Review: Epic

One of the oldest dreams of humanity is that there is another world within ours – maybe smaller in size, but larger in most other things. And while we dream of that grand world, thrilling with fear and with wonder, we sometimes dream of finding our way in. To judge by all the stories, it’s easier to enter by accident than by earnest seeking.

Epic – released into theaters just last month – is the old dream made new once more. Mary Katherine is a modern girl, from her cell phone to her broken home to her moniker “MK”. But she’s about to enter a world they could have told a story about a thousand years ago.

With a few additions. The snail and the slug – the comic relief of the movie – are thoroughly modern touches. Epic also makes a twenty-first century take-off of the “wise man” trope.

And these are only within the fairy-tale world. From without, the movie goes so far as to add sci-fi elaborations to its fantasy milieu – talk of the “ecosystem”, of another dimension. It employs a similar idea to what Terry Pratchett said of his gnomes in Truckers: They live faster.

For a movie, Epic is unusually complex. There are five story threads weaving together, at least four major characters whose stories are being told. In most of these characters there is some hint of cliche – the charming, high-spirited rebel, the obsessed scientist, the stoic warrior. Yet the movie deepens them with a sense of history and, with it, a sense of sadness.

The filmmakers handle their large number of characters and subplots expertly. They keep the pace up and integrate all into a cohesive whole. Nothing is irrelevant, nothing is wasted. Certain elements could, in a less full work, have been expanded upon greatly. I know that not everything was told, but I believe enough was.

Epic is a clean movie – surprising for any movie released in 2013, and especially for a DreamWorks movie. The story gives the action and the adventure you would expect, with the requisite dose of humor. More unusually, it draws its viewers into an elemental struggle between good and evil and sounds a light but pervasive note of sadness. Something, it seems, has happened to everyone.

Epic‘s crowning artistic achievement is the world it creates, realized with beautiful animation and with a sense of the grandeur, the peril, and the humor possible in such a world. Epic is an entertaining ride, and a satisfying tale, as it plunges into our old dream, the world within ours.

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