Are You Sure D’Aulaires Done It This Way?

11/11/2011 4:00 AM |

Directed by Tarsem Singh

Tarsem Singh spent many years and no small personal expense making 2006’s The Fall, his storybook/music video passion project. Now he’s ready to make a little money, breaking off a piece of that sweet 300/Clash of the Titans action and coating it in gold paint and paint-looking blood. Ostensibly Immortals is an adaptation of the Greek myth of Theseus (here played by future Superman Henry Cavill) but, as I often learn when researching degrees of bastardization of Greek myths by Hollywood movies, the story will not be particularly familiar to students of ancient texts. Here, a peasant seeks to avenge the death of his mother at the hands of the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) while various gods try not to intervene; it all has little to do with the Theseus who fought bandits at the six entrances to the underworld (I’d assume they’re saving that for Immortals 2: Not Gonna Happen, but this movie sets up an entirely different and unlikely sequel).

Instead, the movie’s mishmash has Zeus (Luke Evans) insisting that he must not meddle in the affairs of humans (we can only assume he’s just come off an extended animal-impersonation/human-fucking bender), while the movie forces nonbelieving Theseus to find his faith in the gods regardless, and push it on the leaders who stupidly push for negotiation and reason in the face of pure evil. The gods must not interfere with man, until they kind of have to; then it rules! That is to say: the self-awareness about the complexities of myths and storytelling so neatly displayed in The Fall is not so much present here.

But the enthusiasm with which Tarsem displays this nonsense instead calls into question whether it really is beneath him. In fact, he enlivens the myth-revival subgenre by taking on the perversity (if not the actual storylines) of Greek myths—and a similar lack of real humanity, too. These qualities intersect whenever he deals with the gods: they’re more synthetic and campy than the humans, and their battles with the titans (whom Hyperion wants to free for some reason) are ultra-gory blood-paint ballets; in other words, they strike the correct lush/lurid balance in a way more reminiscent of the old Clash of the Titans than the new.

The humans, as usual, get the leftovers, as Theseus not-really bonds with slave Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and embarks on a romantic relationship with the oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto), as well as a more physical one with Freida Pinto’s body double. Yes, this is a big-budget fantasy epic somehow costarring Stephen Dorff and Mickey Rourke, as well as a guy from Twilight and the next Superman; go a decade in either direction, and this could’ve been the cast of a direct-to-video thriller. But they’re all gussied up appropriately with the best (by which I mean most eye-pleasingly ridiculous) costumes, sets, and makeup this side of Julie Taymor.

Tarsem also summons tidal waves of oily water, fleeting shots of his beloved horses, and a couple of elaborate dissolves; unlike with 300, you get the sense he actually likes putting this together, rather than just be asked to fist-bump with your bro over how awesome it is. The post-production 3-D effects, while not the worst of their kind, are less successful; there are a few neat multi-plane tableaux, but mostly the process just mutes his color palette. He loves desert vistas and spectacular stone monuments, and it’s a bit like looking at all that through sunglasses. You also have to deal with the usual speeches about standing up and fighting to protect or honor or kill the infidels or whatever; I don’t know, I kind of zoned out during those parts. But Immortals suggests that if Tarsem wants a career outfoxing Michael Bay or Zack Snyder with fewer resources and lower-wattage actors, it’s his for the taking.

Opens November 11