Blu-ray Review: The Low High-Art Ambitions of IMMORTALS

Director Tarsem Singh (alternately credited as Tarsem Dhandwar Singh or during his music video directing days as simply "Tarsem") is supposed to have had an epic vision for his bloody take on the Greek myth of Theseus, Immortals: Caravaggio-meets-Fight Club. I can clearly see the influence of the former, given the quality of of the light in Immortals, the reliance on a dark, often bloody realism. But I'm not sure what to make of his interest in injecting the film with the influence of Fight Club (is he talking about the film or the novel--it's probably unwise to make assumptions here).

It's also not entirely clear what Immortals is about. There is a plot, of course, concerning Mickey Rourke's King Hyperion marching his hordes across Greece to find a mighty bow that will allow him to release the Titans, the angry precursors to the gods of his age, and allow the king to revenge himself upon the entire pantheon for the death of his wife and child. Then there's Theseus (Henry Cavill), unwittingly instructed by Zeus himself in combat (in the guise of John Hurt). This all happens under the watchful gaze of the gods above, who fear the release of the Titans, but for reasons never really articulated in the movie, must not act in defense of themselves or humanity.

But what kind of ideas lie beneath the elaborate, at times immaculate production design, the sinew, the muscles, the blood, and the occasional hint of dry, passionless sex?

I couldn't tell you and I doubt Tarsem could, either. Immortals is bad in precisely the way that Tarsem's directorial debut The Cell is bad: real visual splendor in service of not even so much as a single coherent theme or idea or anything remotely human. You could take nearly any still from the movie and appreciate it as something that many craftsmen and technicians labored over for hours, but in taking in the whole movie, it's just an empty exercise in throwing up lights on the screen.

I can appreciate an empty action spectacle if said spectacle is... spectacular, I suppose. But even here, Immortals comes up short, recycling the speed-ramping schtick that was old when Watchmen crashed and burned at the box office. Worse, the couple of well-staged bits of violence (I'm thinking of the divine intervention at the end) repeats the same beats over and over, so what made an interesting visual involving a mix of slow-mo and regular action, loses its appeal through mind-numbing repetition.

As far as the cast goes, Cavill is stiff and joyless as Theseus. You hope that when he hooks up with Frieda Pinto's seer character, Phaedra, that might loosen his stiff-necked, unyieldingly dour character up a bit. No such luck. Pinto has less required of her: asked to be beautiful and be kind, she's pretty much old hat at filling that role and doing nothing more. I'd hoped Mickey Rourke might swing for the fences here, as the coldly murderous Hyperion. But he underplays the role to the point of somnambulism. His character does have one interesting affectation in early scenes, and that's his constant cramming of food into his mouth. It's mesmerizing.

I don't think I want to watch any more Tarsem films. He obviously has a keen and distinctive visual sense but none of it translates into anything coherent or memorable. When you have a movie where the minotaur is a guy trapped in a barbed wire mask and that fails to get the pulse racing in any significant way, then you're doing a disservice to your movie and the poor minotaur.

Presentation, Audio, and Video

Admittedly, this is a gorgeous movie and the Blu-ray presentation brings that point home. The lush, deep darkness of the visuals are represented well here (this also allows the omnipresent CG blood to look more plastic and fake).

The features are typical EPK stuff, which was kind of hard for me to get into with the cast and crew calling Tarsem some variation of "genius." But if that's your thing, you're more than welcome to it. One addition I was anticipating was the film's tie-in comic, which is presented here on the disc. The problem is that instead of going the modern digital comic route of creating exciting panel transitions for the book, it's just simply dropped onto the screen in the simplest, least visually interesting way possible (as a consequence, making it hard to read unless you're looking at it on a PC or laptop).

Immortals is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD now.

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)

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