Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gotterdammerung Epics: IMMORTALS (2011)

Do you like movies about gladiators? Actually, I don't. What I do like are crazy reworkings of the Greek legends into a testosterone-driven sword n' sorcery outings with plenty of myth-inspired monsters. Basically my ideal movie would be JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963) with the production design of FLASH GORDON (1980) and the bloody action of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982), written and directed by John Milius. Oh, and 99% practical effects (I'm leaving that 1% in for stuff like erasing the cables that are hoisting up the massive kraken on Pinewood's 007 soundstage). This movie almost delivers that. Almost.

Essentially a rip-off / mash-up of CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010) and 300 (2006), director Tarsem Singh (who went on to direct MIRROR MIRROR in 2012), takes a rather routinely scripted, very loose retelling of the legends of Theseus, and turns it into a surprisingly operatic spectacle on what is clearly a limited budget. Well, if you can call $75 million a limited budget. In this movie Theseus (the vapid Henry Cavill) is a peasant who is being trained for greatness by Zeus, disguised as an old man (John Hurt). King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) is royally pissed (sorry) about losing his wife and son to disease after he begged the gods for help. So as any loving husband and father would, he decides he's going to amass a giant army to crush the entirety of Greece, ensuring that every pregnant woman is put to death so that one way or another his legacy will live on. To aid Hyperion in this subtle plan, Hyperion hunts for the Epirus Bow, the one thing that can release the Titans from their cage in a volcano near the city of Helena and ensure his victory.

That's actually the nicer side of Hyperion whose idea of a passtime is putting people in a Brazen Bull and listening to their screams of torment... I guess if you want to be technical, the Brazen Bull hasn't been invented during the time period this is supposed to have taken place in, but whatever, a minor detail. Of course Theseus is determined to bring down Hyperion, not necessarily because Hyperion wants to destroy heaven and earth, but moreso because Hyperion personally slits Theseus' mother's throat right in front of him. So classic hero he is not. Aiding him in this adventure is the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto), who decides at one point that orgasms beat out oracles any day and hops in bed with Theseus. Then there is Stavros the thief (Stephen Dorff), who attempts some pointless comic relief in a modern vernacular. Ummm... yeah. Fortunately he barely has any screen time and mostly just stands around with his shirt off.

The script runs pretty much like writers Charley and Vlas Parlapanides (now working on Shane Black's American remake of the Shusuke Kaneko's 2006 film DEATH NOTE) took a Cliff's Notes on Greek Legends and threw it in a blender and then poured it into a script, filling in parts that went missing out of their hip pocket. Wait, in Greek legend wasn't Hyperion a Titan? And weren't Titans a giant race that were the intellectual equals of the Olympians and - oh, never mind. Actually, I really don't have a beef with that except for the fact that they decided to leave out almost all of the monster/creature stuff from the legends, except for the battle with the Minotaur. This is even more annoying because Singh lets his production team run wild with concepts for costumes and sets (even if the sets are mostly digital) and the Minotaur is something that I thought was an interesting twist. A CG bullhead on some random dude would have not only been pretty lame, but out of character with Singh's creative streak. Here the Minotaur is a giant feral man with a bull-head helmet seemingly made out of barbed wire. It sounds a bit odd, but I thought it worked and would have liked to have seen more in that vein. Speaking of costumes, I realize some folks are pretty miffed at the fantasy take on ancient Greek armor, but who cares, it looks fantastic. Like they were lifted from some gaudy ultra-modern opera. Hyperion's forces look suitably evil in a variety of strange almost Italian post-apocalyptic masks and armor, and Hyperion's own bizarre armor actually reminds me of something from Japan... hmmm... what could that be?

Mickey Rourke is Baltan!

Mt. Olympus:
You don't have to be gay to work here, but it helps.
When I saw 300, I felt a bit like I had accidentally walked into the wrong bar and had to back out mumbling apologies. This is similar, but not quite as over-the-top. There is so much hairless, bare manflesh on display that it becomes absurdly hilarious. I mean, it's gotta be frickin' cold up in that mountain village right next to the ocean, Mediterranean climate or not! It would be nice if equal time were given to the ladies, but ancient Greece is a man's world baby... or rather, in this case, a hairless pretty boy's world. Even the Olympian's are all waifish twinks. What happened to Sir Lawrence Oliver as Zeus? Oh yeah, he was old. Can't have that. Here Zeus is played by Luke Evans, who instead of sporting the familiar bushy white beard, is going with the Scooby and Shaggy look.

Another contentious issue is the bloodletting. First off, don't believe all the crying on NetFlix where people of a fragile disposition are losing their minds decrying this film as a wall-to-wall orgy of torture and gore. Ok, so it ain't MARY POPPINS (1964), but it sure ain't HOSTEL (2005) either. Let's face it, ancient myths, legends, (*cough* bibles *cough*)... they are horrifically violent and gruesome, this doesn't even come close to the bloody atrocities of the original stories of old. Sure it is a pretty bloody affair, but the gore is mainly CG and let's be honest, most of it looks like a video game. During the climactic battle where the Gods fight the hyper-active zombie-creature Titans (don't ask, I don't know) it is so over-the-top that it's impossible to take seriously.

In the end we have a mixed bag that was almost great, but still enjoyable. Singh's visuals are, in my opinion, far superior to Zach Snyder's, and I enjoyed this substantially more than 300, which felt like a 20 minute tech demo padded to feature length. Mickey Rourke is flawlessly cast and completely owned the role of Hyperion taking it to levels that almost rival James Earl Jones in CONAN. Plus it is great having people like Stephen McHattie and John Hurt pop in for smaller parts. Granted it misses the longship several times over, but it still manages to be a good time if you are in an undemanding frame of mind. Sadly, this movie's quick demise to the bargain bin probably means it will not see a sequel. It's too bad; a trashy sequel is just what this flick needs: fewer pretensions and more monsters.

2 Reactions:

  1. Thanks for the review. Looks pretty cool - its now on my netflix list.

  2. Try to check the classic anime "Saint Seiya". When the protagonists gets the "Golden Armor" looks very similar to this.


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