SAN FRANCISCO – It’s going to be hard to avoid comparing “Immortals” to “300.” The two films share similar producers, a similarly exhaustive use of green screen and at least a tangentially similar historical-cultural backdrop.
The teaser trailer for “Immortals” was screened on Saturday (April 2) for a packed Esplanade ballroom at San Francisco’s WonderCon, as the crowd became the first people to see any footage from director Tarsem Singh’s follow-up to 2006’s labor-of-love “The Fall.” And you can expect the comparisons to “300” to only increase.
Having seen the footage, here’s how I can best explain the difference:
Zack Snyder isn’t a great storyteller, but he has an unfailing eye for things that look “cool.” Tarsem Singh — many light years better as a stylist than Snyder — isn’t a great storyteller, but he has an unfailing eye for things that look “beautiful.” I vividly remember the experience of watching the first “300” footage at Comic-Con and being impressed by its coolness (which perhaps led directly to eventually being let down by its leaden sense of drama). Watching the tease for “Immortals,” its coolness didn’t overwhelm me, but I was amazed by the compositional beauty of every frame.
In the panel that was sandwiched between the two airings of the teaser — expertly moderated by HitFix’s Drew McWeeny — Singh repeatedly described “Immortals” as “Caravaggio meets ‘Fight Club'” and as bizarre as that amalgamation may sound, it actually made sense with the context of the clips.
[More on the “Immortals” teaser and the “Immortals” panel after the break…]
“You can never do anything from literature or mythology without pissing off a lot of people. You just have to decide how many you want to piss off,” Tarsem explained of the relationship between “Immortals” and Greek mythology. That’s a polite way of saying that if you were raised on Homer or Edith Hamilton, you’re not going to find all that much that makes sense.
The plot involves Mickey Rourke — looking and sounding magnificently anachronistic — as King Hyperion, a brutal ruler who decides to wage war against the Gods — including Luke Evans as Zeus, Kellan Lutz and Poseidon and Isabel Lucas as Athena. Only a stonemason named Theseus (Henry Cavill) can save humanity.
A stonemason? Wasn’t Theseus a demigod? Not-so-much anymore.
“We’ve gone the direction of not using Theseus as a demi-god. He’s just a man, a man who’s particularly good at kicking ass, but he’s just a man,” Cavill explained at the panel.
And don’t Evans and Lutz and Lucas seem a wee bit young to be embodying the rulers of Olympus?
“If you have to be Immortal, the answer is that you want to look Immortal youthfully… They’ve been around forever. They chose to look young,” Singh said.
Of the mythological background, Singh said, “If you’ve read Greek mythology, you know they were never consistent. Sometimes somebody was their son. Sometimes they ate them. Sometimes they had incest with them. They had all sorts of things on different days from different stories.”
He later added, “Did I do the homework? Yes. Did I want to change it up? Yes. Should you? I think so.”
Fair enough, I guess.
In the teaser, the faux-epic backdrops can definitely be described as “300”-esque, but there are still clear hints at a color slate that could only be Tarsem’s, specifically the use of golds and reds. Singh is also reuniting with costume designer Eiko Ishioka on “Immortals” and you look at the military garb, specifically the masks donned by both Hyperion and a slew of less identified buff warriors, and it’s easy to see a through-line with “The Cell” and “The Fall.”
The showcased action scenes appeared to be heavy on slow-motion, but you could always sense Singh’s unique signature — or the signature he’s channeling around the aforementioned Caravaggio — in the visual spacing.
As for other inspirations?
“Were there any other artists? Yes. Most can’t sue me, because they’re dead. But it’s everything I learned in art school and also bad TV and Discovery channel,” Singh said.
And what else inspired him?
Singh replied, “That’s kind of like asking ‘What is your influence?’ Everything you grow up on. The books you read. The literature you read. The porn you watch, the Tarkofsky movies you’ve seen, everything it all gets mixed up in your head…”
We watched the teaser in old fashioned 2-D, but the movie will also be released in 3-D.
“It’s a tool,” Singh said of the technology. “If you put the cart ahead of the donkey, you have a problem with it.”
He added, “My style tends to go 3-D, because my style tends to be tableau-y.”
That refers back, again, to the Caravaggio influence, which Singh admitted was only a starting point. He said he approached the framing and lighting with the Caravaggio influence, but admitted that when you make a film, you often have to adapt based simply on the shots you get and the performances you get.
Regarding the 3-D, though, producer Mark Canton acknowledged, “I bet you that the collector’s item, in the long run, is going to be the 2-D version.” The producer also said the final product was going to be “a real popcorn-badass movie.”
The teaser was distinctive, but not everything hit. You’re going to be hard-pressed to explain to me why Zeus fights with an electricity whip — An extension of tossing lightning bolts? — or the need to have Theseus fighting with a bow that seems to shoot laser arrows. That was a bit cheesy. And although even Singh would probably tell you that “dialogue” doesn’t rank high on the list of things that drive people to his film, every bit of the revealed script sounded like somebody passed “Gladiator,” “Braveheart” and “300” through a blender and this was the result. But I can’t quite tell you what “The Fall” was about and I know it was stunning to look at, so we’re talking about a director who makes choices. I’ve only seen two minutes of “Immortals” and I’m prepared to guarantee that no matter how tin-eared the script, Mickey Rourke’s gonna be goofy fun, Freida Pinto’s gonna be gorgeous, Henry Cavill’s gonna look like he’s been doing crunches and the whole thing is going to look very pretty.
Some other highlights from the “Immortals” panel:
*** Not surprisingly, although Luke Evans and Isabel Lucas were on the panel, the questions directed at the actors went exclusively to Henry Cavill. Your new Superman only got one question about his role as the Man of Steel, specifically about the suit, saying “The new suit, it’s still in development, so I haven’t tried it on just yet.” The “Tudors” stared down his impending fame by saying, “I have no idea what to expect. I’m just going to wing it and play by ear.”
*** Singh gave a happy bow every time a questioner praised “The Fall,” saying “I didn’t know I had more than two fans and three have shown up,” though he added “If there had been more of you, I would have had more money.”
*** Of his next feature, an adaptation of “Snow White” featuring the newly cast Lily Collins, Singh said “I’m about to do Snow White and everybody asks ‘Why?’ I always think, ‘As long as I can have my DNA…’ I don’t have children. The only way I can pass my genes or my means on is through my films right now.”
*** Everybody chose their words carefully when talking about Rourke and working with the “Wrestler” star. Cavill said, “He’s a fantastic presence alone, just to stand next to” and also called him scary. Singh referred to how it helped the other actors to work with “a loose cannon with a spear.”