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They Might Be Giants … Movie Review

epic film buster comic

The epic is a film genre just asking for someone to make fun of it. It takes itself so seriously, often assuming (in the hands of less capable filmmakers) that size and grandness, whether measured by running time or cast members or geographic locations or all of these equals artistic quality. For his first feature-length film, The Three Ages (1923), Buster Keaton pricked the balloon of the epic, specifically D.W. Griffith's Intolerance by telling three interlocking comic stories of courtship set in the stone age, ancient Rome, and modern times. While the film is not as inspired as Keaton's later work, it still features a number of effective gags, especially one in which Buster rides toward the camera in his beat-up jalopy. In one continuous shot, we see his car get closer, hit a dip in the road, and completely fall to pieces—fenders, wheels, doors, body, everything comes apart before our eyes. Buster is left holding the steering wheel, which he throws on the junkpile of his car in disgust.

Other comic epics also parody the staples of established film genres. Mel Brooks is the master of showing up such established pretensions. The History of the World, Part One (1980) may not be as inspired as some of Brooks' better efforts, but it brings a desire to satirize the epic to its series of sketches. The habit that started in the mid-sixties to create epic comedy through the story of some quest (as in The Great Race and its imitators) reached a new expression with The Blues Brothers (1980), the Dan Ackroyd/John Belushi musical-comedy about efforts to save an orphanage. The epic scale of Ghostbusters (1984) and its sequel (1989) comes from comically pitting a trio of intrepid paranormal investigators in this world against the spooks of another and from giving the final showdown proportions both apocalyptic and comic.

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