In just two feature films – following a slew of music videos such as “Losing My Religion” – Tarsem Singh has proven himself as one of a handful of true visionary directors working in the system today. He comes at the material as an artist, not as a commercial work-for-hire, and even on what should be a simple police procedural, 2000’s The Cell, he infused a vision of a startling, richly drawn and emotionally harrowing inner-world of a criminal mind. Now, as his follow-up to the underrated The Fall, he goes back to Hollywood with a for-hire project, Immortals, and takes what could be another hack film about Mythological Green Gods and figures, i.e. Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Hyperon, etc, and makes something truly bold. It’s an original story with all of these characters, concerning possession of a sacred and magical bow that could destroy all of Greece (nay, the world), and how the humans interact with Gods and what happens when one of them (Theseus, played by soon-to-be Superman Henry Cavill) makes that ascenscion from mortal to the status of the title.
Singh’s film moves elegantly through it’s sets and backdrops, some of them CGI and some of them real physical sets, and doesn’t hold back on the audience this is intended for. Many will come just hoping for another 300 or Clash of the Titans, as was asked of the speak-preview audience before the film if they had seen, which is just pure spectacle and action. Singh not only gives action, but it’s amped up. It’s very violent, and sometimes very graphic (a few key moments where the villain King Hyperion, played with usual growling menace by Mickey_Rourke, exacts his harsh power and torture on subjects), and so it’s not for the squeamish. All the better: the film’s action can be brutal, but it’s as much what is shown (and there is blood if one wants it) as the nature of the violence in this world that’s depicted. It’s a barbaric period in time (around 2000 BC), and the film reflects that.
What Singh adds isn’t just the intensity of the violence – though he also does bring to the table a wonderful eye for action, and a great sense of how to edit so it’s always suspenseful, but the audience isn’t lost in the action – but the extra ingredient of seeing into the visual possibilities of the medium. When the oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) sees the future of Theseus, it’s a very dark image that comes out more like a painting than a simple cinematographic image. And when he has to show Gods fighting in the sky, it turns into a beautifully insane landscape of destruction (and in 3D this pops out especially, though in general this is the one lackluster flaw to be had). The characters are dynamic, the story is well-paced, the action (as mentioned) is exhilirating, and for fans of the mythological heroes of old their depictions become like modern-superheroes revitilized. It’s a serious and seriously entertaining “popcorn” movie that will please Tarsem’s fans and those looking for their quota of action.
When it comes out in November, it is a must-see of the Autumn Hollywood season.