Set Visit: Immortals!
Its summer and warm and bright in Montreal as I visit the set of IMMORTALS - although it doesnt much matter what the conditions outside are. This is a movie that will be filmed entirely on a soundstage, inside a massive studio known as Cite du Cinema. I dont know all that much about IMMORTALS, although for a while it has been known as that other movie about titans warring against men; a few months prior, Warner Bros. released their epic CLASH OF THE TITANS, which was a plentiful money-maker despite the complaints about its shoddy post-conversion 3D and sub-par storytelling.
Not unlike TITANS and 300 both of which Ill talk about in a little bit IMMORTALS brings us the story of a driven man up against a seemingly unstoppable army. Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant son who is unwittingly half-god, must lead a ragtag bunch against a horde of Titans lead by the wicked King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke). Among those joining Theseus in his battle are a visionary priestess (Freida Pinto) and a slave (Stephen Dorff). They seem outmatched, but they may have help coming from a higher power
Comparisons to 300 are sure to be plentiful, and understandably. The green-screen sets, the swords, the splashes of blood it all easily brings to mind the 2007 surprise hit. And thats not even mentioning the fact that the two films share producers: Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton. After the Zack Snyder movies worldwide success, many similar projects were laid at the producers feet. Two young Greek-American scribes, Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, pitched this the story of Theseus, son of Poseidon and ruler of Athens - to Nunnari, who took to it swiftly. From there, Nunnari and Canton brought the project to director Tarsem, best known as the man behind the camera for the surreal thriller THE CELL as well as the truly inspired fantasy/drama THE FALL, whom the producers had wanted to work with for a long time. The whole team went to Relativity Media, the production company-turned-distributor behind this years SEASON OF THE WITCH and LIMITLESS, with the idea, and now were here, in business with the IMMORTALS.
Canton is determined to not let IMMORTALS get lumped in with other movies that could be seen as playing in the same ballpark. We have set out in the last two years to set the bar even higher and to make an original piece of filmmaking - not from a graphic novel, not from any source material - and to create something at a time when we think audiences are demanding originality and great filmmaking.
Referencing that other fantasy adventure, Nunnari says that its success bodes well for their film, which he calls the REAL clash of the titans . Canton concurs, and points toward the 3D aspect of both films, as hes confidant that IMMORTALS certainly has a leg up in that area. Were shooting 3D for a portion of the movie. Were shooting all the visions in 3D, were shooting some other scenes in 3D. There are things were going to conform, because you cant shoot everything in 3D, but the things were going to conform, we have more time to do it
Canton goes on to note that Warner Bros. rushed their 3D conversion to meet a release date; IMMORTALS has had 3D in mind since the very beginning, and a stereographer is on set at all times supervising the process. Indeed, instead of some modern movies that seem to have 3D slapped on them for no other reason than to simply appear current (not to mention to boost those ticket prices), IMMORTALS is ideal for the format, with its lush, eye-popping and eye-gouging imagery. A Caravaggio painting come to life, spilling limbs into your lap.
Stephen Dorff is a little blunter when it comes to describing the difference between IMMORTALS and CLASH - in terms of 3D and in terms of overall quality: "I think the whole movies going to look a hell of a lot better. Clash looked really bad and wasnt very good, but thats just my opinion. I thought the movie looked cheap and thought the monsters if you have to show a huge monster with 50 teeth in the trailer that means you dont have much of a movie..."
Dorff wasn't through. "I think whats great about this film is there are no monsters whether its the titans or the minotaur or any of these people, theyre all grounded, theyre all people with legs, with feet, they all move fast so its their movements, its their supernatural abilities that will make them jump off the screen or be able to jump off walls and I think thats what kept the movie real for me. Theres never any blobs or big creatures and the titans arent big monsters like in Clash."
Leading the way is director Tarsem, a man known for his wild, mesmerizing visual style. (He was a music video director for a long time before jumping into the movies with THE CELL). Familiar with his eerie and elegant work, as well as his Indian heritage, I must admit I was expecting a quiet, introspective individual. Thats not what I get: Tarsem is like a whirlwind. He speaks faster than Joe Pesci in LETHAL WEAPON and curses like Pesci in GOODFELLAS. To engage him in a question is to receive a ten minute answer. Tarsem has a lot to say, and and hes certainly not afraid to say it.
"Coming to set everyday with Tarsem directing you was like having a workout everyday because hes so charged up, hes always running back and forth and just looking at him actually keeps your spirits really high and keeps you going throughout the day," Freida Pinto says about her director. "Another thing I would say is that hes really very encouraging. He never comes up to you and says, That was a bad take. That was just absolute rubbish. He never never really doesnt that to you. Hed just come up to you and say, That was good, but we could try again. And then you know that hes kind of pushing you to get what he really wants. So in that sense, yeah, its amazing just working with him."
Tarsem has assembled an impressive technical team to help bring his surreal vision to life: Oscar-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka, whom Tarsem has worked with before, on THE CELL and THE FALL, is on hand to dress both gods and men; director of photography Brendan Galvin is also familiar to Tarsem, having worked as cinematographer on numerous commercials of his; Tom Foden, who helped create some of THE CELL's unforgettable sets, has also been brought into the fold by Tarsem as IMMORTALS' production designer. It's apparent that collaborating with people he's accustomed to is important to Tarsem; it can't help but make easier the task of generating a rich, meticulous world from scratch.
Myself and a slew of international web journalists get a chance to see Tarsem in action inside a giant green cube on one of the studios soundstages. In person, its not much to see, but I imagine the 300 sets werent either. Inside the cube with Tarsem is actor Luke Evans, who is certainly getting used to this god thing: Hes portraying Zeus in IMMORTALS and played Apollo in CLASH OF THE TITANS. Here, he looks like an ordinary soldier, in helmet and armor, carrying a shield and a hammer. Hes looking up at a group of people that we cant see (perhaps because theyre not really there) and yells, Leave here! This is no longer your fight. Tarsem has him repeat this again and again; the director comes off as being very precise, very much in control.
Around this massive green cube sit tents, each housing different screens and technical equipment. There are so many tents with so many people in them, Im feeling a bit like Im walking past resting soldiers on the eve of a battle. (Cheesy analogy, I know, but when in Rome or Greece.) And the wires. I cant tell you how many wires snake along the floor. Its not unlike an angry king has dispensed his wrath upon you and thrown you into a pit thick with coiled serpents... Okay, Im getting carried away.
Evans is the only actor I get to see "in action", but he's not the only one hanging around today. At various intervals, I get an opportunity to chat with most of the ensemble. (Although no Micky Rourke; he had already wrapped.) Henry Cavill (who plays Theseus here but will soon be better known as "Superman"), Freida Pinto, Stephen Dorff, Kellan Lutz (let's hear swoons from the TWILIGHT fans out there) and Isabel Lucas are all in the house, all eager to talk about what they're clearly expecting to be a movie experience like none other.
For words from them, you'll have to stay tuned for Part 2 of my IMMORTALS set visit report, when I talk with some of these key castmembers, as well as dig into the wild mind of Tarsem.
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