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November 13, 2011

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Movie Review – Immortals (2011)

by HELEN GEIB

Ancient Greece. The ruthless despot Hyperion leads a seemingly invincible army of invasion to destroy Hellenic civilization. He also seeks to destroy the Gods he reviles by freeing their ancient enemies the Titans, imprisoned since time immemorial under Mount Tartarus. The Gods on Mount Olympus watch the slaughter with revulsion and Hyperion’s approach to Tartarus with foreboding, but have been enjoined by Zeus not to interfere in the affairs of mankind. An oracle has seen Hyperion victorious in a vision, but she has also seen a young man who may stand against him, a peasant on the geographic and social fringes of the Greek world who is yet favored by the Gods because he has the makings of a true hero.

At one point in his Life of Theseus, Plutarch carefully compares the divergent and conflicting historical sources on a minor incident in the founder-hero’s career. Some of the writings he drew on are now known only from his references to them. Many other written accounts from antiquity have undoubtedly disappeared completely, along with all the tales that were never written down.

Immortals is an original story of the same Theseus of Minotaur and the labyrinth fame. It bears little resemblance to the standard version of the myth, which not incidentally gives the plot an element of unpredictability, and it is crafted to suit modern tastes in heroes and heroines. Nevertheless, it is a convincing counterfeit of a lost tale. Its coin is classical virtues: bravery, devotion, loyalty, piety.

This is the third feature film directed by Tarsem. His second film was the wondrous The Fall and his debut was the eye-popping The Cell. As anticipated on the basis of that filmography, Immortals looks amazing.

The visuals are inspired by Hellenic landscapes, representational art, architecture, and costume; everything rendered with a graphic arts sensibility, a fashionable approach to ancient world action movies that simultaneously complements the story’s mythological feel. The spatial disorder of the enemy’s camp is opposed by classical geometric symmetry. The square is a prominent motif: look for it in the cell block and pillar-statues of the Titans’ prison, the ritual prayer posture of the oracle and her three companions, and the raised platform at the heart of the labyrinth. In one particularly memorable scene, the camera, from the vantage of a perpendicular side view, pans across a close quarters battle to animate a temple frieze. The predominant colors are dusky earth tones, contrasting with the flame red of the oracle’s robes and the radiant gold of the Gods’ raiment.

The cast stands up well on the whole to the visual splendor. Henry Cavill makes an attractive and sympathetic hero in the somewhat underwritten role of Theseus. Mickey Rourke brings his trademark brooding intensity and ruin of a face to Hyperion. The other major parts are taken by Freida Pinto as the oracle Phaedra, Stephen Dorff as Theseus’ sidekick Stavros, Joseph Morgan as a turncoat Greek soldier, and Luke Evans and John Hurt tag-teaming Zeus, in his true guise and in disguise.

3 1/2 stars


13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nov 13 2011

    Awesome! You’re first critic to claim that Immortals is not just a gorgeous but empty, and therefore terrible film but rather that it’s a terrific film in general. Now I want to see it. I heard people complaining that all of the film’s characters lack any kind development but I laugh at that because, much like in Greek tragedies, the characters are more caricatures, players in a large game rather than deep, developed people.
    I wasn’t expecing a spectacular story with deep psychology behind it, I was expecting a visually unique and gorgeous looking film version of an old, popular tale that’s more of a Harryhausen extravaganza than anything else.

    From your review it looks like it’s exactly what I’m going to when I watch it. :O)

  2. Nov 14 2011

    I hope you still feel like that after you see it. ;-)

    As to character development, do the critics think it should come before or after he slays the Minotaur?

    That was tongue in cheek of course, but the point to be made is that “Immortals” is not a character-based drama, it’s a Greek mythology genre movie. The story is original- as in, not one of the ancient myths- and the characterizations have been modernized to suit contemporary tastes, but it’s still a myth in the classic mold. Heroes (and heroines!) have adventures, gods meddle, and the supernatural is real. The good guys in the story illustrate the virtues and the bad guys, the vices. Character development in this context is meeting, or not meeting as the case may be, the challenges fate has in store for them.

