The Epic in Film: From Myth to Blockbuster

Some of the most revered movies of all time and of all types fit into the category of epic. However, little has been written about the epic as a genre on itself. In The Epic in Film: From Myth to Blockbuster, Constantine Santas “purports to place the study of the epic film in its broader context, exploring its roots in the long literary tradition of the West and numerous other cultures, a tradition that the epic film has adopted and expanded upon in format and content.” (vii) Santas, an expert in Greek literature, discusses epic films in terms of classic myths and heroism and argues that, given their often bloated budgets and huge audiences, they represent, at a given time, a culture’s “aspirations, hopes, fears, and other collective emotions and feelings” (2). Epics also represent advances in technology, such as special effects and digital photography, serving as markers of the time. The enduring popularity of the epic, writes Santas, “can be explained largely by its ability to preserve and re-create mythical patterns and thus remain in touch with the deeper wishes of national identity.” (4).

After an initial chapter exploring the classic literary form, Santas chronicles various types of epic films: mythological, religious, historical, women-centered, comic, and others. Each chapter defines and epic subcategory and offers and in-depth analysis of a few key films, with other suggested films for study. A chapter on the antiepic, for examples details Day of the Jackal (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), and Fight Club (1999), and more briefly explains and recommends nine others, including The Third Man (1949), Breathless (1950), Dr. Strangelove (1980), and Schindler’s List (1993). This organization makes for a book that would be an appropriate text for a course on epic films.

The Epic in Film is well written and manages to provide meaty criticism, information on current DVD sets, and useful bibliography in a compact volume. It is recommended for anyone who has been caught up in one of Hollywood’s most majestic genres.

Kathy Merlock Jackson
Virginia Wesleyan College
The Journal of American Culture