07 February 2013

The Disappearing Epic

Sprawling adventures with set pieces and large casts used to be available only on the big screen. If viewers wanted to watch a story that spans generations they had to go out for the evening and see it on the silver screen. It is no coincidence that, when taking into account inflation, five of the top ten grossing films of all-time are epics (#8 Doctor Zhivago, #6 The Ten Commandments, #5 Titanic, #2 Star Wars, and #1 Gone with the Wind).

Those evenings out have become less frequent as mini-series on television have over-taken the epic onscreen. The elements of one of the most famous epics of all-time, the Lord of the Rings franchise, are recreated on a weekly basis on HBO's Game of Thrones. Going to the theatre is no longer necessary to catch a story on a grand scale. Television has latched onto that market with miniseries.

With television, writers and directors do not have to sacrifice character for cinematic splashes of glory. David Lean had upwards of three hours to tell his stories, studio execs are hesitant to test the patience of viewers that long. Lawrence of Arabia couldn't be made today, a character study that takes place in the Middle East, especially a period piece? It would never happen now.

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