  3. Nov 14 2011

    Atop of not developing its “original” characters, there are also sooooo many characters that come and go, are uninteresting or unimportant, and no one seemed to care for any character in the film. I find that those people were looking for another film.

  4. Michelle
    Nov 14 2011

    Helen, your zinger to the critics makes me think of when I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office, and a mother near me made a very specific complaint about the cartoon that was playing on a TV in the room. I remember thinking, “Yes. Also, vegetables don’t talk.” :) There are definitely different expectations for varying types of films!

    I saw this last night, and really enjoyed it, as well. I need to see The Fall.

    Nir, let us know what you think!

  5. Nov 15 2011

    Will do!

    Also, The Fall is one of the best movies of the last decade. Top 10 quality. And The Cell was also amazing.

  6. Nov 15 2011

    lol Veggie Tales perhaps?

    I think I need to host a showing of “The Fall”. Let’s coordinate a date off-line.

  7. Michelle
    Nov 15 2011

    You named that ‘toon!

    Absolutely.

  8. Michelle
    Nov 15 2011

    Yes, visually, The Cell is a stunner. I look forward to seeing The Fall!

  9. Nov 27 2011

    I finally got around to watching it yesterday in the only theatre in Toronto that played it in 2D. It’s a colossal disappointment to me. I was trying to stay awake throughout it and thought that only the last 15 minutes were worth watching.

    The problem with Greek Myth tales is that they’re more cautionary/mythological tales than anything else and this film wears that on its sleeve. Therein lies the problem: the film is terribly plain and uninteresting, both thematically and visually (I thought). Because the Oracle’s vision is shown to the audience, we know how the film will end, obviously, but the film doesn’t attempt to add any kind of mystery or suspense to the adventure to come. Tarsem’s version of Theseus is an interesting simpleton/hero and Hyperion is an interesting brooding powerhouse but no one else is of any interest. The Gods bring nothing to the table because of their adamant refusal to assist mortals (which was how it was done but this film makes them unlikable due to that fact) and the film looked entirely cheap.

    The sets were bare; their quality questionable. Cliffs looked like styrofoam. Even though they looked interesting, the Gods’ armour and helmets looked like gold spray-painted plastic (those that can be found in tie for Halloween). The first hour went nowhere and too much time was killed. The giant corridor battle was ridiculous because even though hundred of soldiers were murdering one another, the dead bodies didn’t pile up, plugging up the corridor. They just disappeared and the scene went on for too long.

    The Gods vs. titans battle was terrific, a la the God of War videogame franchise but that was the last 15 minutes.

    I usually, grossly dislike special effects films but only like them when they know that they serve no purpose except to offer fun entertainment to audiences. Ray Harryhausen’s films are terrific for their spectacle first, fun second, and stories third. Immortals… had a good 15 minutes in its end.

    Sorry, but I was bored mostly throughout.

  10. Nov 28 2011

    It’s probably one of the best-looking films of the whole year (yet, I still haven’t seen Tree of Life) and the action is awesome and in-you-face which is something I always like. The story dragged on a bit and I couldn’t help but think that if the writing was a tweaked a little better, this would have definitely been a very solid film. Instead it was just fun and pretty to look at. Good review Helen.

  11. Nov 28 2011

    Yes, good review Helen.

    But I found the film terribly bland to look at and dark during many times. Immortals, to me, looked fake throughout and I was taken out of the picture right from the start. I didn’t find it pretty at all. I only liked the inner mountain city at the beginning. Everything else was either a single, long corridor or gigantic, flat, square, empty plains.

    Anonymous, Tree of Life, and Rango are the best looking films this year.

    Now, who here has noticed that Tarsem’s visual inspirations for Immortals were Fellini Satyricon and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain? Certain shots looked identical.

  12. Nov 29 2011

    I’m in the minority in enjoying both the story and the visuals, but it’s the visuals that make it.

  13. Nov 29 2011

    I am in the minority for disliking the visuals. That makes us equal. :O)

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