(by Dustin Putman
Rule #1 for titling a motion picture: never provide false hopes to prospective viewers that cannot be lived up to. Directed by Chris Wedge (2005's "Robots") and based on the children's book "The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs" by William Joyce, "Epic" is an eco-friendly but overly familiar computer-animated adventure that owes a lot of its inspiration to 1989's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." What it never actually is, however, is epic, the picture marking its territory with a garden-variety feel and scope that never actually inspire any sort of awe, amazement, or genuine razzle-dazzle. It is especially unfortunate that "Epic" is coming to theaters one week after "Star Trek Into Darkness," which did fit the criteria of the word; stacked up against that dizzying crowd-pleaser, this one plays as a mid-level afterthought. Article continues below
When her mother passes away, sullen teenager Mary Katherine (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) goes to stay in the country with her eccentric father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), a scientist convinced that there is an advanced society of little people living in the forest outside. Mary Katherine, or M.K. as she likes to be called, feels neglected and thinks her dad has lost his marbles until she is magically whisked into the very universe he talks about. When Queen Tara (Beyonce Knowles) is killed in an accident brought about by the scheming Mandrake (Christoph Waltz) and his son, Dagda (Blake Anderson), the responsibility falls upon M.K.—aided by leader of the "Leaf Men" Ronin (Colin Farrell) and rebellious godson Nod (Josh Hutcherson)—to snatch Tara's stolen pod back from Mandrake and deliver it to the powerful Nim Galuu (Steven Tyler) by day's end. If they fail and a new heir is not chosen, it could mean the end to all that this miniature world knows.
How many ways can one write that a particular movie does nothing badly, but also nothing particularly well, that said film neither provides the aesthetic wow factor nor the emotional resonance that it so clearly hopes for? "Epic" is difficult to get excited about because there's nothing in it to aspire such a passionate response. When self-probed to recall anything that stood out as particularly strong, the only thing that came to mind was a haunting climactic shot of thousands of bats swarming in the night sky. Oh, and for such a generally serious-minded picture, Mub the slug (Aziz Ansari) and Grub the snail (Chris O'Dowd) are that rare comic relief who are actually funny (their motto: "Moist is what we do"), brightening up the proceedings rather than getting in the way of the central story at hand. The rest of "Epic" runs on the same straight line, workmanlike but terminally standard. Under the circumstances, it seems perfectly valid to wonder how a total of five screenwriters—Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember (2008's "Get Smart"), James V. Hart (2007's "The Last Mimzy"), William Joyce, and Daniel Shere—couldn't have come up with anything particularly original or special.
M.K.'s mission to save a hidden world that was right under her nose—there's some cockamamie explanation about how their world moves at a faster rate than ours, though why that would make them invisible to humans is never understood—consists of a run-in with a ravenous mouse, rides on insects and a buck's antlers, and a destination that leads to a caterpillar who performs an out-of-place musical number for no immediate reason. Bad guy Mandrake is a dullard, despite being voiced by the eclectic Christoph Waltz (2012's "Django Unchained"). M.K.'s romance with Nod, the two of them connecting over having lost a parent, is blasé, while her relationship with her dad is ho-hum because there's not nearly enough time spent with them together. Forgettable to the point where its memory begins to fade the moment the film is over, "Epic" diverts only in that it's not strictly a chore to watch. Faint praise, to be sure, and epically un-epic.Special Note:
With film animation (hand-drawn, computer-generated, or stop-motion, take your pick) so advanced, so sophisticated, and so typically beautiful today that the imagery looks three-dimensional in 2D, it is an insult to the behind-the-scenes craftspeople that their work is being hurt by studios' insistence on 3D theatrical exhibitions. As a result, the colors are dulled, the brightness level is severely dimmed, and even the depth somehow seems more narrow than if a person were to just watch it regularly, without bulky, uncomfortable, tinted glasses on. "Epic" is a particularly egregious example of a pointless, wholly unnecessary and ineffective 3D conversion harming a picture's visual integrity. The trailers for the film, seen in 2D, looked stunning and vibrant—a far cry from the 3D screening, which gave the picture the appearance of having been set out in the sun too long. Since it was a digital print, this obviously isn't the case, but it is a testament to the harm that can be done to a film's very dignity when 3D is badly used and incorporated for no good reason. The very idea that audiences have to pay a surcharge for such an inferior product is enraging, and all the animation artists who work tirelessly on these films should really put their feet down about what is tragically becoming of their finished output. Thank goodness for the eventual Blu-ray release.