Ever since Gladiator, I’ve been a fan of sword & sandals pictures. Yes, I know there were classic films like Spartacus and Ben-Hur, but Ridley Scott’s Gladiator with Russell Crowe opened my eyes to the possibilities of such a genre of films. Since then we’ve seen great films like 300 and not-so-great films like the remade Clash of the Titans, The Last Legion, Troy, and others. With the box office success of Clash of the Titans (2010), making nearly $500 million worldwide, it was only a matter of time before we saw more big budget films in this genre again.
Enter Tarsem Singh’s Immortals… a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Starring Henry Cavill (the new Superman in Man of Steel due out in 2013) as Theseus, Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) as King Hyperion, Stephen Dorff (Blade), Felon) as Stavros, Freida Pinto (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Slumdog Millionaire) as Phaedra, Luke Evans (The Three Musketeers (2011), Clash of the Titans) as Zeus, and John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy (2011)) as Zeus’ “old man” disguise, the cast included fresh up and coming actors as well as established actors. Yet somehow it didn’t do very well at the box office, making only $226 million worldwide since its release in November 2011.
Now that Immortals has hit DVD and Blu-ray players everywhere, perhaps it will do better?
I didn’t get a chance to see Immortals on the big screen, but have been watching the Blu-ray. I have to say that it’s a very pretty film, meaning that it’s highly stylized with very crisp images and it looks extremely good in 1080p HD. You can tell care was taken in how shots were composed digitally and every tiny detail and color comes across beautifully on Blu-ray media. It also sounds great on a surround-sound stereo system (5.1), utilizing solid bass, mid-range, and treble to make sure you hear every rain drop, sword clang, and word of dialog.
Ultimately I think my problems with this movie are more with the story and characters than the execution. Tarsem took some pretty serious liberties with the myth, making the gods seem less godly and more like spoiled children with nothing better to do than argue about their version of Star Trek‘s “Prime Directive” – not to interfere with mankind regardless of what they do. Of course they disobey that and end up with a gorgeous yet somehow forgettable battle with the Titans who are released from their prison in Tartarus. Caught in the middle is Theseus a half-human, half-god wanting to live a simple life when his world is shattered by King Hyperion seeking to conquer the world to show that the gods don’t exist.
I didn’t mind that Tarsem made the gods seem young – very young even – as immortals. I’ve always wondered why immortals would choose to age if they’re indeed immortal. So why not keep your youthful appearance forever? Unfortunately even though the gods are young, they’re still arguing over the affairs of men after all this time. Sure, they conquered the Titans and locked them in cages in Tartarus that look like they’re made of rebar. But you’d think that they’d want mankind to not tinker with the prison. So when King Hyperion gets his hands on the Epirus Bow (which shoots arrows of light like that kid in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 1980s), maybe they’d want to step in?
Though I had issues with the gods’ motivations, I could sympathize with Theseus (who watches his mother die) and King Hyperion (who is lashing out after watching his wife and child die), but neither one really held my attention very long. I’ve never been much of a Mickey Rourke fan and he seemed to just mumble his way through scene after scene. And Cavill’s Theseus seemed to have the wistful look down pat (reminded me of Luke Skywalker staring off at the horizon in Star Wars) but never engaged me with his actions. Yes, he’s powerful and is trying to do the right thing, but he got a lot of help along the way and never once said Thank You.
Anyway, I enjoyed the look of the film but overall found it mostly forgettable. Gladiator and 300 are safe in my mind as two great examples of this genre.
As far as special features go, there were some deleted scenes as well as an alternate opening and two alternate endings, none of which would have helped the movie so I understand why they weren’t used. Two featurettes – “It’s No Myth” and “Caravaggio Meets Fight Club” offered some great behind-the-scenes footage of their filming process, fight choreography, and even the movie soundtrack creation. They’re definitely worth watching. And lastly there’s a graphic novel you can page through on screen – “Immortals: Gods & Heroes.” The text on screen for the comic pages is very difficult to read, so get your magnifiers out for this one.
Overall I think Immortals is a renter at best and a good way to get a glimpse at the new Superman in action before he hits screens next summer. Let’s hope the story and characters are a bit more relatable in Man of Steel!
This article first appeared at Blogcritics.org here.