Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Movie of the Week: Immortals

I know a lot of people have tremendous disdain or depreciation for Immortals, but here I am trying to defend this gorgeous and brilliant movie by Tarsem Singh (and Dhandwar now?).  From the dialogue to the cinematography to the acting to the sense of danger, the movie showcases Tarsem's true visionary (when I say this it means an actual visionary, not used loosely) nature.  The one thing it does lack, though, is the epic sense.  Read on for a not-so-spoilery review.

The movie opens with the seer's vision of King Hyperion releasing the Titans from their tortuous imprisonment, only to destroy all of Greece, or Hellas.  The seer Phaedra, played by Freida Pinto, speaks then in Greek.  It's a shame the film's entirety was not in the language, but no one would do that to spoiled Americans.  Most of the dialogue was highly characteristic, exceptionally beautiful, and daringly smart; however, there were a few parts noteworthy of corniness, and Theseus' battle speech lacked the epic feel that marks movies such as Troy and Braveheart.

 Rather than use real locations, fit for fantasy, as in The Fall, Singh turns to green screen, likely due to the producers' demands (as they worked on 300).  It does produce the scale the movie needs with all of the cliff dwellings and giant structures.  As always, though, Singh's camera, with a few exceptions, catches every nuance and every emotion necessary to convey the intended message.  And Signh's signature framing and transitions mark Immortals as well.

The acting was also fantastic, though I would've liked a better sense of strength emanating from Pinto more.  Mickey Rourke makes a terrifying villain, powerful and threatening.  His voice was not overpowering, but low and growling.  And of course Henry Cavill is always a dandy hero.  The gods, despite how little they were in it, were wonderfully haughty and stiff, as you'd think gods to be.  Athena perfectly imparted bits of wisdom throughout the film, and finally she gets in on the action, highlighted in the final fanciful fight scenes.

Costuming was extravagant and eccentric, as one would expect from Singh after watching The Fall and The Cell.  Though we're in the Bronze Age, we see other metals not used until later, but, hey, that's fine.  the costumes were incredible.  The deities' headgear were fanciful and telling.  You could identify gods by the headgear.  A sworded helmet for Ares that mocked the plumage of a typical helmet of the time, owls on Athena's armor, and a conch-like helmet for Poseidon.  As Phaedra was the only one wearing a bold red color, you knew she was important in the film, as well as in Greek culture.  She stood out, so it was a good choice there.

One of the things I love about Singh's direction is his ability to portray a sense of looming danger, horror, and suspense through the weird, the hidden, the story, and the surroundings.  What isn't shown aids so much to this aspect, and the tension leading up to the reveals is aching.  The atrocities that make Hyperion seriously dangerous are often not shown on camera, but we know, can guess, or are left to wonder what happens.  You never know what Hyperion will do when he's driven by grief, anger, and bloodlust.  All who stand in his way will be tortured, maimed, or killed to serve his purpose.  The sounds and the color add to the sense of death when watching.  The somewhat exaggerated gore is not so much scary as it is gape-worthy, and it surely is not as scary as the rest of the film: the scream, tortured victims hidden in corners.

And, yes, the film does lack the epic level of Lord of the Rings, Troy, Braveheart, and other historical and fantasy films.  Despite the giant buildings and landscapes, the scope of the enemies was not seen enough for long enough.  There were only two or three very brief shots where we saw the scope of Hyperion's army and the minute army of Theseus.  There were no close-ups on Theseus' face as he delivered his speech to his army to give facial expression to what would be a pivotal moment in the movie.  Some fights scenes were also too brief, like the fight--or lack thereof--with the minotaur.  Seriously?  That's a famous myth.  That's what Theseus is known for, and we get a less-than-stellar fight scene, though in a fun setting.  Granted, the focus was on Theseus and his mission to save the Hellenic world, so I don't mind that the film did not focus on the battles as much.

Those who are unfamiliar with Singh's work--the whimsical, suspenseful, character-driven, eccentric productions they are--would find the film baffling and probably laughable in its silliness.  Despite the big budget, it is still an independent film, and I doubt audiences know what to think about it.  The film ends with the potential for a sequel, but with the reactions from viewers and critics, I doubt a sequel will be in the future.

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