Movie Review: Immortals- A Vast Landscape of Beautiful Imagery, Camera Work, and Set Design that is Wasted in the Context of a Bland and Unsubstantial Plot

Tarsem Singh’s name doesn’t necessarily strike recognition among most audiences, but his use of aesthetics in all of his films is quite distinguishable, whether it’s the nightmarish subjective world of a serial killer in The Cell or the beautiful landscapes of a constantly changing fantasy story in The Fall. And truthfully there is nothing different about his visual tapestry in his latest film Immortals, which showcases his signature framing and blocking, unique sense of costuming, and his definite eye for beautifully designed sequences. But that is where the praise for Immortals ends as the splendor of the imagery begins to fail at distracting us from the fairly basic plot and narrowly defined characters. There seems to be a drastic disconnect from the complexly handled attention to detail in the visuals from the script’s feigning substance of character that is both hollow and monotonous. The plot is, of course, strained for originality much like all other big budget films these days. However, what is most damaging is the rather loose, even alien, interpretation of Greek mythology merely taking the Athenian hero Theseus and muddling his origin, his mythos, and taking drastic liberties with the Greek characters surrounding him. This isn’t to say that everything is poorly interpreted considering the rather inventive costumes, sets, and exaggerated violence seem incredibly inspired from a director that has a truly unique vision. But unfortunately it isn’t enough to keep you distracted from the laughable dialogue (that is to be expected though), the slow pacing and droning in between high octane graphic violence, and the overall lack of coherent Greek mythological concepts that ultimately make the film undeniably generic. What’s really unfortunate though is that you are seeing the remarkable scene construction of a visionary caught in the confines of amateur night. Sometimes true artists and the Hollywood formula don’t mix.

The film Immortals is following the latest trend trying to lift the Swords & Sandals genre from obscurity with the likes of the graphically bloated 300, the abysmal remake of Clash of the Titans, and a rather unsubstantial television series entitled “Spartacus.” And despite taking some liberties with the core Greek mythology making for an unoriginal plot that has zero characters of any true substance, Immortals compares surprisingly well with the strangely admired plot-less 300 in its use of violence, its stunning visuals that actually use sets and locations, and an unquestionable intensity. The choreographed violence, either digital or real, meshes well with the chosen sets that are usually never brought to life via a computer. Instead the varying outdoor locations are incredibly vibrant and the in-door sets are impressively designed. Mix this with the colorful costumes, fantastic use of blocking and depth of field, and a camera use that is as graceful as it is diverse and you have a film that is spectacular for a viewing experience. But as the plot sluggishly drones on, introducing characters upon characters whom you don’t necessarily care for and who become increasingly simplistic as the movie continues, the visuals just become a couple of nice, in-tact paintings in a lackluster, unattractive home. Those venturing to the theaters looking for a movie that contains brutal and graphically poignant violence in a plot that doesn’t strive to make you bother using your brain then you will feel truly welcome in this home. But those looking for an intelligent adaptation of Greek concepts of free will, fate, or the Gods vs. man or dynamic, epic characters that grab your interest and inspire you as they do the people on the screen (think Gladiator or Braveheart) then you will be truly unsatisfied with the starved and basic plotline that becomes the antithesis of Tarsem’s visual substance.

What seems to be apparent is that Tarsem has a difficult time focusing on giving a plot the intricate details or due diligence that he utilizes with his visual planning. This was one of the biggest weaknesses in his debut feature The Cell and only slightly so in his second feature The Fall, though that explored an intriguing use of constantly changing plot based on mood and perception. The film Immortals as a blockbuster big budget action feature is incredibly typical of its breed, which includes strained dialogue, an uninventive and predictable plotline, and a lack of an intelligent conceptual arc. Some audiences seek out this substandard, immediately satisfying genre because of their devotion to thrills fed to them in loud and CGI plagued action sequences. Others want to be connected with who they are following and make sense of the fantasy world around them, either in relevant concept or sympathetic dedication. But truth is told when it’s said you could do a lot worse than Immortals when it comes to lackluster action filled films. Tarsem’s unique style of design and use of camera is simply unchallenged in this venue and makes Immortals artistically pleasing in vision despite a lack of complimentary elements in story or character that diminishes the film’s overall delivery. Perhaps Tarsem’s talents could be useful in other ways, maybe as a cinematographer or art director, instead of helming project’s that seem to have a disconnect with plot and relevance. But that might be a presumptuous conclusion for he might not have had a choice in the bland script he was given. There is no doubting his abilities to deliver truly unique visuals that are designed to complement every bit of detail, but there is a seed of doubt in his ability to follow a story in a way that makes sense or has characters that have substance rather than being like puppets moving for no purpose other than their master’s intentions.

Grade: C

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