Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review of Immortals

I saw Immortals last night with my stepson and my opposite-taste-continuum wife, and we all liked Immortals, so that bodes well for its reception by a general audience.  The main thing I can see going against it in this context is violence, and since I think most people these days seem to be pretty comfortable with their blood-thirsty side, I doubt that will hold it back.  If human-on-human violence bothers you, then I bet you'd already know not to go see Immortals, anyway.  I may come back to the issue of violence, but let me also note that if 300's thin storyline bothered you, there's a little more to 300. 

Now for the grousing.  The premise and the plot are still pretty thin in some places.  Why are the Heraklions such jerks?  Why do they want to follow a psychopath to wipe out the Hellenes?  Why would they put up with the stuff Hyperion does to them?  Who made him the boss of us?!

My wife couldn't understand the grousing.  Here I was having seen the kind of movie that I like, it was a good movie, and she was there with me and actually enjoyed it.  Beyond some complaints about story-telling, I think it is all goes back to our current zeitgeist, which prefers radical reinterpretations that have little to no relationship to traditional material beyond a bare minimum. I understand the desire to put your own spin on old material, and this become more important when material has gotten tired and overly familiar, but when it comes to anything demanding Classical knowledge, folks today are hyper-ignorant.  When you look a the picture of Poseidon from the movie above, you know (or guess) it is him from the trident (and this puts you in the top percentile of the population in terms of classical knowledge).  However, I chose to use the only Greek god in the entire film that is indicated by traditional symbology: Zeus has a fiery whip, Athena has either curved daggers or those Japanese one-handed scythes (I know, I'm not in the mood to look up the real name), Ares has a war hammer.  What the Tartarus?  Meanwhile {¡SPOILER ALERT!} the famous Greek hero Theseus, second only to Hercules, has one adventure and then dies?  {Here endeth the spoiler.}  Pffft.  I counter that the contemporary audience is so classics-poor that most of it will seem new to them anyway.  Reinterpretation should happen for reasons, not just for postmodern masturbatory buzz.  The radicalness of it in Immortals and cases like it goes beyond any real reason.  Why not just make up an original fantasy story?  It will be impossible to keep out some points of classical inspiration, anyway.

In addition to complaints about discontinuity with the source material for no particular reason, there is the extremities of its portrayal of combat.  Now, I know complaints about realism are going to be met with rejoinders about cinema and the style of this certain film, which is fair enough, but I still have some issues here.  I note that on the whole, we are moving to grander and grander spectacle with less realism, and my own counter-current desire for an increase in realism.  Sure, I want to be entertained and blown away, but I have two concerns: eroding our ability to visually and mentally detect the realistic and the threatening of suspension of belief for those of us who retain some measure of verisimil-detection.  Do I hope in vain that we would see more films that strike this balance a bit more satisfactorily?  Or is the zeitgeist so strong in the other direction?  I guess the one glaring example is when outnumbered idiots give up the advantage of standing spread out in the open to fight huge numbers constricted by a narrow tunnel.  No amount of style can excuse that for me.  (Hey, didn't you guys make 300?  What was the tactical point of that film again?)

Some of the blends are interesting.  Christian ideas and Byzantine iconography influence this recasting of Greek myth, which has a certain honesty about it, since Christianity has forever changed the way we think about divine matters.  And I loved that fact that they actually used Greek in the movie, and didn't use a pretend Germanic pronunciation of Greek.  But what alphabet is that used throughout the film?  Certainly not Greek.  Was it designed to look cool?  Why not just invent a new Greek script instead of what is obviously a modern typeface?  And using rebar in the film?  Surely that was another look choice and not a cost-cutting measure, but will people really not recognize rebar?  That with the architectural demands the sets would put on an ancient culture, I found myself fantasizing that this was a post-catastrophic Earth of the future that was replaying religious and mythological scripts of the past.

When it comes to ultimate questions, this movie reminded me more of the Clash of the Titans remake than of 300.  And here is where the real post-Christian nature of the film is evident: Exploration of the idea that the divine needs us. From my theological perspective, this is the ultimate in self-flattery from and for folks who have a terrible crisis in identity and worth.  Is the idea that the divine loves us and doesn't need us at all in any inherent way just way beyond the popular capacity to entertain?

To close, I turn to the miscellaneous: Freida Pinto is drop dead gorgeous.  I demand that she play the iconic oracle in any future Pathfinder film.  Mikey Rourke, I don't know if it is you or Hyperion or both equally, but it is hard not to enjoy seeing you beat up.  For pleasures of grand spectacle, genre, and venal indulgence, I recommend Immortals.  It's enough that these days I'm getting some of the kind of movies that I enjoy made and made well, even if they give me a lot to complain about.  And if anybody can find me more information on that typeface/alphabet used in the film, I would really appreciate it.  Yeah, sometimes I go for the eye-candy, too, Phaedra.

EDITED: For clarity.


  1. SO do you feel that a movie done in this manner is the beginnings of an Orwellian Newspeek to filter our perceptions of the past? Or perhaps to remove unneeded information in the name of entertainment, and causing a type of idiocracy.

  2. I like "accuracy" to old myths as much as the next guy, and I think their are plenty of complaints to raise against this film, but I can't follow you here. Yes, the myths were reinterpreted (drastically), but so was geography--or are all ancient Greek sites built along shear cliffs? It seems to me this is meant to be the "world before our world" perhaps--the source from whence our muddled myths sprang. The statue of Theseus slaying the minotaur we see at the end seems "closer" to the classical model than the "actual" events we saw in the story, hinting at this sort of change with retelling going on. Admittedly, though the film doesn't real address the issue, but it seems to me you're dismissing that there might be a reason for the changes too quickly.

    I would also ask: do you think ancient Greek oral storytellers were greatly concerned with "fidelity" or accuracy? It seems like your picking an arbitrary point in history to enshrine. And even if we gave preference to the version of the tales we have today, in what way is that "realism?"

    While I only recall seeing it briefly (on the door), I thought the alphabet looked like Linear B which would be appropriate, if so.

  3. I am making two different critiques here. One is about continuity, the other is about realism. The latter is more directed at combat. I'll take a look when I get back and see if I can clarify further.