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Epic (2013)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/20/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/25/2013

For over 18 years, computer generated animation feature films have been a very important part of the American cinematic landscape. As the popularity of the these films have grown, as has the technology behind the animation. No longer are we limited to a few characters moving against a vague background. These CG films have become incredibly detailed, creating whole new worlds which can be, should the animators take this route, photo-realistic. But, this raises a question -- Which is more important, the beauty of the animation or the story? Have we reached a point were style have overtaken substance? This is something to ponder while watching Epic.

Epic is set in a forest which lies near an old, dilapidated house. A war is raging in these woods -- a war which goes unnoticed by most humans. The Leafmen have fought with the Boggans for years. The Leafmen warriors, lead by Ronin (voiced by Colin Farrell) often find themselves at odd with the followers of the evil Mandrake (voiced by Christoph Waltz). The Leafmen live to help the forest grow, while the Boggans love to see everything decay and rot. It is now a special time for the Leafmen, as their Queen (voiced by Beyonce Knowles), is set to choose a successor. Meanwhile, the man who lives in the house, Dr. Bomba (voiced by Jason Sudekis), has dedicated his life to finding concrete proof that the tiny creatures in the forest exist. His work is interrupted when his estranged daughter, MK (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) comes to live with him. MK is walking through the forest at the exact moment that the Queen’s ceremony is ambushed and the power of the Queen’s pod (a bulb which signals the coming of a new era) shrinks MK down to the size of the Leafmen. Now, this confused girl finds herself in the middle of a war whose rules she doesn’t understand. With the help of a ne’er-do-well Leafman named Nod (voiced by Josh Hutcherson), MK will survive this ordeal and attempt to find a way home.

There’s no doubt about it, Epic is a beautiful movie. If you want to get an idea of how far CG animation has come, simply check out the incredibly detailed shots of the forest here, where we can see each leaf on the trees and every tendril of the ferns. The film as directed by Chris Wedge, the man behind Blue Sky Studios. While he’s had a hand in all of their films, this is only the third film he’s directed, coming after Ice Age and Robots (the latter of which is very underrated). His return to the director’s chair is a rousing success as far as the look of the film goes. He doesn’t shy away from long takes and dizzying shots which have the “camera” fly through the trees along with the characters. While the setting is a sea of green, there’s enough detail in the animation to give it layers so that it doesn’t becomes a green blob.

Given all of that, it’s simply too bad that the story in Epic isn’t as gripping. The film is loosely based on the book The Leaf Men (AKA The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs) by William Joyce, who may be the most prolific author who isn’t a household name, as many of books have been adapted into movies or television shows. It would appear that the six (?!) writers attached to this film took Joyce’s idea of warriors in a garden and added more layers to it. Unfortunately, those layers will remind many viewers of other movies, which is never a good thing. First of all, the idea of a human being shrunken down to discover a new world isn’t new one, but MK’s run-in with talking animals and forest-dwelling creatures is very similar to 1992’s Ferngully. Dr. Bomba’s search for the tiny creatures reminded me of the professor from The Spiderwick Chronicles, right down to his sketches and artifacts. The way in which everything Mandrake touches begins to rot and decay made me think of the Marvel Comics character Rot and Thrax from Osmosis Jones. Sure, no movie is original, but when you start playing spot the reference instead of paying attention to the story, something is wrong. (Something similar happened with Rise of the Guardians, which was also based on a book by Joyce.)

If you were to list the attributes which comprise a good animated film, Epic has most of them -- an interesting villain (a must); a sassy, but brave heroine; a cocky, but brave hero; funny sidekicks (voiced by Aziz Ansari and Chris O’Dowd); and a mixture of action, humor, and heart. But, while it has all of these ingredients, the movie simply never feels special and all of the dazzling animation in the world can’t change the fact that we know exactly what is going to happen, especially since we feel that we’ve seen it before. Epic is decidedly mediocre.

Epic does get kudos for the elbow joke on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, and the image is never overly dark or bright. Even in this 2D edition, there is a nice amount of depth and the characters are nicely separated from the backgrounds. The level of detail is impressive, as we can see the work which went into the animation. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The various sounds of the forest come through the stereo channels, showing off nice detail and separation. The surround speakers and the subwoofer really come to life during the action scenes and we can easily pick out individual sounds. All around, this Blu-ray offers a nice technical package.

The Epic Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Birds, Bugs and Slugs: Forest Explorer" (5 minutes) offers footage and facts on real-life forest animals. "Rot Rocks" (3 minutes) looks at how decay and rot can actually benefit nature. We learn about how insects learn how to hide in their surroundings in "Bugs of Camouflage" (4 minutes). "The Epic Life at 2 Inches" (4 minutes) explores the "physics of being tiny", by showing the abilities of the tiny Leafmen. "Mysteries of Moonhaven Revealed" (25 minutes) is a 7-part featurette which contains interviews with the creative team and the voice actors, as well as some concept art and some test footage. The piece examines the design of the characters and how they fit into the story. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.