The above image appears in the final moments of Tarsem “Is it okay to call you Singh now?” Singh’s operatic and opulent visual feast and “Ode to a Grecian Urn” fantasia film that is Immortals. It’s an image a young boy conjures when he closes his eyes and imagines the Titans and the Gods duking it out in the clouds above, and it’s a magical cinematic moment you’ll wish there was more of in Immortals. When the visionary director focuses on the visions – like an earlier scene where the beautiful Oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) first touches our hero Theseus (an appropriately Superman ready Henry Cavill) and is set into a literal 3D tizzy of finely crafted and overt symbolism – it’s enough to make you thank the cinematic gods for Tarsem…almost.
So I was originally going to open with some revelation about a little known historical fact: Alexander the Great had a time machine that he used to go into the future where he met Salvador Dali, and naturally decapitated him. However, the decapitated head of Dali took on a life of its own and traveled to India where it met up with a little Hindi boy and began whispering the secrets of Alexander’s nightmares into the boy’s ear at night while he slept. That boy grew up to be Tarsem. Seriously, there are some critics who would have you believe Immortals is that kind of bonkers. Oh, if it only it were…but I digress…
The problem with Immortals is that Tarsem, who was so fiercely independent and original with his previous film The Fall, has been tied down by the studio and a big budget to deliver the generic goods. There’s not a sword-and-sandal cliché left unturned by Tarsem and his screenwriters, and it makes for a painfully banal storyline. Luckily Tarsem pulls out all the stops visually – from the Eiko Ishioka costumes (look at the headgear!) to the lighting and cinematography to the fantabulous set designs blended with CGI – everything is beautifully over-the-top and mesmerizing.
Unfairly marketed and compared to the inferior and more fetishistic 300, Tarsem is a far better director than Zack Snyder, though he sadly succumbs to the same obsession with slo-mo death blows. Luckily Tarsem has a keen sense of spectacle within a confined space and knows how to edit, frame and choreograph battle scenes so that they pulse with suspense even when the plot might not be making any sense. He also knows the importance of building actual sets (unlike everything Snyder does to turn film into a video game), though I wished he had done more location shooting (as he so brilliantly did in The Fall) and relied less on the green screens. The malevolence of his imagery puts him more in line with a Guillermo del Toro than it does with Snyder or Tim Burton, and he presents an otherworldly East-Meets-West pastiche that is unrivaled by his more purely Hollywood counterparts.
Tarsem is also clever with his casting. As the evil King Hyperion, Mickey Rourke makes for one beastly bad-ass hell-bent on world destruction and breaking one of the golden rules by gleefully killing the messenger every time. The normally wooden Pinto is picture-perfect as Phaedra, and Cavill has enough charisma to make a compelling hero out of the stereotype. The ridiculously attractive individuals playing the pantheon of the Gods are a little bit silly, as is every scene featuring the actual Immortals – but hell, nobody ever asked for realism from Greek mythology, and it all looks so damn good, so who cares?
While I would’ve preferred a more solid framework to the story – perhaps book-ending it with more of that childhood imagination stuff we saw in the closing moments – it’s hard to say that Immortals doesn’t deliver the goods in spite of its myriad of faults. Let’s be honest with ourselves – nobody goes to these types of movies for the plot or character development. We go for the visual spectacle…and Immortals certainly has that in spades.
If you like bloody battle scenes fought by good-looking people in ridiculously pageant-esque costumes that appear as if they were designed by an Ancient Greek scholar on LSD, then I’d be a fool not to recommend Immortals to you. It’s fleet-footed, weird and fun. For everyone else, you might be best served by waiting for the coffee-table book tie-in.
Written by David H. Schleicher
Seems we agree that this film is visually impressive and we agree that the screenplay is where there seems to lie most of the blame for Immortals’ faults. Like the review – and I, too, loved the headpieces!
Bobby – I was totally diggin’ on that Oracle chick with the giant dice headpiece. Athena and Apollo had some pretty stylin’ gear on their noggins as well. –DHS
It’s probably one of the best-looking films of the whole year (yet, I still haven’t seen Tree of Life) and the action is awesome and in-you-face which is something I always like. The story dragged on a bit and I couldn’t help but think that if the writing was a tweaked a little better, this would have definitely been a very solid film. Instead it was just fun and pretty to look at. Good review David. Check out mine when you get the chance.
I would say in terms of the pure cinematic visuals only, Immortals probably ranks behind The Tree of Life and Melancholia – though both of those films are light years ahead of it in the story (and deeper meaning) department. –DHS
A very fair review. I’m surprised you decided to review it. At least my first impression of this movie wasn’t too good because it released in India simultaneously and like you clearly pointed out it’s been unfairly marketed (even here in India) as a cheap-thrills visual spectacle movie.
But I have a better idea now and might catch a show. Wonder how good Tarsem would be if he would direct/create an Indian mythological epic rather than a Greek epic?
BTW, did you watch Spielberg’s Tintin? I’m a Tintin fan but am hesitant to watch Spielberg’s version and corrupt Herge’s version which is etched in my mind since childhood.
Prakash – I would love to see Tarsem go “whole-hog” on some grand Indian epic. From what I remember from Hindu mythology in college, some of those stories blow the Greek myths out of the water.
As for Tintin – the US (for a change) is the last major market where that will open. I believe it’s getting a Christmas release here. Tintin isn’t as well known a commodity in the States as it is in Europe and other parts of the world. From what I heard, it’s supposed to be very good – but I’m not a huge fan of that style of animation or kids flicks – so that will probably be a Netflixed movie for me. –DHS
Nice review! I had a little less patience for the shaky storytelling than you expressed, but I think fans of Tarsem SIngh will get what they came for.
And I’ve never felt compelled to look up and single out a costume designer in a review of my own before this movie. Eiko Ishioka better be nominated come awards season!
Julio – LOL – yeah Ishioka is like a rockstar. She also did the costumes for Bram Stoker’s Dracula for which she won an Oscar. She is definitely deserving again here. –DHS