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AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Henry Cavill, a cast member in “Immortals,” poses alongside actors dressed as soldiers in ancient Greece at the premiere of the film, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, in Los Angeles.

Immortals: Pretty packaging, just don't look too deep

Posted: December 1, 2011 - 9:51am

"Immortals"
Relativity Media
1 hour, 50 minutes

This week was one I'd been looking forward to. Like anyone of my generation (and most others, I'd imagine) I am a huge fan of the Muppets. I grew up watching the show, then the movies, as well as all the ancillary Muppet media, including a little show you might have heard of called "Sesame Street." The Muppets are awesome.

And now Kermit and Co. are having a major resurgence and a new big budget film is hitting theaters, just when I have someone of the perfect age -- a new generation to carry on the legacy of Muppet love. My son will be 4 next week and I was pumped. So, my wife and I got a babysitter for the 2-year-old, bundled our boy into the car and were on our way when he said, quietly and sadly, from the back seat, "I don't want to go to the movies. I want to stay home." 

This began to get more insistent as we drove and finally my wife looked at me and said, "Are we really going to force him to go to a movie?" Reluctantly, I agreed and we drove him home and told the babysitter she had one more for the afternoon. My wife and I went to see "Immortals" instead, which was pretty to look at, but lacking a certain fuzzy puppet sensibility. I got a clearer picture of why my boy didn't want to go to the movies, an activity he loves, when he spent the night throwing up. There's not much that can cool one's excitement for seeing Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie and the rest on the big screen, but stomach flu will do it.

I was actually a little surprised that my wife agreed to go see "Immortals," but I think she was just trying to keep the peace. She's good at that. I even reminded her that it stars Mickey Rourke, who she can't stand, but a night out is a night out.

"Immortals" tells the tale of the Greek hero Theseus, who you might remember as the guy who fought the bull-headed minotaur in the labyrinth. I wouldn't suggest this for supplemental reading, however -- it's basically mythology-lite, sprinkled with bits and pieces of different stories to form an epic mishmash. 

The crux of the story involves the wicked King Hyperion (Roarke), who leads a massive army against the peaceful Greeks in search of a mythical weapon called the Epirus Bow, which he intends to use to unleash the Titans from their prison under Mount Tartarus. The Titans were an earlier race of gods who basically got put down by Zeus and the rest of the Greek gods you recognize -- Athena, Posiedon, Ares, etc. For some reason, Zeus, who has handed down a strict non-interference policy as far as humans go, has taken it upon himself to train a young peasant by the name of Theseus -- Zeus taking the form of a grizzled John Hurt so as not to be recognized. I guess the idea is that Theseus, being completely awesome in all ways, can save mankind when they most need it.

There's a lot of other stuff involving a beautiful oracle, Theseus' plucky buddy Stavros, and a whole lot of crazy costumes, but it all comes around to Theseus vs. Hyperion for the fate of all humanity.

"Immortals" is so scant on logic, or any actual literary basis, it would have to be strong somewhere else, and that place is production design. Director Tarsem Singh creates a beautiful and dark world populated with glowing gods, terrifying villains, and rippling heroes. Every attention to detail has been paid, and what many have called "300 part 2," puts that previous movie to shame as far as a glorious look and feel. The costumes are beautiful and strange, and even stuff that shouldn't work, like Ares' helmet made of swords or Hyperion's crab-claw mask, do.

The cinematography, if you can call it that, considering it's got to be mostly computer generated, is epic in scale.  "Immortals" has the look but, unfortunately, just like Tarsem's previous big-budget offering, "The Cell," is all surface and no depth. Also like "The Cell," "Immortals" has graphic violence and no small amount of sadism.

Almost nothing makes sense in this world. The gods rule from high on Mount Olympus, but have nothing to do with humanity. So what do they do? Dress up in crazy outfits, apparently. The movie tells us early on that way back in history somewhere, the gods figured out that they could kill each other (immortal, anyone?) and that the defeated ones became Titans and were locked away in a special cell under the mountain.

So, are they dead? Or did they just become ash-colored zombies, which is what the Titans seem to be.

There are odd choices, as well, story-wise. There are gods, and magic, but for some reason Tarsem and crew decide that the one real monster in the story, the minotaur, should just be a creepy brute with a barbed-wire bull helmet on. That was disappointing, as was the plotline which starts out mysterious and interesting, but devolves into yet another video-game battle movie by the end. 

Suffice it to say that "Immortals" is worth seeing if all you're doing is looking. Don't pay too close attention to the details. Don't try to wedge it in to your vague memories of Greek Mythology from school. Just think of it as an elaborately decorated jewel box, with nothing inside. 

Grade: C-

"Immortals" is rated R for graphic battle scenes, sadistic violence, sexual situations, and brief nudity.

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