I love Tarsem Singh's directing. The striking visuals he's become known for made even The Cell watchable, as if the images he's able to orchestrate somehow make up for casting Jennifer Lopez in any role, ever. In a way, that might be the greatest vote of confidence I can give him. Watching The Fall, his first venture as a writer/director, I was blown away. There are few films I can point to that are as visually expressive, if only because of his truly unique style of directing, and I was sincerely looking forward to following his career and seeing how he developed as an artist. There aren't many directors working today who could arguably fall into that category.
The trailer for Immortals, to me, looked extremely promising. It showcased a variety of those beautiful, arresting shots I'd come to know him for, and I was excited to see how that would translate into the rest of the film. I was told it looked like a 300 rip-off. I assured those dissenters that was not the case. I was told it frankly just didn't look any good. I defended Tarsem and his impeccable record.
As it turns out, it's a 300 rip-off that frankly isn't any good.
And no one could be more disappointed than I am. On paper, it seems like a great idea, giving someone with that kind of epic visual storytelling style a film based around Greek myths, the storylines of which lend themselves so well to that kind of scale and spectacle. I can't say if it was because of a stifling of his creativity, a sub-par script, or if Tarsem simply doesn't work that well in a rigorous studio system, but the end result simply wasn't the breathtaking saga anyone hoped, or in my case expected, it to be.
Of course, being Greek myself, the real knife in my heart are the screenwriters, bearing the unrepentently Hellenic surname Parlapanides. I love the idea of a pair of Greeks wanting to chronicle their culture's ancient myths and attempting to bring that legacy onto the big screen in a memorable way, but the story becomes extremely muddy and confusing in short order. Accuracy in representing the legends of one's culture isn't too important. They are just stories, after all, and rigorous devotion to authenticity isn't the ultimate goal, and focusing on making them accesible to a modern audience is probably going to get you further toward getting something actually produced. However, there's so much cutting and pasting of different aspects of the myths and characters, gods and mortals alike, that simply writing a new "Greek myth" might have been a better, more decipherable choice.
Somewhere between the storyline of God of War, the CGI mating-ball of Clash of the Titans, and the slow-motion fight scenes of 300 (not to mention a few pretty specific plot points), Immortals seems to have fallen victim to a disease of filmmaking pretty common in modern cinema: one too many good ideas, and no one to decide which should be the one. Instead, they tried to mash a selection of things they found appealing or thought would have mass appeal and, having crammed all of that into a meat grinder, attempted to sprinkle some Tarsem on top to give it some legitimacy, or maybe even some coherence. Unfortunately, even that couldn't mask the taste.
The DVD offers some deleted scenes which, while kind of fun to watch, don't help to define the story any better than the film itself did. I had fleetingly hoped perhaps the film's erratic nature and lack of focus could be blamed on the editing, but if these deleted scenes were any indication, I doubt the cutting room floor had anything that would serve as a saving grace.
But credit where credit is due, while there weren't as many of the mind-blowing sights as his other films contained, Tarsem really does know how to get a pretty picture up on the screen. Individually, I'm sure every frame of the film is gorgeous out of context, but it's difficult while in the thrall of a film like this to look past the flaws and simply see the scenery.
Technically proficient, sure, but lacking in any real substance, Immortals makes me a little nervous for Tarsem's upcoming Mirror, Mirror. Sure, one misfire isn't going to be enough to turn me off of a director that has absolutely amazed me before, but Immortals has definitely made me a little gunshy.
Of course, to err is human. Let's hope the story of Snow White comes through the Tarsem engine with a longer lifespan than Immortals managed.