In the musical Chicago, Billy Flynn famously suggests that you ought to “give ‘em the old razzle dazzle,” that no matter how bad whatever you’re selling may be, “razzle dazzle ‘em / and they’ll never catch wise!” It seems as though for his 2011 Greek epic Immortals, Tarsem Singh has opted to take Flynn’s words to heart. Flynn’s notion may work in a court case within a musical, but it isn’t enough to carry an entire film.
Immortals is a movie full of style, it’s brimming with it. The costumes are beautiful, the sets are beautiful, the way it’s filmed is beautiful. But, that’s all there is to it, this expansion of the Theseus myth never, not for a single moment, has any sort of weight to it. Watching Immortals one never gets the sense that, whomever lives and whomever dies, it isn’t going to be okay in the end at least partially because the viewer is never made to care. Singh’s direction of the script from Charley and Vlas Parlapanides never allows us to connect with the characters in a way that makes it matter what happens to them.
It all starts out well enough – Theseus (Henry Cavill) wants nothing more than to protect his poor mother, Aethra (Anne Day-Jones), from the coming onslaught of King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke). The King is searching for a magical bow which will allow him to unlock the Titans and generally wreak havoc, and Theseus’ village may or may not be standing in the way of Hyperion’s quest. They live in a remote out of the way place and Hyperion has no solid knowledge that his bow is near there, so it’s more of a bloodlust thing that makes the villagers fear that attack is imminent (which it is).
It may be a little silly, but it’s a good enough opening, the problem is that it doesn’t go anywhere from there except for the places you know it’s going to go after the first five minutes. Theseus is, it seems, a lower class member of the village because his mother was raped and that means that Theseus has to wait an extra day to leave which in turn means that Hyperion will be there by then. Theseus is also a warrior of super-human skill because he’s been trained by Zeus or Zeus in the form of an old man played by John Hurt a fact that, to Zeus, matters a great deal. There’s also a virgin who has visions of the future, Phaedra (Freida Pinto), visions she’ll lose if she ever goes to bed with a man and there’s a soldier.
And that, really, is all you need to know. Theseus fights; the Gods watch and argue and take part; Rourke’s Hyperion pontificates in silly fashion and chews the scenery. It is all very lovely to look at with slow motion and fast motion and brilliant colors and great sets. There is just nothing beyond that and, frankly, it’s not really enough to carry the day.
The razzle dazzle is certainly enough to draw one in, but after about 10 minutes the wonder of it wears and off you’re left with nothing. Pretty visuals aren’t enough to keep a Billy Flynn-style three ring circus going for 110 minutes. It really is a shame, too, because it is a great movie to look at and Singh is clearly talented. Had more energy and effort been put into executing a compelling story and creating characters, Immortals could have been a truly rousing, wonderful success. Instead, it works out to be little more than a highly stylized blood and sandals actioner. John Hurt is fun to watch, but isn’t there enough to make a difference.
As stated, Immortals is a wonder to behold on Blu-ray. The beautiful bits of red and gold stand out in the color palette, and there is ample of moments of detail – from the wrinkles on John Hurt’s face to the crags in the rocks. Everything shimmers and shines and dazzles, effort was put into the production of the film’s look and effort was put into its representation on Blu-ray. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, too, is wondrous. The viewer is placed solidly into the middle of Singh’s whiz-bang action sequences with great effects and a whole lot of rumble. As with the film’s look, the sound design is well-considered. It all looks and sounds so good that one can’t help but wonder what happened to the actual story. One almost wishes it didn’t look and sound so great because of how much a let down the movie itself is – talented people were brought in to make this, but that doesn’t translate to anything beyond the film’s style.
The film comes with the expected deleted/alternate scenes as well as a piece on Greek mythology, an on-disc graphic novel, and a multi-part behind the scenes piece with the standard talking heads. A digital copy is also included. A decent amount of time in the bonus features is spent touting Singh and his brilliance and style and desire to tell a non-traditional Greek myth much of which comes off feeling like a non-specific excuse as to why the story and characters don’t particularly work.
There is enough ooh and aah and blood to impress a small segment of the potential audience for this film, but not more than that. Who knows, maybe Billy Flynn was wrong and, even if it worked in the days of Methuselah, the razzle dazzle is no longer enough. It certainly isn’t here.