Take Black Star Riders - the band born out of the retired-again Thin Lizzy. Ahead of the album, a track uploaded to Classic Rock suggested a band sounding like Thin Lizzy but under a different name. Then I heard the album. Not so.
What you get is a band with its own clear identity, standing apart from what's gone before and demanding to be appreciated on its own merits.
It's kinda been like that with Epic. Only the other way round.
The trailer promised a bright, funny, fast-paced adventure with the added bonus that the 3D looked worth the extra cash. But that's not what you get, sadly.
The story is an attempt to make youngsters think more environmentally, as M.K. (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) moves back in with dad after her mum presumably pops her clogs (it's implied, but not dealt with explicitly, robbing the film of a bit more emotional bite). Dad (Jason Sudeikis) has ended up alone after becoming obsessed with the idea that there are tiny advanced civilisations kicking about in the woods. We're all connected, and don't you forget it.
Oh how people laughed at him. Right up to the point M.K. gets shrunk to their size and meets them all, realising she was wrong to doubt her dad all these years. It's sweet. Feels superficial, but hey, not everything can be Toy Story.
Sadly, the plot is the least of Epic's problems. In fact, while a bit smushy and safe, the plot is essentially fine. It's the other stuff.
For a start, some of the voice casting doesn't work. We have Beyonce as Queen Tara, queen of the wood folk (and singer of closing song, obviously), who sounds like she's reading words on a page rather than acting. Then there's Colin Farrell as Ronin (main soldier/bodyguard type) who carries with him an emotional burden. We know he does because he sighs a lot. He also sounds a bit like Gerard Butler, which isn't a good thing.
Then there's Christoph Waltz, a man I love. A great actor. A brilliant actor. See him in Django Unchained? He was ace. He does, however, sound a tad Germanic. Not a problem per se, but slightly out of place when the rest of your Boggin bad-guy army are clearly American. And so is your son. He's also not nearly evil enough. A deeper voice would have suited Mandrake so much better.
There are some high spots in the casting, though. Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith fame, or American Idol to you youthful sorts) is brilliant as the mystical keeper of the scrolls - and he gets to sing a bit too, which just makes a good thing better.
Then there's Chris O'Dowd and Aziz Ansari (IT Crowd and Parks & Recreation respectively for the TV watchers amongst you) who team up as Grub and Mub, a snail and a slug who have to look after the magical pod that will save everyone assuming Mandrake doesn't get it first.
These two deserve their own film. The jokes are childish, the action slow-paced (obviously), but the two actors are clearly having a ball with the dialogue and that just makes their scenes come alive. Honestly, 90-minutes of those two talking and you've got a brilliant kids' film. But enough of them, back to Epic...
Away from the characters, you've essentially got a film designed by committee. And not a committee brimming with original ideas. Avatar should be in the credits for inspiring so much of Epic, while George Lucas might want to take a look at the scene where young Nod (Josh Hutcherson) is bird racing against some bad guys for a frog who was trying to fix the race. It'll look more than a little familiar to him.
There's also the 3D and the animation.
In the case of the 3D, when it works (the deer stands out - stands out. Get it? Stands out. 3D. I'm wasted on here...) it's good, but too often the action is going past so fast everything just ends up a blur.
As for the animation - you know that thing that happens in Star Wars films (among others) where the actor is clearly looking at a thing that will be drawn in later so his vision isn't quite focused on the right place? How the hell do you manage to do that in a cartoon? Because it happens a lot. Queen Tara is talking to Mub and Grub yet seemingly looking at the middle distance. It's weird.
So, there's a lot wrong with Epic. I think I've laboured that point. So why didn't I hate it?
Because, despite getting bored (and it's only 100mins long), and despite feeling totally disengaged from the characters, two-thirds of the way through I suddenly found myself caring. Ronin's in trouble, M.K. and Nod are trying to save the day, and I suddenly realised I actually wanted them to. And I have no idea how that happened.
There had been moments of mild peril before (the mouse scene is good for that), and I hadn't felt anything. And then, from out of nowhere, I'm having an emotional reaction. It was bloody disconcerting, I can tell you.
After that, Epic is a lot more fun and the final 20 minutes romp along with the audience caught up in the action. It's as if someone else was called in to write a better ending and came up trumps. And given how many writers are credited at the end, that's quite possible.
After the screening, I grabbed the chance to ask the youngsters (who behaved impeccably throughout) who'd been watching it what they thought. It was good, but no Fast & Furious 6 apparently. Which is the very definition of damning with faint praise.
So, not an Epic fail, but sadly not epic either...
Now, go check out Black Star Riders...