I am a fan of Tarsem Singh’s cinema, for the most part. His first film, The Cell (2000) is a brilliantly conceived and executed film that deals with one’s inner demons while existing almost entirely inside the mind of a serial killer; visually gorgeous, gory, and heavily symbolic The Cell is a masterpiece that barely anyone had watched. His second film, The Fall (2006) is an even more gorgeous looking film; one of the best looking films that I’ve ever seen. And unlike The Cell, it contains almost no CG. It was shot on 26 different locations and in 18 countries, and it took somewhere between 4-5 years to shoot, due to budgetary restraints. The end result is a gorgeous, fantastic and melancholic film that contains unforgettable imagery and is Tarsem’s second masterpiece.
His third film Immortals is a shallow, boring, ugly, and terribly paced mess that contains buckets of graphic CG blood and gore and worst of all, it has nothing to do with the mythological story that it’s based on.
Immortals, not based on Greek Mythology, tells the tale of King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), his hatred for the Gods, and the fact that he wants to release the titans in order to kill them all. The titans, imprisoned within Mount Tartarus eons ago by the Gods above are also types of Gods and therefore, are the only ones able to kill the Gods above. But when the oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) envisions that a mortal named Theseus (Henry Cavill) will challenge Hyperion and either embrace or destroy him, she makes it her mission to find him and send him on his destined course; with hopes that he’ll kill Hyperion.
A magic weapon lays in wait between both Hyperion and Theseus, as they each race to find it and claim it. It’s a magic bow, the Bow of Epirus that materializes arrows whenever its string is pulled and those arrows can travel any distance and destroy or kill anything and anyone. Theseus gets to it first with the help of Phaedra, a thief named Stavros (Stephen Dorff), and a few other Greek warriors. They race towards Mount Tartarus in order to meet Hyperion there and destroy him before he sets the titans free. But Hyperion needs the bow in order to free the titans and he does so, using treachery and he frees the titans and an epic battle ensues.
The thing that I like about Greek mythologies, the tragic ones in specific, is that in them, characters never second guess themselves. It’s a rule of thumb. When one gets a certain idea in their mind, they stick to it whether it kills them and that’s why so many Greek stories and mythologies transform into tragedies.
In the popular Theseus mythology, he, a mortal born of man, was sent by the Gods to slay a minotaur. He was instructed to raise a certain flag on his ship’s mast upon his return in order to signify that he’d accomplished his task. Theseus slays the minotaur and as he heads home, he forgets about raising the flag. His father sees his ship arrive without the appropriate flag raised, believes that Theseus had failed and was probably killed, and commits suicide. That’s the gist of a Greek tragedy and what had happened in the story of Theseus that we’re familiar with. In Tarsem’s reinvention of the Greek mythos, Theseus, a mortal born of Zeus (in his mortal version he’s played by John Hurt), bumps into one of King Hyperion’s minions, a man wearing a minotaur shaped helmet, and slays him. Then he proceeds to find and kill Hyperion almost like the previous fight had never happened.
Now onto a more pressing matter: Tarsem’s visual style and cinematography. His style is unique; not because he was a director of commercials but because his style simply is unique. One only needs to watch The Fall in order to understand why Tarsem’s visuals are so gorgeous, why his compositions are brilliant, and why the costumes are “out of this world”. The same goes for The Cell. But in Immortals, the art direction is similar to that of Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006), another tale based on a famous battle between a relatively small Spartan army and an army of Persians numbering close to or more than 10,000. The film is based on a comic book written and drawn by Frank Miller and history was thrown out of the window in order to make the violence bloodier, and the story more character based than it should have been. Seeing that it’s a Zack Snyder film it was chock full of slow motion segments, most of the film to be exact, it was tinted in gold and had a terrible digital grain, and looked and felt like a video game.
Immortals is more of the same; its action sequences are shot mostly in slow motion segments and it was shot digitally and always with green screens, but it looked digital and the green screens are mostly visible. The film’s graphic, gruesome violence is entirely composed of CG and tons of CG blood flies here and there in the film’s third act. But maybe that’s due to the fact that the film’s budget was only $75 million.
The costumes, mostly of the Gods, are unique looking but they induce the awkward, random chuckle; they’re more strange than they are beautiful. Actually, they're damn awkward. And aside from the city in which Theseus grew up in, one embedded within a mountain (it did actually look nice) the landscapes throughout the entirety of the film are gigantic, barren, and square. Imagine a giant desert. Now place a gigantic wall in the middle of it. Now enact a battle consisting of thousands of CG warriors on one side of the wall and keep the battle going for more than half an hour. Pretty boring to look at, right? Well, there was also the corridor inside that giant wall in which most of the battle took place, but it was cramped and the bodies that fell and died seemed to have disappeared rather clogged up the corridor, resulting in either a stalemate or a victory for one of the sides. Moments like that in films irk me, and especially when they’re in a film that I’ve been waiting for over a year to watch.
Disappointed doesn’t even begin to cover it. I like nothing about this film. I watched it in 2D because, it was shot in 2D and the visuals always look fake. The sets are small; small rooms, small (and thin) corridors, thin mountain passes, and the rest of the film’s aesthetics contain wide open, barren landscapes that contradict and contrast the “small” insert shots of the indoors. The film is also paced terribly; I was straining to remain awake. The first hour contains insignificant dialogue and the final 40 minutes had slow motion, gory, CG violence. I wag my finger at you, Tarsem.
Tarsem may have been bedridden while shooting this film and if he was, that’s an excuse that I would gladly accept over this actually being the final product that he’d honestly wanted to have.