Saturday, November 19, 2011

Immortal Imagery: The Immortals


The Immortals is well worth seeing for its thrilling story, gripping action, and more than serviceable acting, but it is a must-see for the amazing imagery of Tarsem Singh (The Cell (2000) and The Fall 2008).

The story is a simple Greek mythological tale of heroes and formidable foes. The most formidable foe is King Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke, looking much like he did in The Wrestler, beefy, craggy, and wearing his hair in long greasy strands, with the added threat of a deep, croaky voice. Theseus, the hero, is played by Henry Cavill, handsome and muscular. Bitter at the gods because the gods just don’t seem to care, Hyperion wants the magical Epicus bow (a cross between the elven bow of Legolas’s and an RPG launcher) in order to release the Titans (wiry zombie-like dudes imprisoned with iron bars chained to their mouths) and battle the gods, golden armored denizens of Mount Olympus wearing hats that look like they were designed by haute couture fashion designers who make models look like they come from another planet.

In a film featuring much manly slow-mo swordplay and buckets of blood, a nice calming effect is supplied by Freida Pinto as Phaedra, the virgin (not for long) oracle. Athena, played by Isabel Lucas, dressed in a little bit of golden armor, is nothing short of wow!


But The Immortals is all about the art direction. (Well, considering Athena and the gripping combat, not quite.) The sets for cliffside villages, palace chambers, and temples are modern minimalist design.


Even Mount Olympus is a simple circular platform with a few marble benches. The style of the imagery looks like something painted jointly by Maxfield Parrish and Thomas Cole.



But nothing detracts from the awesomeness of Tarsem’s expansive landscapes that stretch far beyond the limits of a framed image. In the middle of a vast wasteland, a wall and a steampunk gate guard the Titans at Mount Tartarus, and this is the setting for a battle between a vastly outnumbered group of heroes and a prodigious horde that gets channeled into a subway-like passageway.


Then it’s fast and slow-mo clashing and slashing before the gods come down and kick Titan butt in a scene that might well have made Sam Peckinpah sit up in his grave and gawk in envy. When Ares (Daniel Sharman) defies Zeus (Luke Evans) and helps the mortals, he pulverizes very slow-moving bad guys with a hammer while he moves at a faster godlike speed. It is a remarkable, very cool scene.

The violent combat is well staged, and for the most part it is not overbearing and belabored. Unlike 300, which is more about what you see than what you feel, The Immortals gives you characters and conflicts to care about once the action starts. Still, the set design and art direction stand out as the film’s best strengths and make The Immortals a movie to see.

9 comments:

Jason Bellamy said...

Well, shit. Am I going to have to see this now?

Hokahey said...

Jason-

Actually, I found the film's action and its visual expansiveness refreshing after seeing smaller-scale dramas like Take Shelter and Martha Marcy May Marlene.

Oops, forgot to mention it was in 3D, but you probably know that. It wasn't gimmicky, in-your-face 3D. For the most part, I wasn't aware of it being in 3D, though it added a lot of depth to the images.

Sam Juliano said...

It got a bundle of bad reviews, but my spirit is with you Hokahey, as I rather liked THE FALL, and don't always need to connect to films (like you) on strictly narrative terms. I was hoping to see this tonight in fact, but I am not sure I'll be able to pull it off. Anyway, this is a mighty fine defense here!

Hokahey said...

Thanks, Sam. Tell me what you think if you get a chance to see it. I expected bad reviews - though Entertainment Weekly gave it a B. I enjoyed it as a change of pace and as an entertainment.

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Jason Bellamy said...

Hokahey ... Well, based on your glowing review, I gave this movie a chance. I still had very low expectations. But with Tarsem, I thought I might be surprised.

Uh, no. Whatever drug you were on when you found this "gripping," please share it.

Truly, I found this movie unbearable in almost every aspects. The story, to the degree that there is one, doesn't make sense. The action scenes start and stop abruptly, and again rarely make sense. The dialogue is awful. The acting is about the same. Freida Pinto is easy on the eyes, but beyond that?

What really stunned me is that I found the movie visually dull. It's almost all muddy, empty shots that look like just what they are: five actors on a small stage that's painted up to look big. And this is the first 3D movie I've seen that doesn't seem to even be aware it's in 3D.

I loved one image: the one near the end when the mountain crumbles and the avalanche of dust wipes out the masses below. Other than that ...

All of this slo-mo action was boring 10 years ago. But Hollywood keeps shoveling it out. In the scene where the titans are let loose, a titan does the run-and-one-foot-jump-off-the-wall-punch trick not once, not twice, not three times but at least FOUR times. When the movie is redundant with itself, there's a problem.

(And am I the only one who thought that the relationship between Zues and Athena seems particularly sexual in nature, even though she kept calling him "father"? Ew.)

Hokahey said...

Oops!

Sorry I misled you on this one, Jason. I guess that Friday night I was so brain-dead that I was up for anything. But I have to say I enjoyed this movie and would see it again - as opposed to the recent Killer Elite that you'd have to drug me in order to get me to see it again.

Right, there wasn't much of a story, the dialogue was cheesy - and yet I got a chuckle out of some of it - but most of all I liked the surrealistic minimalism of this movie. And I'm with you on the overuse of slow-mo combat, but I enjoyed what this film did with it.

Jason Bellamy said...

So it goes. It's OK.

Although, if you do see this again, I'll be interested to see if it holds up for you or not.

I didn't see Killer Elite, but there were several times I almost walked out of Immortals, hanging on only because of the price of the 3D ticket and in the hope that an awesome climactic fight scene might salvage the rest.

Hokahey said...

Yeah, the price of 3-D really bites if the movie is not to one's liking. I wish 3-D would go away, but now they are re-releasing all sorts of old movies. Jar-Jar Binks is coming back to haunt you in 3-D!