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.

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