Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Immortals

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Times of India (2.5/5 Stars) AV Club/Onion (B-) Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Times of India review -
The AV Club/Onion's review -,65019/

The Immortals (directed by Tarsem Singh, written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides) is in many senses a movie of the future.  The film continues the Hollywood trend to increasingly make movies in 3D.  It also relies heavily on computer generated imagery (CGI).  The screenplay borrowing heavily from the mythology of ancient Greece was written by two young Greeks and the director, Singh, as well as one of the stars, Frieda Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire [2008], Miral [2011], Rise of the Planet of the Apes [2011]), are up and coming stars from India.  Hence the critical reaction is not surprising.  Chicago's primary movie critics Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times) and Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune) did not even review the film (both have longstanding aversions for CGI) and the CNS/USCCB gave the movie an "O" (morally offensive) rating (for both its violence and nudity/sexual situations).  Yet both the American youth oriented AV Club/Onion as well as the Times of India gave the movie "B-" or "above average" ratings. 

What's going on?  Well, more or less obviously we're seeing a generational split.  I do actually agree with the CNS/USCCB's criticism of the excessive violence in the film as well as with its criticism of the film's depiction of choices regarding sexuality.  Afterall, Oracles (usually consecrated virgins, who served as priestess-prophetesses in Ancient Greece, predicting the future and serving to give advice even to statesmen and kings) were very important in ancient (pagan) Greece.  The Oracle at Delphi was one of ancient Greece's most important (pagan) religious shrines/institutions for nearly 1000 years.  However, when the Oracle Phraeda (played by Frieda Pinto)  meets the muscular Theseus (Henry Cavill) in the film, it becomes more or less inevitable that her previous consecrated life (and societal function) was going to go by the wayside, thrown to the wind by Theseus' pecks and abs.  In Hollywood, sex does "conquer all" afterall... So I do think that the CNS/USCCB has a point in lamenting the easiness by which the Oracle gives up previous station and function in life to throw herself into the arms of the archtypical Greek hero with ripping muscles.

I also did not like the film's violence.  Parents should note that this film, The Immortals, is far more violent than this year's Marvel Comics inspired Thor (sanitized from ancient Nordic mythology) and surprisingly even more violent and bloody than the recent remake of Conan the Barbarian [2011] where such blood and gore would have been more expected.

Yet, I bring up the recent films Thor and Conan the Barbarian for another reason. It seems to me that Charley and Vlas Parlapanides approached the patrimony of Greek mythology in a similar way that Marvel Comics approached Norse Mythology in creating their character Thor and has continued to approach its other super-hero creations, and also in way similar to the approached used by Robert E. Howard to create the world for Conan.

So the world that Charley and Vlas Parlapanides created for their Theseus (as opposed to the Theseus of classical Greek Mythology) is something of a stew of various themes and images from the classical Greek Myth and their own adaptations: The Theseus of this movie is a hero-son of Zeus (played by Luke Evans) , instead of being the hero-son of Poseidon as per the classical myth though Poseidon (played by Kellan Lutz) does play a (smaller) role in the film.  As in the classical myth Theseus does defeat a Minotaur (a 1/2 man 1/2 bull monster of classical Greek mythology).

However,Theseus's greatest feat in this film is to be found in his defeating Hyperion (played by Mickey Rourke).  In classical Greek mythology, Hyperion was a Titan, that is one of a generation of older Gods overthrown by Zeus, Poseidon and the other Olympian Gods.  While Hyperion is portrayed as seeking to free the Titans from their imprisonment inside a mountain by Zeus, he is presented in the movie as the king of the Heracleans (a people believing itself to be descended from the Greek hero who we know as Hercules).  Now it is true that around the time in which this movie was to have been set, 1200 BC, a people known to us today as the Dorians really did understand themselves as descendants of the Hercules and did descend on Greece to destroy the then existing Mycenaean civilization.  Incidently, the Spartans came to be the most famous descendants of the Dorians while Theseus of the classical myth came to be the legendary founder of Sparta's great rival Athens (the goddess Athena too, played by Isabel Lucas, actually did play a somewhat peripheral role in this film as something of a protectress of Theseus).

All this is to say that the story playing out in this film is harkens to the time of the Dorian invasion of Greece as well as to mythological defeat of the Titans by Zeus and his generation of (Olympian Gods)Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, Greeks themselves who probably grew-up on these stories, as well as the Marvel Comics and so forth, shuffled around the characters a bit, added an Oracle (a woman prophetess/priestess) for good measure and produced a fairly compelling if confusing tale. (Students _don't_ use this film as a strict guide to Greek mythology, because you may get its myths and characters all confused) 

But my greatest criticism of this film would be its truly gratuitous blood and gore.  I don't mind the CGI, and I did like the movie 300 [2006], on which this current movie heavily leans and where CGI was used really, really well.  I just don't believe that all the violence and gore, which as I wrote above exceeded even that of the recent remake of Conan the Barbarian [2011], was necessary to tell the story.  Indeed, it became needlessly distracting.

So a note of advice to the younger film-makers out there -- Go for it with the CGI300 [2006], Avatar [2009], Inception [2010] all point to an almost limitless future in using this technology for telling a story.  But do put limits on the blood/gore.  There really is no need for this, especially if the story is already compelling without it.

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