. 129-144)
      Andrew B. R. Elliott

      The centrality of special, visual and digital effects to the epic film is — even at first glance — undeniable. The return of ancient subjects to the big screen, the focus of this book, has gone hand in hand with technological developments which allow for ever greater renditions of architecture, crowds, forums, panoramas and battle sequences, creating a new cinematic vocabulary which in part uses stylistic embellishments which were unavailable to earlier epics — high-definition, digital surround sound, post-production effects, etc. — and in part resurrects showy set pieces which have always been a standard ingredient for the epic film, but which are here...

  8. Part III Epic Films and the Canon

    • CHAPTER 9 Pass the Ammunition: A Short Etymology of ‘Blockbuster’
      (pp. 147-166)
      Sheldon Hall

      This chapter stems from my long-standing interest in the etymology, or linguistic history, of film-industry and showbusiness terminology or slang. In particular, my interest is in the origins and use of the now-ubiquitous word ‘blockbuster’. Its use today – indeed, overuse – tends to be in connection with what I and Steve Neale, in our bookEpics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History, refer to as ‘unusually expensive productions designed to earn unusually large amounts of money’¹ – that is to say, films which are not just exceptionally successful box-office hits but those which arespecifically intended to be so, and are budgeted,...

    • CHAPTER 10 Epic Stumbling Blocks
      (pp. 167-187)
      Saër Maty Bâ

      Space, entity or knowledge is (a) nowhere or now/here — as Fischlin and Heble claim, it is ‘the here and now of conventional knowing’ — for it embodies an ‘elsewhere that is the “other side” to that “nowhere”’.² The ‘epic’ film/cinema³ is such a space/entity/knowledge, embodied with humanist potential of planetary proportions. Yet two interconnected stumbling blocks, which constitute this chapter’s main focus, prevent this humanism from reaching the other side of the epic’s nowhere: (1) how that planetary possibility has been constructed, and (2) opaque whiteness.⁴ Opacity signifies: the other side of transparency; an obscurity through which whites represented on screen...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Greatest Epic of the Twenty-first Century?
      (pp. 188-200)
      Deborah Bridge

      Between the first and last instalments of this series, an entire generation grew up. Totalling some twenty hours, it is unprecedented in length; it features a protagonist who embodies all the characteristics of an epic hero; it includes many special effects, some of which are filmic firsts; and it tells a mythic story that narrates one of the most common epic themes — the struggle between good and evil. However, there is hardly a breath of a mention of these films in all the critical material on modern epic currently available.

      The series? Harry Potter, of course.

      Although there is an...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Ramayana and Sita in Films and Popular Media: The Repositioning of a Globalised Version
      (pp. 201-215)
      Aarttee Kaul Dhar

      The Indian epicRamayanahas its place among the greatest epics of the world. It is omnipresent, found in language, art, culture, literature, ethics, festivals and ceremonies. It is not just an epic but a tradition. Sita—Ram is not just the epic couple; Ram is the ultimate male, and representations of Indian womanhood are grounded firmly in Sita, making Sita—Ram together integral to the Indian subconscious. It is impossible to conjecture its origin, as it existed in an oral form for an unknowable period of time and evolved as an environmental and socio-cultural process, as not just a...

  9. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 216-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-230)