From Tarsem Singh, the visually audacious director of The Cell and The Fall, the mythological action epic Immortals is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Immortals isn’t a very strong entry for Singh, which is disappointing, because isolated elements of the production are strikingly realized – thematically as well as visually. Despite rare, fleeting moments of awesomeness, however, a project that could have been a brilliant exercise in playing with modes of stylization instead devolves into a confusing, unfocused mess.
Immortals takes place in Ancient Greece, but Singh’s vision conspicuously departs from the familiar trappings of myth, opting for a distinctive, operatic presentation that’s only vaguely reminiscent of traditional renderings. The central conflict concerns Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), an embittered King seeking revenge on the Gods of Athens after being forced to watch his family suffer a slow death from the plague. Hyperion embarks on a cross-country raping and pillaging spree, intent on locating the Epirus bow, a magical weapon that prophecy alleges is key to unleashing the Titans – a race of imprisoned, Godlike beings, defeated and subjugated eons ago by the reigning Gods of Greece. Once the Titans are freed, they will wage apocalyptic war on the Gods, setting off a bloody holocaust that will destroy all of humanity and possibly the world.
The only person capable of revealing the Epirus bow’s location is the virgin oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto), and the only thing standing between Phaedra and Hyperion is Theseus (Henry Cavill), a jaded bastard peasant secretly ordained by the Gods to quell the Titan uprising and defend Divine sovereignty, despite Theseus’ own belief that the Gods themselves are basically just a crock of metaphysical hogwash.
When I first watched Immortals, I felt disappointed by how vapid, disorganized, and badly-plotted it was, but then I watched some of the special features on the Blu-ray and began to slowly get the impression that a lot of the film’s problems might be related to changes made late in the production under duress (I can’t absolutely prove this before Jesus or anything, it’s just a vague suspicion I have).
The most notable artifact on the Blu-ray is an alternate opening, featuring Theseus and Phaedra as children, that conveys a lot of the same basic information as the finished movie’s introductory sequence, but in a much more stylish, calm, and compelling way that doesn’t just create stronger identification with the characters, but also firmly establishes the relationship between the story and the universe in which it occurs. A lot of the film’s surviving visual elements point to opera and classical theater as inspirations, and the fluid movements of the camera in the deleted introductory sequences through condensed, artificially constructed theater landscapes emphasize the parallel between the simplified theatricality of classical storytelling and the psychotic, CG-augmented visual gymnastics of modern historical action epics, which would have gone a long way toward creatively validating the film’s inflated style.
Though the film itself is disappointing, Fox’s Blu-ray presentation is actually pretty solid. If you’re interested in aspects of the production like costuming or computer graphics, the disc contains plenty of supplementary features to slake your thirst. Many of these elements, admittedly, are very accomplished, and deserve more attention than they’ve received in the wake of the film’s generally lukewarm critical reception. Even if it’s not the movie Tarsem Singh will be remembered for by future generations, Immortals has ideas, visual flair, and a distinctive creative ethos, which is more than can be genuinely said for most recent films in a similar vein.