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The UnPopular Opinion: Immortals

06.27.2012

Immortals new UnPopular Opinion header

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

The suggestion to review this movie was made, and thus have I delivered.

I was introduced to Tarsem Singh via THE FALL, a film which I went to see in theaters purely based on 1) the beauty of the trailer and 2) the fairy tale-nature of the story (because I'm a whore for fairy tales).  So I went to the theater, experienced THE FALL, and walked out with my emotions running rampant and my mind a bit blown due to the sheer power of that film.

Now did I have the same experience with IMMORTALS? Nope, but that doesn’t mean I fail to see anything well worth defending in this fevered journey that sort of shattered my preconceptions about myth. Which is no small feat, considering how sacrosanct I’ve held mythology in the past – it used to absolutely bug the shit out of me when people played fast and loose with any mythology, and Greek especially. But that’s exactly what IMMORTALS does, and you know? Not only do I forgive it, I embrace it. And I say further that this movie isn’t nearly the gilded lump of dry shite that I’ve so often heard it called.

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"It's not living as such that's important, Theseus. It's living rightly."

First the most obvious point, just to get it out of the way now: IMMORTALS is a joy to look at, an ecstatic orgy for the eyes and aesthetic sensibilities. Even the grimiest and grimmest of scenes bear a beauty in their construction, and rarely before have I encountered a film so consistently gorgeous in its execution. Tarsem puts many of the other more visually-minded directors working these days to shame with the fluidity and beauty of his filmmaking, and I’d imagine that IMMORTALS left Zack Snyder howling in fits of jealous rage.

This beauty I speak of extends beyond the art design of the world in which IMMORTALS takes place – the people within it, and the gods in particular, each bear their own kind of beauty as well. And this is a particularly important point to me, as IMMORTALS marks just about the only occasion I can recall in which the gods of Olympus are presented as the beautiful beings they were meant to be. It is a touch that immediately drew me in and focused my attention in a way that I hadn’t expected. The gods are shown to be aggressively human - heightened versions of ourselves - and just as mythology always meant them to be. Beautiful, arrogant, conflicted, selfish, violent, and yet somehow still beautiful.  Yes, the rules that Zeus is attempting to uphold by not becoming involved appear to be rather arbitrary, with no reason or ramifications given for their existence, and this is certainly one of the bigger plot holes in the story of IMMORTALS. But I’ll be damned if the gods aren't depicted in a fresh and engaging way, and for that IMMORTALS definitely deserves some credit in my book.

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"In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons. Are we at war, father?"

And every one of those actors playing an Olympian gives their all, no matter how small the part. In fact, every actor in IMMORTALS gives their best, and considering the fundamentally weak script it’s a miracle I was still convinced to care about most of them. Mickey Rourke’s performance as King Hyperion reminds me of Stellen Skarsgaard’s role in KING ARTHUR (one of my favorite villains in recent memory), exuding the kind of understated barbarian badassery that works extremely well in counterpoint to the larger-than-life conflict presented in the story. There’s a very fine line between what I’m referring to and merely phoning in a performance, and Mickey Rourke straddles it just fine without ever slipping. Having only seen Henry Cavill act once before I was pleasantly surprised by his journey from humble son to leader of men, and he most of should be commended for what he brought to the table in spite of the lackluster script.  That being said, Freida Pinto is definitely the weak link here - she's beautiful to look at, but as with her past movies the acting she attempts leaves much to be desired.

As I keep mentioning it, let's get this out of the way too: the script for IMMORTALS isn't great.  Not movie-breaking bad or anything, but still pretty bland.  And while there are plenty of suitably epic and striking lines to be found which perfectly fit the mythological world in which these characterrs live, the fact remains that the script for IMMORTALS is lacking in a story progression as striking as the art/camera direction used to tell it.  There are quite a few fascinating ideas at play though, with my favorite being the moment where Phaedra chooses to forego her visions in favor of a life all her own.  But only planting such seeds without allowing them to grow to fruition can not and does not excuse the fact that the story fundamentally lacks the sort of emotional punch, gravitas, and drive which it really needs in order to succeed on a basic storytelling level.  I still love of a lot of the language used - very primal while still being plenty poetic.

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"He does not fear danger, nor pain, defeat or ridicule. He fears only the failure to defend that which he holds so dear."

One of the special features found on the IMMORTALS disc – one of the only special features, in fact – talks about how even the myths we know and love were themselves transformations of earlier myths. The tales evolved over time, enhanced by the personal beliefs and experiences of the people telling them. Which may seem obvious to you, but is something I never quite consciously comprehended before and drastically changed my appreciation for this movie (and WRATH OF THE TITANS as well).

As a movie IMMORTALS doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel (though I think more could be learned from Tarsem’s direction than people give credit for), but what it does gleefully attempt to do is reinvent the myths on which it is based. And while I may not have liked every single thing that was done – why use the name Phaedra? – I still much appreciated the effort, and think that on the whole Tarsem and friends succeeded in challenging my own preconceived notions of the nature and definition of myth itself.

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"Long after this war is over, my mark will be left on this world forever. The sun will never set on my blood, Theseus. This is what I offer you. Immortality."

Of course, I can't go on without mentioning how said combat was handled.  Which is to say, kind of brilliantly and very beautifully.  Not only was each encounter in the movie different, with different weapons, tactics, enemies, and physical spaces in play, but almost all of it was in something very close to real time.  Slightly-heightened time, maybe.  Whatever it might be called, holy hot damn did I appreciate it.  As I mentioned in my 300 review, I find that too much speed ramping/slow motion can actually detract from the stakes or impressiveness of the combat, and IMMORTALS only uses these effects in a few select moments that are bound up in a higher level of importance than that which came before.  Such effects are used to enhance the resonance of certain moments in the story, and instead of sucking the importance out of every moment those effects touch the few moments selected are instead made more important. 

IMMORTALS was an affective experience bordering on insightful, an almost-thoughtful reworking of mythology masquerading as an epic tale of brutal combat.  And while there are ways it could have been improved, and thinking back upon my viewing experience has proved frustrating considering those ways it could have been improved, I still say that it's a viewing experience well worth having if you're at all a fan of mythology.  IMMORTALS is an artistically impressive exploration of mythological characters in conflict with each other and their world, with intriguing combat and the seeds of great concepts buried deep within to boot.  All of which I am, once again, very thankful for.

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"I'm nobody to tell you what to do! I am Theseus, a common man! One of you! I share your blood and I share your fear, but to run now would offer our souls and the souls of our children to a terrible darkness!"

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to ajstepenberg@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Extra Tidbit: IMMORTALS originally bore the titles DAWN OF WAR and WAR OF THE GODS. I say IMMORTALS is the best of the bunch, as DAWN OF WAR would have spoken to a different set of themes that were very barely explored in the movie as is. And nothing in the deleted scenes would have helped fix that.
Source: JoBlo.com

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