In the Realm of the Movie Gods: Immortals, Film Review
Immortals: Film Review
Mickey Rourke and John Hurt Slice ‘em Up in Hollywood’s Latest: Immortals
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
I fell for the same thing. It’s that Top Gun syndrome again, when a poster sells a movie. It extends beyond the poster, too – here we have marketing that’s more innovative than the film, the promotion people more visionary than the filmmakers.
The attachment of Tarsem Sing, director of that groundbreaking movie The Cell about stopping a serial killer by going into his mind, was part of the package which sold me. The Cell was indeed visionary, with beautiful, frightful, hauntingly extravagant images I can still call up from memory should I want to. The Cell succeeded because of its production design, costuming, and make up, but principally because of its story. It was a new spin on the serial-killer genre, the trying-to-stop-him-before-the-next-one-dies world in the ilk of Silence of The Lambs. It succeeded because the fantastical elements were grounded by a suspenseful, gritty story.
Immortals doesn’t exactly have a story. There is a guy (Theseus) who hears about a magic bow & arrow set, and there is a bad guy (Hyperion) who hears about the same magic weapon, and they both want to get it. Somehow around this is a war happening. You’re not really sure what it’s over, but it’s just happening. You know this because quite frequently throughout the film people’s heads are cut off, their groins are smashed with mallets, or they are spinning around in the air in slow motion, their insides literally coming out, blood spurting as if from a garden sprinkler.
At one point during the movie I started looking around at the other people in the theatre. It was at about half capacity, and I watched the flickering faces of the audience members nearest me. I homed in on this one guy in front of and to the side of me, and just watched his expression for a moment as the movie shrieked and clanked and slashed all around, and people got cut in half and carnage slopped everywhere. He was as calm as a Hindu cow. Most all of us in the theatre were. Just sort of sitting there in this hypnotic, comatic, mouth-breathing trance as the metal clashed and gloopy blood sounds enveloped us, bright red and gold flickered over our faces. Only my fiancé sat beside me drawn up into a ball, peeking through her hands at the screen.
I imagined Zeus floating down in his golden robes and sort of doing an interview with me, asking why the movie wasn’t keeping my attention. So while the violence raged on, I answered the god of the dark sky’s questions.
Zeus: You don’t seem to be enjoying the movie. Why do you think that is? Do you care about any of the characters?
Me: Uhm. No.
Zeus: Ah. I see. That’s important.
Me: It is! Why am I sitting here watching what happens to these people when I don’t feel a thing for them? It’s missing that…what do you call it?
Zeus: Character development.
Me: Yeah, that. It’s missing that.
Zeus: Anything else you find missing?
Me: A plot. Like, now the bad guy has the bow and arrow. How did he get it back? Did I miss something? When did that happen?
[We both look at the screen.]
Zeus: I have no idea.
I recently had a real conversation with an independent film producer buddy, and we talked about what makes one movie more resonant than the other. He suggested that among the many different traits why a movie succeeds, as in, how relatable it is to you, how relevant, how cohesive, how worthy of suspension of disbelief (all abstract concepts requiring practical tools to achieve them) the idea of watching a film where “every moment is where you want to be,” is the ultimate testament to a film’s greatness.
With his book Bambi versus Goliath, film writer and director David Mamet talks about the risk assessment in filmmaking. Big movies are big business, and they are a producer’s medium, not a writer or director’s medium. The director is like a floor manager in the factory, but he doesn’t own it or tend to the books, or touch the money. Big business films require certain elements to be in them in order for the investors to feel secure – “Does it have a beautiful woman, a virgin, maybe?” Check. “How ‘bout a guy with rippling abs who can open his mouth and really scream when needed?” Done. “Is there plenty of war?” Oh yes. “Who can we attach as an actor who will attract audiences? They don’t even need to be in the film that much.” Uhm, how about Mickey Rourke and John Hurt? “Okay, let’s make it sexy, let’s make it violent.” And so on.
In the end, you’re left with the five required “movie moments” –the death-of-a-loved-one, the chase, the sex scene, the battle, the ultimate showdown– strung together by listless expositional scenes which, in this case, feel like they are coming from a high school stage play with very elaborate sets and costuming. The “every moment is where you want to be” is not there. Certain producers don’t seem to care what happens in between the movie moments, because advertising the movie moments is what gets you in the seat. The rest of it is just filler.
According to my indie producer buddy, it’s not just that all big films have this ornament-and-filler formula. According to him, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a movie where you are in good hands, where the filmmakers actually seem to care about your enjoyment of the film and want you to have fun the whole way through. Every scene is well crafted, and the information is always covered in chocolate. Alien is another example of a movie that never wastes a moment, even though it has a slasher-killer construct. John Hurt was fantastic in Alien, a believable guy who was just a working class Joe on a space freighter until a baby alien burst out of his chest. Genius.
In Immortals, though, Hurt doesn’t have much to do. He’s a voice-over at the onset of the film, but we never hear him narrate again. He has a scene where he calls himself an “old goat” and talks about war coming, and we’re supposed to get that he has a warm relationship with Theseus, and sort of fathered the boy, but we only really have Hurt in one scene illustrating this, where he instructs a young Theseus how to whack a stick against a tree, which is supposed to be his swordplay training.
For Mickey Rourke, the career-comeback-boom may have at last bust. You can’t help but to have stuck by the original Diner actor, championing his return to form with a nuanced performance in Sin City to the captivating and inspiring titular role in The Wrestler. Now, doing some sort of reprisal of his devilish turn in Angel Heart, Rourke’s gravelly voice and the slurping sounds he makes as he eats one fruit or nut after another compose the bulk of his performance. He has to issue one bad one-liner after another, and perform a series of unspeakable acts of violence wherein each upstages the last unspeakable act of violence. In a film as excessively violent, gory and loud as this one, the only way to draw attention to the bad guy is to have him take a hammer to someone’s genitals, or stick his thumbs into someone’s eyes and gouge them out. Oh, we can say, the scarlet flickering over our faces as we helplessly watch this empty-headed opulence unfold, I see – he’s the bad guy.
Of course, not all of us were slack-jawed and upright – like I say, my fiancé was huddled into a ball, mostly covering her eyes and ears. Those terrible bone-crushing or eye-gouging moments are just as calculated as every other movie moment meant to sell the picture, because they’re the things which people talk about later, over dinner, cocktails, online, and so on. Just like I am now, talking about the “controversial” moments and maybe piquing your interest. I think I said groin-smashing a couple of times, didn’t I? Just to be sure, let me reiterate: someone’s huckleberries get squashed by a giant hammer of the gods.
Maybe that makes it worth seeing, I dunno. Hey, I went. I bought the marketing campaign and the movie moments and the whole deal. Afterwards I felt foolish and a bit sick to my stomach but by all means, go see Immortals. If anything, you may find it all absolutely hilarious. One thing I didn’t mention was that as my fiancé was curled up and shielding most of her head, and guts were raining down on screen, I could hear her laughing. That’s because she’s a good sport. And while we both agreed the movie stunk, I drove home grumpy while she kept on smiling.
–TJ Brearton is a Contributor to The Free George.
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.
Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=15915