Immortals DVD review (R1)
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The magic of Greece slips away in this confused Sword and Sandals outing...
Hollywood has long had a love affair with sword-and-sandal epics. The issue is that while stories set in Rome are more accessible for modern audiences, tales of ancient Greece are less so, mostly because so many of the tales have been mythologized over the centuries. Modern film-goers don’t seem to be able – or are unwilling to – accept a story where Ancient Gods interfere with the lives of mortals. And while these stories are brilliant and beautiful, writers have gone out of their way to try to take the mythology out of these tales in order to make them more believable for the modern viewer. In recent years we’ve seen films like Alexander, Troy and others that try to tell a very human story of ancient Greece, but fail in that it feels like there’s only half of the story there.
So how do you make a movie set in the time that perfectly blends the human experience with mythology without making it another Clash of the Titans (nothing against either the original or the remake, I do enjoy both of those films)..?
Director Tarsem Singh brings us Immortals, a film that tells the tale of Theseus (Henry Cavill, The Tudors, Man of Steel), a mortal hand-picked by Zeus (Luke Evans, Clash of the Titans) to take on King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, Iron Man 2), who is in search of the Eperius Bow, a weapon forged on Olympus, which would enable Hyperion to release the Titans from their prison in Tartarus. Theseus takes up arms against Hyperion after the King kills Theseus’ mother in front of him and enslaves him.
"While this seems like a set-up for a really exciting film about Ancient Greece, it is nothing but a string of fight scenes cut together with a story loosely based upon the myths of old"
Along the way he joins forces with the one true Oracle, and thief and a Syballine monk. While this seems like a set-up for a really exciting film about Ancient Greece, it is nothing but a string of fight scenes cut together with a story loosely based upon the myths of old. There are too many changes made to the original stories, starting with Theseus himself. Theseus’ mother Aethra was impregnated by both the mortal King Aegeus and the god Poseidon, but here she was raped by several villagers, making Theseus a bastard peasant instead of the demigod he was originally. Also, many aspects of the story were changed for storytelling purposes (Minotaur and the Labyrinth, the War of the Gods, etc.), and it leaves the film lacking. Worse yet, for being hailed as such a hero, Theseus himself rarely does anything except for being an able-bodied soldier who can kill without much effort. The gods seem to be all to willing to step in and help, even though Zeus has forbidden it via the laws of conduct (which seems strange as the gods had no problem sticking their noses into the affairs of men all throughout Greek Mythology).
Another problem I had with this film is that nothing seems organic. If this movie is to be believed, ancient Greece was nothing more than cliffs and deserts, with no vegetation whatsoever. While the scenery is very stylized and interesting, it seems too cold and barren a setting. Even Olympus is less than spectacular, as all we ever really see of it is a small courtyard where the gods all hang out. As for the gods, we’re treated to muscular, shirtless actors who look like they should be hanging out at a coffee shop or some other trendy spot. And we only get a handful of them to see, one being Heracles, which doesn’t make much sense in and of itself. The only goddess we meet is Athena (Isabel Lucas, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), who’s performance is less than stunning.
In fact, the acting is all over the place here. Henry Cavill is good as Theseus, but he seems more concerned with showing off his physique. Stephen Dorff (Blade, Backbeat) plays thief Stavros very well, showing off his acting talents, but those talents seem to be wasted here. Rourke grumbles his dialogue all through the film, and plays the part pretty over-the-top. Perhaps it was to be in contrast of Cavill’s more humble approach to the film, but it seemed to be too much. Freida Pinto (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is quite good as Phaedra, the Oracle priestess, but again, her talents seem to be overshadowed by the rest of the film. Half of the cast seems to be playing it straight, and the other half is playing as though they were cast in 300.
The biggest crimes here were throwing too many fight scenes into a film of this length. Gladiator had a lot of fighting, but there were other scenes to keep them separated, and to allow us to get to know the characters and their stories. This is called plot and character development, both of which this film could have used a lot of. While we know why Theseus wants to kill Hyperion, we don’t get to really know much about anybody else, or what their motivations throughout the film are. And at the end of it all, they give us an ending that rather ham fistedly sets up a sequel, as though we really wanted to sit through all of this again.
As far as the visual aspects of the film, overall it’s well done, although it is rather dark, so you may need to adjust your set if that bothers you. It did make seeing some of the night scenes and indoor scenes more difficult. Also, we get more of that new age slow-motion fighting interspersed in the fight scenes, which I just get annoyed with. I don’t know if it is supposed to add tension to the scenes to throw that in, but it just makes it less believable. This really goes overboard in the final battle between the gods and the Titans, and while some will praise the way that fight was filmed, I simply wanted it over with.
The extras on the DVD are rather skimpy, with not even a commentary to be found. There’s a short documentary entitled “It’s No Myth”, which has several experts on Greek Mythology talk about how the original stories had all been Mythologized over time. It’s fascinating, but I would have liked a little longer documentary (it’s the History Channel fan in me). There are also a handful of deleted scenes that really consist of exposition that did little to further the film along, and must have been cut because they kept the swordplay away for too long.
Honestly, I can’t say I really enjoyed this film. It had great potential, but in the end, I came away from it feeling as though there really should have been more to it. If you really want to shut your brain off and watch some sword fighting, I would recommend watching Clash of the Titans, or even just downloading some old episodes of Hercules. Either one would be closer to the original stories, and far more entertaining.
The Immortals R1 is available now.
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