As a movie, Immortals is silly. But it sure does work as a feature-length, installation art piece.
That’s how I’ve come to regard the work of director Tarsem Singh, a music-video veteran who made the Jennifer Lopez thriller The Cell and 2008’s mesmerizing The Fall. Immortals is a step back – in a lot of ways, it feels like a first foray into feature filmmaking – but it still manages to combine sets, costumes and colors in dazzling ways. There are frames here that look like big-screen shadow boxes, full of carefully coordinated lines and shapes. Few directors offer such a geometric mise en scene.
The story, if you can call it that, is a Greek myth mishmash. A rampaging king (Mickey Rourke, himself an installation piece) is torturing and killing his way across the land, while the gods above dither over whether or not to intervene. Meanwhile, a mortal named Theseus (Henry Cavill) decides to take matters into his own hands with the help of a comely oracle (Freida Pinto).
Yes, the plot is as ridiculous as it sounds, even when it manages to make sense. But I hardly cared as Singh served up one lustrous, bewildering image after another. The film opens with a disturbing shot of captive, wild-eyed soldiers lined up, with bits in their mouths, while encased in a giant stone cube. It’s as if the Terracota Army, those countless warrior statues buried with the first emperor of China, is about to be unleashed. Later, Pinto and her fellow oracles are seen from above while wearing matching red cloaks; when they move in unison, you seem to be watching a flower bloom.
I could go on. (The hats alone are jarringly intricate, including a toothy helmet Rourke wears that makes him look like a walking Venus Flytrap.) Most of it is over the top, but always in an audacious, artful way. In brief moments, Immortals manages something few movies ever do: it unveils something you’ve never before seen.