Saturday, May 25, 2013

Epic: A Review

"Fight for you and me
Look into my eyes and believe"

Rise Up (2013) by Beyoncé

This review contains epic spoilers.

There are cartoons and then there are animated films. All cartoons are animated but not all animated features are cartoons. On this note, I want to talk about a little film with a big name which I just saw with my wife a few hours ago.

Epic Film Poster
The Epic teaser poster.

Epic had been in my peripherals since it wormed into my ears and consciousness a year ago in the form of Snow Patrol's The Lightning Strike's ponderous piano keys, but like all of Blue Sky Studios' animated films (Robots, Rio and the Ice Age film series), they always ended up crashing on the worn couch at the back of my head till I see their titles turn up unexpectedly on the rosters during my daily cinema schedule survey. You see, Blue Sky Studios, unlike Pixar or Studio Ghibli, makes cartoons - and I find it impossible to take something seriously enough to mark it on my calendar when it has no intention of taking itself seriously at all.

Epic makes the promise to be better than that.

I walked into the cinema knowing only the basic premise of the film: it is about little forest people living right beneath the huge noses of us Muggles, or Stompers as the fairy-folks call us. Professor Bomba is one such Stomper who had dedicated his life's work to studying and collecting evidence of the existence of these diminutive sylvan beings. He pursued them to the point of desperate obsession. His wife left him. His daughter, Mary "MK" Katherine, thinks he is a madman chasing delusions. There is power in tragedy, but the film - to its own detriment - prefers to treat his arc as an afterthought and reduces Bomba to a largely comic role

MK (Amanda Seyfried) travelled to her obsessed father's house at the edge of a forest hoping to reconcile with him, but all her efforts were thwarted by the wall of constant distraction Bomba had carelessly build around himself brick-by-crazy-brick over the years. His eyes are unfocused and his mind wanders through the woods when he is not physically in them. Disappointed, she left a post-it note on one of her dad's surveillance monitors - one of the only places she knows he would look - before walking out of the house.

Then, the power of a three-legged plot point compelled Seyfried to run deep into the woods where she met a dying Queen Beyoncé, a Mother Nature-like avatar of the living forest, who promptly reduced the teenager down to size and charged her with the quest of carrying a McGuffin to caterpillar Aerosmith Steve Tyler's abode. Two Leaf Men and two comic relief gastropods joined her. Adventure ensues.

Collin Farrell as Ronin.

Besides Seyfried's and her dad's relationship subplot, there is also some significant backstory between the silver-haired Obi-Wan, Ronin Farrell, and the orphaned reluctant hero slash cocksure rookie, Nod Hutcherson. There is also a hint of romance between Queen Beyoncé and Ronin Farrell, but all of these were treated more like obligatory character flavouring rather than how you expect a film called Epic would treat them. As a result, the characters are all weightless paper dolls going through the motions of the story and I simply could not care less about their fates. I refuse to dignify the characters with their proper in-universe names because they aren't real characters anyway. In the case of Aziz Ansari, he is essentially playing a slug version of the same annoying character he plays on Parks and Recreation (though I must admit that he did manage to draw the most laughs for the film).

The strength of the film lies in its world-building and it is the only aspect that managed to live up to the movie's name. Within it holds the promise of discovery and I would gladly pay to see the sequels, if any is planned, just to immerse myself in this world again and learn more about the factions, the creatures and the forces that govern their livelihood. Steve Tyler's magic archive that records everything that ever happened is one of those things that fascinate me and the screenwriter cleverly used it to allow the dying Queen Beyoncé to record a message for Seyfried when she finally arrives there. There are also ingenious touches of details throughout Epic which really sold it to me like Dagda's ratskin cloak. When he moves in it, he scurries on all fours looking exactly like a real live rat. A dragonfly-borne boat made out of lily pads woven together would unfurl artfully into a flat platform as it lands on water. The foul arrows of the imp-like Boggans that raises galls on any tree they land. All great imagery.

There is also an amazing moment when Nod Hutcherson and Seyfried encountered a stag in the forest. The animators managed to get it to invoke a sense of gigantic majesty as it approached the tiny pair, making it seem more like a massive fantasy creature like a dragon rather than just a regular old deer.

The most memorable sequence by far in Epic for me was when Queen Beyoncé travels to a pond to select a flower bud for a revival ceremony for the forest. She appears to walk on water as stray duckweed would gather under her feet, keeping her and her trailing petal gown afloat. Then there was the ambush by the Leaf Men's enemies when millions and millions of imp-like Boggans camouflaged on a tree wearing tree-bark armour broke cover to attack - followed by the Queen's awesome dash through the undergrowth as she was pursued by the Boggans while she uses her ability to manipulate plant life to take out her pursuers as she flees. Subsequent action scenes would try and fail to live up it.

Speaking of Beyoncé, the song she supplied for the credits was excellent. I had it on repeat while writing this review.

Epic Mandrake
Christoph Waltz as Mandrake.
The bottom line is: Epic is a very good film, but it isn't great - which is unacceptable for a movie with such an overt ambition for epicness. The worst thing about films such as this one is that I can clearly see how much potential for greatness it had in it. This movie should have been 30 minutes longer to flesh out the characters and their subplots - perhaps then the Queen's death, and Bomba's vindication of his life's work and reconciliation with his daughter would carry more gravity. Nod Hutcherson's character (along with Pit Bull's toad mafioso) should be pruned entirely because he is less plot-relevant to the story than Aziz Ansari's slug character (this is not hyperbole). More focus should have been placed on the motivation of Christoph Waltz's Big Bad character, Mandrake, and his desire to bring his son back to life by subverting the enchanted bud.

Perhaps then, Epic would finally live up to its boast.

Lamenter of missed opportunities,
k0k s3n w4i

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