'Immortals' Use Of 3D Enhances Storytelling, Yet Director Tarsem Doesn't Believe In Its Longevity

by Kevin Jagernauth
July 25, 2011 2:20 AM
13 Comments
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Comic-Con '11: After Sony’s "The Amazing Spider-Man" presentation Friday afternoon, Comic-Con attendees appeared to have relatively few other films or properties to get excited about. But Relativity Media maximized the potential of their upcoming sword-and-sandal opus "Immortals" with a panel featuring cast and crew members as well as a presentation of some footage which, as one colleague put it, felt about perfect for screening in the convention’s centerpiece showroom, whether or not its charm translates to commercial success down the road.

As a quick reminder, the film directed by Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "The Fall") stars Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto, Mickey Rourke, Kellan Lutz, Luke Evans, John Hurt and Isabel Lucas, and follows the story of warrior prince Theseus (Cavill) as he leads men and gods alike into battle against titans in order to save mankind. As an early trailer has indicated, if anything, the film should be a visual wonder and as the filmmakers chatted during the panel, it was that element that certainly became a central focus.


1. Although producer Mark Canton previously worked on "300," "Immortals" is not just a redux of Zack Snyder’s speed-ramping spectacular.
"Immortals" is directed by Tarsem Singh, a filmmaker who indicated that first and foremost he didn’t just want to shoot everything in a green room, as Snyder did, when approaching the epic, mythical tale of a battle between gods and men. “There were a lot more physical sets than '300,'" he said. “Because I needed the actors to interact with things more, I needed the sets to be existing.” In fact, Singh said he shot certain sequences multiple times using different techniques to make sure that it looked and felt as visceral as possible, starting with actors on a set, then with CGI characters in a virtual environment, and finally with both of those sequences overlaid on top of each other.

2. Freida Pinto greatly enjoyed watching her buff and often shirtless male co-stars in action
Not unlike "300," the film appears to be heavy on testosterone, with an ensemble of chiseled male actors wearing very little as they go through the motions of making war. Pinto said it was a refreshing change of pace to be the least exposed actor on set. “My favorite part was watching the men,” she said. “I think it’s very rare that you get to be a part of a film where the men have to bare it all and the women can keep everything covered. Tarsem has an amazing vision, and he has the imagination of a three year old – only he can bring it out.”

Meanwhile, Luke Evans explained that there was actually a good reason why he and his fellow actors were chosen instead of older actors for their mythical roles. “We left the ‘ancient voice’ to John Hurt,” he said of his character Zeus’ necessary gravitas. “It was difficult – we’re used to seeing Zeus as an old man. So this was a new slant on the role. But as Tarsem said, if you were a god, you would want to be in the prime of your life.” Cavill agreed: “That’s a tricky thing, because you don’t want to make it sound too stuffy, but stay true to the age of the character. So it’s about finding a balance.”

3. The "Immortals" footage screened in San Diego is even more intense than what you saw in the trailer
Singh explained that they want to bring in as many viewers as possible, but the movie itself promises to be slightly more sinister than its promotional materials make it seem. “It’s a little darker than what the trailers lead you to believe,” he said. “The trailers have been for everybody, but the movie has a slightly darker tone.”

In the clip Singh showed, several gods descend upon a cavernous lair where they are quickly attacked by a group of homicidal monsters. The gods move almost twice as fast as their adversaries, and dispatch them with ruthless, violent efficiency. But when two of the gods are struck down and Zeus’ female companion is injured, he uses a pair of giant gold chains to literally bring down the entire chamber, in the process reducing an entire mountain to rumble. As he holds his companion in his arms and starts to transport her to safety, more of the creatures descend upon him from all sides.

4. Singh approached the film from a philosophical point of view, and then constructed it from a visual one.
Singh admitted he was a longtime atheist but was fascinated by the idea of gods, after his mother offered an observation about their role in his life. “I just wanted to address the idea of gods,” he said. “My mom said to me, 'How do you think you are as successful as you are if it wasn’t for my praying?' So I started with [that idea] in the script, and there’s a little bit less now. But there’s enough of my DNA for me to feel like it’s my film.”

Meanwhile, Singh is well known for his visual sense – so much so that he’s sometimes criticized for prioritizing that over storytelling. But he said that the way he directs works counterintuitive to conventional wisdom, but nevertheless works well on film. “I have certain images in my head, and I usually don’t start with [a script]. I usually start with an image, a good visual story. Fortunately it works in the medium I’m in.”

5. The film’s use of 3D enhances its storytelling, even if Tarsem isn’t completely sold on the technology’s longevity.
Discussing the subjective importance of 3D in the storytelling process, Singh said, “I think it’s an aesthetic call. Maybe in 30 or 40 years we’ll see it differently. But there’s lots of inherent problems and I don’t think that current 3D will age well."

