SDCC 2011: Earth-Shakingly Epic 'Immortals' Panel

Saturday, 23 July 2011 12:08 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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SDCC 2011: Earth-Shakingly Epic 'Immortals' Panel

The mythology of ancient Greece has endured and remained resonant for literally thousands of  years, but nowadays the likes of Zeus and Poseidon have to compete with the neon gods of comic books, video games, and any number of contemporary pop figures.  In this year's Immortals, director Tarsem Singh will even the playing field, jettisoning the familiar cinematic iconography of Greek myth, instead providing a world of exceedingly attractive immortals and humans who are no strangers to epic 3D action.

At San Diego Comic-Con, Relativity Media pulled out all the stops to impress the Hall H crowd with the Immortals panel.  Unparalleled visual stylist Tarsem Singh was present to discuss the film and share heretofore-unseen new footage.  Not only that, but producers Mark Canton, Gianni Nunnari were also present, along with castmembers Freida Pinto, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, Stephen Dorff, and soon-to-be Superman Henry Cavill, who plays Theseus, a mortal peasant chosen to be the hero of the gods.

The panel kicked off with a new 3D trailer that is far greater in scale than anything we've previously seen from the film.  It opens with the always-reliable John Hurt narrating the backstory of a celestial war between gods and titans, a war that ended with the gods imprisoning the titans for all time.  Now though, the bloodthirsty and power-mad King Hyperion, played by Mickey Rourke, is utilizing his unstoppable army to find an ancient weapon that will allow him to free the titans and successfully wage war on the gods themselves.  Against this threat, the gods themselves are ineffectual, and must select a mortal champion.  The only human who can measure up is Theseus, whose entire village was razed by Hyperion.

This trailer isn't simply bigger than the teaser, it's also darker and more action-oriented, with huge spear-throwing, decapitating showstoppers, as well as armies of thousands going head to collective head in expansive battles.  There's no shortage of arterial spray that invariably moves in slow-motion arcs that are not arbitrarily gory, but are instead oddly balletic and striking.  This is indicative of how Singh's distinctive, painterly style combines with the tenets of action movie-making to create a distinctive and wholly appropriate amalgamation.

The director was an energetic, fast-talking, and hugely charming presence.  While it is in no way surprising that Singh provides gorgeous images, he explained during the panel that the project appealed to him for its substance.  "I wanted to address the idea of gods," he said.  "The idea that if there are gods, why don't the interfere?"

Though the story uses mythology as a springboard, Singh deviated from repetitious retelling of Greek stories.  He was very much involved in constructing the story he said, explaining, "Enough of my DNA's in there for me to feel like it's my film."  

Because of the stylized look and the presence of 300 producers Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari, comparisons between Singh's film and Zack Snyder's are perhaps inevitable, but the two movies are very different.  For one thing, Singh's style is very different; as he said, his is a conglomeration of every influence he's ever had, however small.  As he said, the look of Immortals is the product of what refers to as, "Little baby Lego on top of little baby Lego."  He also said that the production did not rely too extensively on green screens, as he instead required the texture and physicality provided by actual sets.

Immortals is also distinguished by an apparently faultless implementation of 3D technology.  Singh explained, "I think when you make something like that, 3D's a tool."  His exacting compositions were ideal for the third dimension, he said, "If you're ready for it, you compose for it," continuing, "For me, my style tends to lend itself to that."

At his first ever Comic-Con, the British-born Cavill addressed the precise balance in his performance necessary to make Theseus a credible leading man who is heroic in an old-fashioned sense without being a parody.  "Try not to be too English about it," he said. "And try not to be too American, either."

The lone representative of femininity on the panel was Freida Pinto, familiar to audiences from Slumdog Millionaire.  Large-scale filmmaking on this level was a whole new experience for her.  "This was my first ever big budget film," she said. Still though, she asserted, "It didn't feel very different, in terms of performance, from an independent film."

Luke Evans discussed his role as the king of the Olympians, saying, "We're used to seeing Zeus as an old man.  He's always been portrayed by older actors, so this was a challenge."

Still, a new clip, played twice for a grateful Hall H crowd, suggested that Evans' age did not alter his ability to lend a sense of charisma and gravity to Zeus.  The 2D clip from near the film's climax, features Poseidon and various gods clad in shining gold armor, facing off against the freshly-unleashed titans.  Usually, Olympian deities in film merely spectate from above or dispense portentous dialogue, but Singh's gods get their hands dirty.  This clip conclusively demonstrates the benefits of that approach.  Rather than shooting lighting from the sky, Zeus utilizes a chain, laying waste to his adversaries while his cohorts use knives and tridents to do the same.  The action is very fluid, with each god taking on multiple titans, and slow motion providing stylized exclamation points to each creative and blood-splattering kill.  More than simple speed ramps, though, the sequence involves combatants moving at different speeds, with gods swiftly fighting slo-mo titans in the same shot.  Having showcased the crowd-pleasing action, the clip then conveys the scale of events in the story, as Zeus caves in an entire mountain as a massive battle of mortals rages at its base.

Basically, Immortals appears to be a fusion of old-school sword-swinging storytelling and distinctive visuals that could only be created with modern technology.  The result is almost certainly an inimitable epic adventure, scheduled to hit screens on November 11, 2011.

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