Another week and another remake is upon us at the Seattle Cinema Survey. It is as it ever was.
So on this edition of that regular bothering of local writers and critics, with Ben-Hur hitting theatres in a new slab of paint and effects, I asked; What’s your favorite historical epic?
The details beyond that were kept broad. The reply merely had to be based in actual world history or settings aka there are no such things as Hobbits.That said, to narrow my own reply down a smidge, I kept it to pictures that are, by cinematic standards, based on real events. Thus, a little classic called Lawrence of Arabia takes my epic cake. The Oscar winning David Lean work is genuinely breathtaking, with vistas for days hanging on the horizon and of a story detailing the trouble with civil wars, alongside the arrogant nations that believe such issues can be solved with their assistance. Peter O’Toole gives a performance I’d be cool with anyone calling the greatest of all-time, celebrating on the bones of toppled-trains here and suffering utter humility there.
Tim Hall of The People’s Critic @peoplescrtic
I’d have to go with Glory. I never heard of the 54th and what they did. It was the first movie that was truly a history lesson for me. The cast was amazing – Denzel was just getting his groove, Freeman was fantastic and Matthew Broderick was still a thing back then.
There’s the emotional scene when Trip gets flogged and the “Oh My Lord” pre battle song. The scene that gets me is when they tear up their checks.
Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
When it comes to the greatest historical epics of all-time, there’s a lot to choose from. You’ve got the biblical stuff, like The Ten Commandments and King of Kings; fictional epics, like multiple Ben-Hur adaptations and Master and Commander; as well as those (often loosely) based on actual history, like Aguirre: Wrath of God, Spartacus and Red Cliff.
Massive scale period pieces have been some of the biggest, most influential films in Hollywood history, but as far as favorites, I have to go with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Not only is it still hugely influential (later this year we get latest remake of The Magnificent Seven, itself an adaptation of Seven Samurai)—thematically and technically— but 60 plus years later, the saga of seven wayward ronin hired to protect a farming village is as thrilling and watchable as ever.
Watching Seven Samurai on a big screen, even today, is the goddamn dictionary definition of epic. And let’s be honest, I’ll watch Toshiro Mifune do anything.
Drew Powell of Queen Anne News/Drew’s Movie Blog
A tough question to be sure. Gladiator, Braveheart, and Spartacus come to mind. I did have the pleasure of seeing Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, which was quite an experience. Although I can’t say it’s a movie I’m dying to see again. So I’m going with Michael Mann’s breathless, stunning French and Indian war epic The Last of the Mohicans.
Right away Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti take advantage of the big screen as the camera swoops down into a mighty North American forest where it proceeds to track Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas as they chase after an elk. It’s one of the great film openings of all time. The Last of the Mohicans is a film of high emotion, rousing battle sequences, a magnificent orchestral score from Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, and superb performances, particularly the understated ones from Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye and Wes Studi as the villain Magua.
It does run out of steam in a few places…but then those final thirteen minutes kick in. Holy shit. Whenever I watch that final sequence, which takes place on a cliffside overlooking the forest, I always get chills and I always get choked up. It never fails. Sometimes I’ll watch the ending on YouTube; I guess when I feel like having a good cry. I remember one time in college I took a break from studying to watch it and ended up getting choked up in the middle of the library. Did I say one time? I meant like five times.
On top of all that, I grew up with The Last of the Mohicans. I remember watching it as a kid and being thrilled by the action scenes. In middle school it made me want to learn more about the real French and Indian War. I wrote a The Last of the Mohicans inspired story in 7th grade Language Arts. I bought a PBS miniseries about the war. All because of this Michael Mann film. It may not be Mann’s best film but it’s my favorite of his no doubt.
I have yet to see it on the big screen and I’m sure that when I do I’ll probably die from overexcitement but I don’t need to see it on a big screen to know it’s fucking epic.
Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @FilmJabber
Easy. Braveheart. No explanation needed.