Thursday 10 November 2011

The Hyperion collection: "Immortals"

Given the comprehensive horlicks Hollywood made of the Clash of the Titans remake, 300 and Troy before that, it's encouraging to finally encounter a studio movie on Greek legend that appears to have done the reading and gone to the right exhibitions. Immortals, the latest offering from über-stylist Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall), handles its particular myth - how brave Theseus (Henry Cavill, soon to be Superman) picked up the Epirus Bow, won the favour of Zeus and took on the nefarious King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) - with great care; as spectacle goes, it's never less than dazzling, and - for once - you emerge pondering just what a remarkable time for the cinema this is: we've got Steve McQueen pushing to get Antonioni's anomie into the multiplex (with the upcoming Shame), and Singh bringing a dash of Sergei Paradjanov to the Friday night crowd's attention. Strange days, truly.

As those few who caught The Fall will testify, Singh has always been more Matthew Barney than Zack Snyder, and his rare gift for pageantry is here expanded further by an unusually considered use of 3D space. What seems like half of Immortals unfolds on the edges of cliffs, giving the film an immediate, site-specific suspense and verticality; fight scenes are composed as unedited straight lines (or horizontal tracking shots), as though being recorded for tapestries or marble carvings; and the marshalling of walls, rows and columns throughout makes it possible to get off on the architecture alone, which should be a particular joy for those of us who despaired before the junky stereoscope of the Titans redo. This ordered framing refocuses the eye on Immortals' multiple objects of fascination: a vast silver bull that doubles as a handy oven, or the extraordinary headwear being showcased, which - with its array of spikes, pincers and barbed-wire tips - may very well turn Lady GaGa puce with envy.

The conceptualisation is never quite allowed to overwhelm the narrative - these myths have endured for a reason - or to crush anything more spontaneous. It's pleasing that Singh should have found room in this tableau for such salty old dogs as Stephen Dorff as a travelling rogue and John Hurt as the hero's mentor, while Rourke, whose insistent snacking forms an entertainment in itself, actually gives better villainry than the cluttered Iron Man sequel permitted him. The leads, granted, are what we might charitably describe as suggestibly blank - Freida Pinto's Oracle is even a virgin, we're told, though her maidenhood doesn't last long once Theseus masters his weapon - but they're more interesting to look at than the whitebread Sam Worthington and Gemma Arterton, and it's easy to enjoy the way Tarsem looks at them, too. The whole thing's just a gorgeous artefact, and an object lesson in what's to be gained from placing premium-grade studio resources (including 3D) in the hands of an artist; one does just wonder and worry whether the multiplex still has the time, place or patience for art. Cinemagoers of the world: your quest for this weekend is to go prove me wrong.

Immortals opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow. An edited version of this review will run in tomorrow's Scotsman.


  1. Nice review, Mike. Seems like you enjoyed it more than I anticipated, so might be one to check out if I have a spare few hours in the week!

  2. Do give it a go - I fear it'll need all the paying punters it can get...