The Historical Epic And Contemporary Hollywood: From Dances With Wolves to Gladiator


This book, by a British film studies lecturer, tries to accomplish many things in its examination of the contemporary epic picture, though I wasn’t quite sure what its total aim was. A quick scan among the highest grossing movies of all time would lead one to believe the epic genre—big casts, historical plots, a dash of spectacle—is a surefire winner at the box office. The only problem is the outlay of money needed, and the sometimes risky prospects of return. When Russell examines his six contemporary “epics,” he is informative and generous with what his information may mean. Movies are examined not just in terms of performance but cultural significance, and what they portend for the future of movies.

Perhaps my biggest quibble with the book is Russell’s sometimes dubious choices for “epic” status. While very few people would begrudge sticking “Gladiator” on the list, I did find my eyebrow raising a bit at “The Prince of Egypt,” an animated film, and “The Passion of the Christ.” While Mel Gibson’s retelling of the Crucifixion does fit in with the historical template, it was a relatively low-budget independent film and does not fit easily into the “epic” category. The book does put its significance into context: an intensely violent movie with sometimes savage reviews that nevertheless was the highest grossing R-rated picture of all time. Hanging over the whole story is the guiding force of Steven Spielberg, whose name figures prominently in the movies discussed as well as the times that made them.

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(US) $29.95
(UK) £16.99

(UK) 9780826427991