Books & Film

Ye Gods

The ways in which Tarsem’s Immortals is superior to the Clash of the Titans remake and, in some ways, 300 are almost innumerable. Certainly, 300 paved the way for Immortals. You see that in almost every fight scene in which a combination of bullet-time/normal-time/bullet-time is used. 300‘s indisputably homoerotic obsession with perfect male physiques is also on display, pectoral by pectoral, ab by ab. The very sheen of the film, with its soft widescreen vistas bathed in golden or charcoal light, again brings to mind 300. What’s different here are two things.

Director Tarsem and the script. I know that many a fanboy gets apoplectic over the story of Spartacus, but it’s a very familiar story with a well-known ending. Frank Miller (re)mythologized Spartacus in his terrific comic and Zack Snyder brought it all to life in an unexpectedly vibrant and innovative event movie.

But Tarsem is Tarsem and his penchant for almost Kubrickian visual perfection is on display here. Strangely, the producers, perhaps guided by the script, have hemmed in his more bizarre visual impulses, something I would normally complain about. After watching his dream sequences in The Cell and the fanciful if dramatically shallow The Fall, I was fairly certain he was just one of those former music-video directors who was too weird for Hollywood, too uninterested in narrative pace to sustain drama for the length of a feature film.

This is where the script rears its head. Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides, who, together, have nearly no screenwriting creds, have yielded a strong mythological adventure riddled with uneven moments that only Tarsem’s sure hand manages to turn into more than it deserved to be. One or both of them are obviously fans of 300. It seems as if they watched the awful Clash of the Titans remake and made it a mission to craft a story that extends ideas found in both movies.

The result is a movie with a strong and interesting supernatural story line, a stylish earnestness that greases suspension of disbelief, a decent bad guy in Mickey Rourke, plenty of eye candy, Tarsem’s often amazing visual tricks, and — most importantly — gods who seem like gods instead of overpaid actors skulking around the set in wigs and CGI robes.

It’s not the game-changer 300 was, but in many ways I prefer it. Mostly because Tarsem — once consigned to the gutter of style over substance — here demonstrates that his fascination with colors and shapes and compositions can serve a human story.

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