Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
November 2011


This is madness

Tarsem's 'Immortals' is a charmless visual feast, but a visual feast nonetheless

Relativity Media
Director: Tarsem Singh
Screenplay: Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides
Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, John Hurt, Isabel Lucas and Joseph Morgan
Rated R / 1 hour, 50 minutes
(out of four)

We were all thinking the same thing. The trailer for Immortals would pop up and we'd say to ourselves, "Hey look! It's 300 Part 2!" For the tasteful among us*, this was a worst-case scenario. Another monotonous exercise in hyper-stylized, barrel-chested, Greek machismo?

Well, hardly. Oh sure, it's extravagant and Greek and all that - and, yes, barrel-chested - but monotonous it isn't. Director Tarsem Singh - or simply Tarsem, if you prefer; or Tarsem Singh Dhandwar; really, you can call him anything you want as long as you fit the word "Tarsem" in there somewhere - isn't content to reduce his vision of Greek mythology to one or two visual ideas and indulge them for two hours. No, this is the guy who made The Fall and The Cell - movies hardly lacking in visual dexterity.

Immortals follows suit, with Tarsem offering an extraordinary spectacle of celestial beauty and grimy, mud-splattered ruggedness, its contrasts perfectly exemplifying the struggle between light and dark, Gods and Titans. Splashes of red - the ribbons of CGI blood (one of the rare instances in which digital blood works to a film's advantage instead of distracting from it), the crimson robes donned by the oracle priestesses - provide something of a balance between the gold and silver of the former and the rusty brown and charcoal of the latter.

It makes for exceptional filmmaking, its designs and setpieces making up for the obvious fact that there was so little care given to the story (which is just a simplistic concoction of Revenge! Prophecy! Courage! Honor! that really isn't intended to make a lot of sense).

But while the film's superiority over its predecessor-in-spirit, 300, is obvious, the two share a fatal flaw in common - one that turns Immortals from a lush moviegoing experience into an aggravating curiosity - and that is the complete joylessness and humorlessness that pervades every scene.

The film simply refuses to have any fun. Characters rarely (if ever) crack a joke, let alone a smile. Must all Greek warriors wear a perpetual scowl? Must all Gods be so straight-faced and noble? Why so serious, fellas?

It was more egregious in 300, which was basically professional wrestling with video-game backgrounds - only absent the tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. For anyone who doesn't like to be force-fed someone else's desperate idea of masculinity for two hours, the movie was a difficult slog. Immortals doesn't pile that on quite as much, but any semblance of a sense of humor may have made this a bold, madcap extravaganza instead of a self-serious would-be epic.

The story, such as it is, revolves around a Heraklin king, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), declaring war on the Gods and going in search of the all-powerful Epirus Bow, and the poor, noble warrior Theseus (Henry Cavill) trying to stop him - while, naturally, satisfying his own quest for vengeance. Theseus has been training for greatness from childhood by a mysterious and sage-like old man played by John Hurt. (I can only assume Liam Neeson was unavailable.)

Freida Pinto, magnificent as always, plays the virgin oracle Phaedra, whose prophecy doesn't bode well for Theseus; and Stephen Dorff co-stars as a thief who tags along with those two lovebirds because . . . well, because he's got nothing better to do. And then there are the Gods, who insist that they cannot directly interfere with human affairs but repeatedly do so anyway.

There's so much great stuff to take in during Immortals, it's all too tempting to forgive its many cinematic trespasses. And to be perfectly honest, to a large extent I did just that, taking it all in as a brilliant, idiotic folly. But the one thing I can't forgive is the same thing I can't forgive in people: no sense of humor. On its face, the film is pure nonsense, which would have been fine if only it didn't treat its subject matter with all the gravity of a profound epic drama. A little bit of levity would have gone a long way.

* Oh, but I kid the 300 fans. Enjoy the movie to your heart's content.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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