5 Epic Films Worth The Time Investment It Takes To Watch Them
Alfred Hitchcock famously said, “The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” I tend to agree with Hitchcock on that point, but there are a few epic films for which I will gladly make an exception (but only a few). When done right, an epic film is like no other–it is pure spectacle. But when done wrong, an epic can be a torturous slog for the poor soul who has committed to staying seated for the duration of a running time that often exceeds the three hour mark.
Happily, the five epics on this list all fall into the good category. They’re full of lush visuals, and they boast enough action and romance to keep even the antsiest of viewers enthralled.
Director David Lean delivers quality epics like no one else. Even though it was released back in 1962, Lawrence of Arabia is still breathtaking visually. Set largely in the desert, the film creates an atmosphere of dusty desperation and bloodlust that mirrors Lawrence’s inner turmoil as he becomes embroiled in the war. Peter O’Toole is mesmerizing in the title role; his performance is truly one of the best in film history.
His transformation from a cocky lieutenant to a battle hardened and slightly unhinged leader is at times difficult to watch, but it is worth every painful minute. By his side is Omar Shariff as Sherif Ali, and it is the immense chemistry and friendship between the two men that drives the film and gives it its soul. As epics go, Lawrence of Arabia is the standard by which all others are measured.
Yes, I’m cheating, but Peter Jackson’s trilogy is best viewed as one complete story. Frodo’s journey there and back again is timeless and beautifully rendered by Jackson and company. I would recommend it for the technical advancements it made for cinema alone, but the story of heroism and the lure of adventure stands on its own. Even though the last movie had more endings than Inception had dreams, it was impossible to lose patience with such expertly crafted and stunning films.
Laagan is a nearly four hour long Indian musical that is primarily about a game of cricket. It is also one of the best films I have ever had the pleasure of watching. It’s a David and Goliath tale at heart, Laagan tells the story of the residents of a poor village and their attempt to avoid paying taxes for three years by challenging a group of British officers to a cricket match.
The story offers up singing, dancing and a healthy dollop of romance with a heavy emphasis on the endurance of the human spirit. Like any good sports film, Laagan evokes strong emotions in the viewer. Even if you know nothing about cricket, the sheer force of the actors’ charm and the film’s moving story will leave you riveted.
Dr. Zhivago is another Lean directed epic, and like Lawrence of Arabia it has aged well. It is the definitive epic romance, thanks to the tragic tale of Lara and Dr. Zhivago. The characters find blips of happiness throughout the film, but war, spouses and fate conspire to keep them apart–which is good news for us because the angst only makes their love story better.
Lean re-teamed with Omar Shariff for Dr. Zhivago, this time giving him the title role and Shariff was more than up to the task to take. He carries us through a decade in war-torn Russia, breaking our hearts at every turn and making even the most cynical of viewers swoon.
The English Patient is a controversial choice, I know. Elaine Benes certainly didn’t care for it, but for me the over the top romanticism works. Director Anthony Minghella’s style is slow and luscious, lingering on desert sands and the ruins of the mansion some of the film’s characters take refuge in. The tale Ralph Fiennes’s Count shares with Juliette Binoche’s Hana makes up the bulk of the movie, but while his romantic liaison with Kristen Scott Thomas’s Katherine is certainly interesting, it’s not the best reason to watch the film.
That title goes to the side romance between Hana and Kip (Naveen Andrews). I swear the entire two plus hour running time of The English Patient is worth it just to see Kip’s idea of what a first date constitutes.
Those are five (well, technically seven) of my favorite epics. Which epics do you feel are worth breaking Hitchcock’s rule for?
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