Tarsem Singh, also known simply as Tarsem, began his film career like so many from his generation in commercials and music videos. Working with R.E.M and En Vogue, he began developing a visually arresting glossy style that he would employ in his debut feature film The Cell, and again in his sophomore effort The Fall. Having made a little history with his gladiator-themed Pepsi commercial, using a series a mega pop stars and Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, Tarsem has now expanding his history lessons by dipping into Greek mythology for Immortals.
Following the death of his family, the Heraklion King of Crete, Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, The Expendables) declares war on Olympus, with the gods failing to hear his calls. He aims to procure Epirus Bow, a powerful weapon created by Ares (Daniel Sharman), the God of War. With the bow, he will be able to unleash the Titans, beings capable of destroying the gods. However, Zeus (Luke Evans, The Three Musketeers) has forbidden any devine intervention in the affairs of man. In this quest, Hyperion captures the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and marches on a small village where Theseus (Henry Cavill, Blood Creek) watches his life get torn apart. Now he must save the oracle and enact vengeance on Hyperion before it is too late.
On the surface, Immortals may be simply no more than a rehash of Clash of the Titans or 300. In fact, in many ways, this is exactly what it is, with the sweaty camera cranking fight scenes now a standard in modern historical action. Where Tarsem immediately sets his films apart from others is in the staging and the look of the film, which is nothing short of breathtaking. From the opening shots of the Titans in their foosball machine cage, there is a distinctive visual style that is entirely Tarsem’s, but with clear comparisons to be made with Julie Taymor’s Titus or perhaps even the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Blending CGI with real sets and lavish production design, the film has an unearthly glow about it, and like candy for the eyes, we know it is probably not very good for us, but it is impossible to look away. The suits of armour seem impossibly impractical, and Armani is apparently tailoring for the gods now, but it looks a treat.
One of the other distinctive elements to Tarsem’s vision of Greek mythology is basing it in some degree of reality, even if this reality is the playground of the gods. The Minotaur (Robert Maillet, Sherlock Holmes) is not a magical part-bull creature at all, but a man in an imaginatively fashioned and terrifying headpiece with seemingly superhuman strength. The approach infuses everything Tarsem does in Immortals, from the glistening beads of sweat on the fighting soldiers to the torrents of blood that erupt from the fallen ones. Immortals may look good, but it ain’t always pretty.
Henry Cavill impresses as Theseus, although there isn’t much in the way of development with his character. However, it is easy to see why he was cast as Superman in the forthcoming Man of Steel, with the physique of the Kryptonian and the boyish charm of Clark Kent. Pinto’s character is horribly underdeveloped, but she is just the window dressing/prize in this manliest of manly tales, after all. Rourke is, of course, a formidable foe, stealing every scene he is in. The gods, who also include Australia’s Isabel Lucas, are just pretty to look at.
Immortals never attempts to push the boundaries in the storytelling stakes, and in many ways that is not its aim. With enough holes in the plot to fairly call it Swiss Cheese, the script isn’t as pretty as the scenery. Why did the gods not just kill the Titans instead of caging them, for example. Yet this is popcorn fodder of the first order at worst, and a first step in injecting more artisti filmmaking styles into action blockbusters at best. It may not always work, but it is a adrenaline-filled ride along the way, and if it fails to connect with audiences, it looks damn good doing it.
Immortals is released on 24 November 2011 in Australia from Universal.