Tuesday, 22 November 2011


(Tarsem Singh, 2011)

This is where modern mainstream cinema has brought us: this bizarre twisting of Greek mythology filtered through a collision between video game narrative (journey, fight, boss fight) and slick advertising imagery, all of it pumped up on steroids and as homoerotic as Tom from Finland. Thankfully that slick advertising imagery is the work of Tarsem Singh, a director with an actual, distinct and individual visual sensibility. His narrative chops are more open to debate, since each of his films so far (confused serial killer thriller The Cell and quite unclassifiable fantasy The Fall) have been problematic as Exercises in storytelling. But he makes each and every frame of Immortals look truly magnificent. The film is a triumph of design; sets, costumes, weaponry; they all look superb and Singh lights and frames all beautifully.
As if to celebrate this, he often resorts to slo-mo, emphasising the aesthetic pleasures to be had in his tableaux. But instead, he just exaggerates the film's airless, constricted beauty, the obviousness that this is a movie fantasy with no relation whatsoever with the real world. This doesn't look, sound or feel like the real world, which makes it's efforts at grittiness - in the violence, in some of the emotional content - almost laughable.
The story is familiar and familiarly ludicrous; evil king Hyperion is conquering all, his scarred, masked troops raping, murdering, pillaging. He's the kind of villain who's so evil, he casually kills his own men at regular intervals. He wants a magic bow in order to free ("unleash" is the term preferred by the script here) the Titans, only Zeus and his family of Gods looking on from Olympus aren't happy about that and so they prod Theseus (Henry Cavill), a blandly efficient Warrior with a grudge, into his path to lead the fight. Along the way Theseus meets and deflowers Phaedra (Freida Pinto), a virgin oracle, and bonds with Stephen Dorffs buff, wisecracking thief.
The script is clunky and often comically earnest as its characters discuss free will and fate while deciding whether or not to involve themselves in the big battle, and the uneven cast doesn't help. Rourke plays it like it's Sophocles, though he cops Brad Pitt's "eat something in every scene" trick, Cavill and Pinto are seemingly involved in a secret contest to see who can be the most beautifully wooden (which doesn't help their scenes together) and much of the rest of the cast seem content to flex their muscles and pout.
Singh puts together a few good action scenes, and it is always quite entertaining in its delirious way, but it's an odd film, memorable more for what it does wrong than what it gets right.

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