While I’m not surprised that Tarsem Singh’s Immortals failed to set the box-office ablaze, I am a bit stunned by the critical reception the film received upon release. Anyone who’s followed the visionary director’s work will attest that Singh’s few films have always been more about style over substance, from the showy serial killer thriller, The Cell, to his acclaimed-but-no-less surreal The Fall, Singh’s an artist for whom story is secondary to outlandish and jaw dropping visual spectacle. So when the director signed on to make a Greek mythology-based action flick in the vein of Zack Snyder’s 300, I knew exactly what to expect – grandiose setpieces, elaborate costumes, and amazing visual effects that would border on the hallucinatory. I also knew that the story would be nearly nonexistent, and take a backseat to everything else. I knew we weren’t going to get another 300 (thankfully, as I’m not really a big fan of that film), and, now, having seen the film for myself, I can say, in good conscience, that I got everything out of Immortals I expected going in.
First thing’s first. Anyone looking for a remotely accurate retelling of Greek mythology should immediately stop reading this review and run screaming toward their local library. I can already tell you that you’ll be sorely disappointed by the film as Singh takes many liberties with his tale, adding/removing various Gods, changing key character alignments, and even dressing up his characters in costumes that not only defy physics, but also the technology of the era. All of this tinkering is further augmented by the director’s fast and loose approach to the legend of Theseus (here played by Henry Cavill), the founder king of Athens. In Singh’s film Theseus is given a less glamorous origin story than students of mythology are used to, making him something of a local pariah due to his rather unseemly lineage (here Theseus’ mother, Aethra, was raped by the gods who fathered her son). As his village flees in anticipation of an invasion by Hyperian (Mickey Rourke) - a grief-stricken mortal who has kidnapped a beautiful young oracle named Phaedra (Frieda Pinto) in order to find the whereabouts of the legendary Epirus Bow – Theseus, his mother, and his mentor, “the old man” (John Hurt), are forced to stay behind, resulting in the death of Aethra and Theseus’ capture and imprisonment. Here, Theseus meets Phaedra, who, upon touching the man, has a vision that he is man’s only hope for survival. Theseus and Phaedra escape, and, with the aid of a few rebellious gods, build a small army in a last ditch effort to stop Hyperion before he releases the Titans.
Watching Immortals, I couldn’t help but think of Julie Taymor’s highly stylized 1999 production of Titus. Both films featured surreal, borderline theatrical aesthetes, an overabundance of eye candy, and deviated from their celebrated source material enough to kick up a shitstorm of controversy with purists and devotees. Both films also share the same fundamental flaw in that, underneath the admittedly gorgeous visuals and grand sense of pageantry there’s precious little else. This has been the knock on Singh since the director helmed the much-maligned Jennifer Lopez thriller, The Cell, over a decade ago. While his sophomore effort – the celebrated fantasy/drama, The Fall – fared much better with critics, Singh’s approach was no less surreal or artsy, which begged the question as to who thought he’d be a good choice to helm a swords and sandals action flick. While there are still plenty of ultra-slow-motion scenes of shirtless dudes clashing steel in front of green screens, Immortals is more of an art film with the occasional bout of fisticuffs and arterial spray than a true successor to Zack Snyder’s film. For Tarsem Singh fans, that’s enough to merit a viewing, but, for folks looking for traditional mythological thrills, Immortals is going to come across like Clash of the Titans as envisioned by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Make no mistake, though; this doesn’t make Immortals a more “grown-up” flick than its peers (the dialogue is downright awful and the plot could have been scrawled on the back of a Trapper Keeper by an elementary school creative writing student), it just looks that way.
Speaking of looks, the Blu-ray from Fox is simply stunning. Even if you hate the film, I can assure you that your eyes will be more than satiated by the sharp, vibrant, ultra-detailed image displayed in this 1.85:1 1080p transfer. The film was shot digitally, so this transfer is virtually devoid of anything resembling noise (or even grain, for that matter), and this look compliments the surreal quality of the film quite nicely. Freeze just about any frame and it’s like a work of art on your wall! Paired up with its robust 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track, Immortals on Blu-ray is the epitome of reference quality stuff.
Extras are surprisingly abundant as the disc offers up a nice selection of short featurettes, including:
● Alternate Opening
– Young Theseus
● Two Alternate Endings
– This Is Our Last Embrace
– Theseus Kills Hyperion
● Behind-The-Scenes Featurettes
– It’s No Myth
– Caravaggio Meets Fight Club: Tarsem’s Vision
● Deleted Scenes
● Immortals: Gods & Heroes (Graphic Novel)
While Immortals probably won’t bowl over the 300 or Clash of the Titans crowd with its somewhat slow pacing and ultra-artsy aesthete, fans of Tarsem Singh’s previous films will certainly relish the eye candy the director has on display, here. However, even pretty things wear out their welcome eventually, and it’s about then that the films confused story, somewhat stilted acting, and one-dimensional characters become glaringly apparent. Worth buying if you’re a Tarsem fan, but, for everyone else, consider renting this one first.