The Fall of the Roman Empire is one of the films examined in the TCM special.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Premiering on Turner Classic Movies without the usual fanfare, The Gigantic World of Epics is a truly superb one-hour production produced by Dreamworks and filmed by the ubiquitous Laurent Bouzereau. The special manages to condense the genre of Hollywood epics into a coherent, though far from comprehensive, study. Bouzereau wisely concentrates on a select number of films including Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Doctor Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai among others. There are intelligent commentaries by noted film historians and technicians as well as directors Kenneth Branagh, Steven Spielberg, John Milius, along with actors such as Martin Landau and Omar Sharif and Fraser Heston, son of Charlton Heston (who provides some tantalizing glimpses of the family's home movies on the sets of some of these epics). The show traces the emergence of the epic with D.W. Griffiths The Birth of a Nation -a film that remains mired in controversy. It's impact on the film
industry was beyond dispute, but its blatantly racist script was
divisive even upon its initial release.
All of the participants tell stories about how specific epic films influenced them personally. For Spielberg, it was seeing DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth - the first movie he ever attended. Among the most amusing anecdotes are those told by Omar Sharif, who blatantly contradicts Spielberg's observation that he gave his best performance as Dr. Zhivago. Sharif says he still thinks his performance was "terrible". Such candor is virtually unheard of in the film industry, and Sharif follows it with a very funny anecdote about how he began cockily strolling to the stage to accept the Oscar for his performance in Lawrence of Arabia only to hear Ed Begley's name called out half way to the podium!The show also includes some great insights from William Bronston, son of epic movie producer Samuel Bronston, whose mad obsession with making movies on a grand scale resulted in the financial debacle of The Fall of the Roman Empire - a wonderful film that ironically paralleled Bronston's own decline and fall.The show has one fault - it should have had an epic running time of three hours to do justice to all the films that are not covered. However, this is one you won't want to miss. Click here for press release about the program and check the TCM schedule for future showings.