Nov 14 2011 10:05am

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea in the Tarsem Age: Immortals

Director Tarsem Singh has established, over his first two features The Cell and The Fall, as well as numerous music videos and commercials, a reputation as a nonpareil visual stylist. This reputation is reinforced by Immortals, a tale of gods, heroes, and evil set in a little-known period in Mycenaean Greece called (according to the production notes) the Tarsem Age, where everyone except Mickey Rourke is absolutely gorgeous (not to mention Mickey Rourke is running a kingdom somewhere), everything’s lit like a Caravaggio painting, and the violence is awesome.

The script, by brothers Vlas and Charley Parlapinedes, contains recognizable elements from established Greek mythology — Theseus, Phaedra, gods, Hyperion, a fight involving a minotaur-like creature — but with fairly major variations. In Immortals, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) rules over a rapacious, marauding kingdom that kills everyone, including Theseus’ (Henry Cavill) mother, though rather than kill Theseus, they enslave him. When Hyperion’s people capture virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and her three acolytes, Phaedra realizes that Hyperion wants her to prophesy the location of the mythical Epirus Bow, and she convinces Theseus to escape with her, which he does, along with a couple of other slaves, including wise-cracking cynic Stavros (Stephen Dorff), because every quest needs a wise-cracking sidekick. Along the way, Theseus gradually realizes the gods in whom he’s always disbelieved are real, as they aid him in his quest for the Bow despite their resolute insistence on not meddling in human affairs. And, of course, everything builds to a battle between the forces of good and evil with the fate of all humankind in the balance, because what movie like this worth its salt doesn’t?

Immortals’ story is silly but not excessively so, and it leaves plenty of room for Tarsem to strut his stuff visually. The movie is a bit of a landmark, in that it’s the first movie ever converted from 2D to 3D in post that doesn’t howlingly, screechingly, thuddingly suck. (Yes, post-converted 3D howls, screeches, thuds, and sucks. Simultaneously. Post-converted 3D, until this very point, has been one of the most worthless innovations in any artistic medium and now, sadly, lesser talents are going to keep doing it....) But enough negativity. This movie looks amazing. The action is shot in long enough takes that you can see exactly how awesome the heroes look putting villains to the sword (or ax, or chain, or hammer, or spear, or arrow), which is very. The violence is, though highly stylized, still quite forceful. And, when it comes time for the gods to enter the fray, some of the coolest action you’re ever going to see ensues. Being gods, they’re faster and more badass than humans, and they deal extremely stylish and conclusive death to any mortal foolish enough to challenge them.

The actors, for a movie where acting is not terribly important, aren’t bad at all. Stephen Dorff gets a few decent lines, and Mickey Rourke is terrific as King Mickeyrourkeus. The rest of the cast is primarily tasked with looking pretty, and there’s plenty of eye candy for all orientations (though, as is usually the case, the only full nudity is female, this courtesy of Freida Pinto’s body double). This should come as little surprise in a movie so in love with visual beauty, which Immortals most assuredly is.

That carries Immortals through a lot of the slow stretches when people are doing too much talking about things that are either obvious or don’t make any sense anyway. If not for the fact that the rest of the sound design that isn’t bad dialogue is so fun — the bass rattles windows and teeth — it would be a prime candidate to watch on mute, if it weren’t a movie that needs to be experienced on a big screen. For the audience willing and able to enjoy a movie with the above-listed caveats, Immortals is good fun, a summer blockbuster for a warmer-than-usual fall. 

Danny Bowes is a playwright, filmmaker and blogger. He is also a contributor to and

Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
The utter butchery of basic Greek Mythology killed this movie for me. The movie never makes it clear that Zeus is, indeed, Theseus' father, and I am just tired of the strain of atheism in sword and sandal movies. Absolutely and positively tired of it.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I agree that the movie looks stunning, and that the 3D was exceptional, something I never thought I would say.

But the story is so ludicrous, I thought, and the plot threads go nowhere--


So Theseus gets the bow, only to lose it five minutes a dog? And then there are not one, but THREE instances of deux ex machina:
1. Poseidon swelling the ocean so Phaedra and T. can escape.
2. interfering in the battle so the good guys win, and then Zeus kills that god.
3. The gods coming down to help fight the Titans at the end.

I really enjoyed watching the movie, but there was really no substantive plot to speak of. And the kid at the end? Not to be mean, but he was really ugly. He had two gorgeous parents, too, wth happened?
Danny Bowes
3. DannyBowes
@ MFrampton - "He had two gorgeous parents, too, wth happened?" It's the gods, protecting the lad, so no one evil realizes he's the son of the two hottest people in the universe.
4. RVCBard
This was the first movie based on Greek myth where the gods acted like . . . gods. Especially Zeus, who was a complete horndog with a real bad temper. Too bad they didn't show him weilding lightning bolts. That woulda been the shit.
5. a1ay
I am just tired of the strain of atheism in sword and sandal movies

Eh? I haven't seen the film, but doesn't it include several major characters who are actually gods? It's difficult to see how much less atheist it could get.
Paul Weimer
6. PrinceJvstin

In the movie, Theseus is an atheist until given undeniable proof of the Gods existence. Other characters also scoff at the Gods' existence as well. (Interestingly, the villain, Hyperion, does NOT, but then his goals mandate that he believe in the Gods, and oppose them). But in general, the Gods are ignored or actively disbelieved.
In addition, there is an entire culture whose representative blatantly talks about "understanding the Gods as metaphors" rather than being real.
7. a1ay
6: well, exactly. There are lots of atheists in the film and they are all proven to be completely wrong! The Gods actually do exist!
8. a1ay
Also, I think you may have the wrong end of the stick here:

The utter butchery of basic Greek Mythology killed this movie for me.
The movie never makes it clear that Zeus is, indeed, Theseus' father

I don't know what the movie implies, but in Greek mythology Zeus is not Theseus' father.
Danny Bowes
9. DannyBowes
@ a1ay - The movie makes it look like Zeus is Theseus' father, to such an extent I had to look it up when I got home to make sure the movie was wrong and I was right.
Jason Henninger
10. jasonhenninger
The Fall is one of my favorite movies ever, so I admit I went in with high expectations. But this really didn't work for me. A great many amazing visuals and bad ass fight scenes, but emotionally flat. I never felt deeply engaged with the characters, except a few moments with the gods (even though Zeus's motivations didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, at least I could tell he felt something).

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