Producer Mark Canton, meanwhile, indicated that the decision to make the movie in 3D was as much a commercial opportunity as a creative choice. “I think you have to look at this in the perspective of moviegoing audiences all around the world,” Canton said. “If you look at the numbers, they’re quite extraordinary. If it fits, and the filmmaker like Tarsem feels it can enhance the audience’s experience, we want more of it. But it’s still about good stories well-told.”

Check out the latest poster for "Immortals" below. It opens on November 11th.--Todd Gilchrist; Photo Credit: Kevin Winter, Getty from JustJared

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13 Comments

  • Cory Everett | July 25, 2011 7:35 AMReply

    I wrote the Snow White story.

    "This writer went into Saturday’s panel for Universal‘s “Snow White & The Huntsman” with next to no interest in it and damn if it didn’t end up winning him over, along with the rest of the packed crowd inside Hall H."

    I literally would not have attended the panel had I not been assigned to cover it but I have to admit that it did pique my interest.

    It was apparent that Roth was just doing this for the money, even going as far as to explain why he hired the cast members (Hemsworth was "hot" from the success of "Thor," Stewart would hopefully bring her "Twilight" fans, etc.) He proceeded to joke that by the time Comic-Con rolled around next year he hoped they would already be at $700 million in worldwide grosses which is pretty transparently gross behavior.

    BUT, the promo reel was pretty cool and I left thinking I'd be interested to see some footage after they get around to filming some of it. Sure it got the greenlight because fairy tales are "hot" right now but that doesn't mean it's impossible for the director to make something worthwhile out of it. Tried to explain here:

    "As transparent as the marketing and pandering can get, especially during the panels where all cast and crew have been coached on exactly which topics to hit and which to avoid in order to stay on the good side of fanboys and girls, the whole thing still kind of works."

    It was my first Comic-Con so I was able to see the hype machine first hand. It's completely transparent they're shilling their wares, but it still kinda works.

  • Edward Davis | July 25, 2011 5:30 AMReply

    "hey are just getting their marketing spin written up and copied by film bloggers." Yeah, it's totally true. It's lame. Since we're there we're probably going to cover it anyhow and just get some good quotes and not really editorialize around it because 1) CC is nuts and we're pressed for time and 2) readers who wanna see it for what it is -- like yourself -- will.

    We're not huge fans of it, if that's not entirely apparent.

  • Aka | July 25, 2011 5:23 AMReply

    @ frantisk: You really hit the nail on the head regarding the gullibility of the internet/blogging community. Good example with the Joe Roth produced "Snow White" film. Roth all but admits it's a calculated cash-in on his previous film. Everything about it sounds cynical and derivative but like so many studios they know how to play the blogging communities so that they lap it up. In Roth's case, namedropping a film which had a hundred times more talent behind and in front of the camera and took years to create rather than 10 months.

  • frantisk | July 25, 2011 4:47 AMReply

    in the case of this movie, "Immortals" they're fighting the backlash of 3D by claiming the 3D is part of the storytelling - of course they didn't show that, but did they even explain HOW the 3D was integral to or enhances the storytelling?

    How is there use of 3D actually different from all the other movies that have the "inherent" problems?

  • frantisk | July 25, 2011 4:31 AMReply

    Jesus Christ you guys are overly sensitive. I went out of my way to say I wasn't knocking your coverage at all, and that I enjoy your coverage, so not sure for the crazy defensiveness?

    Yes, Edward, I am aware Comic Con is "one big hawk and sell of our wares from the studios."

    But in the case of some of these movies, like "Snow white" or "Prometheus" they aren't showing any of those wares - they are just getting their marketing spin written up and copied by film bloggers.

    right now there are a 1000 blogposts linking "LOTR" to "Snow White" - the details don't matter of who said what, they got that out there. All the "Promethus" stuff and is about how it makes so much use of the 3D and all of the other bs.

    Again, your Snow White post said -

    "This writer went into Saturday’s panel for Universal‘s “Snow White & The Huntsman” with next to no interest in it and damn if it didn’t end up winning him over, along with the rest of the packed crowd inside Hall H.

    So basically, a movie that hasn't even started shooting yet, with no footage, won over an entire packed crowd. Just saying, if this can happen with some nice personalities and no footage, there isn't going to be any reason for any studio to go to one of these and risk showing anything

  • Edward Davis | July 25, 2011 4:08 AMReply

    "the bottom line is, studios are parading their casts and crews around at comic con and they are selling nothing other than that they are intending to make a good movie."

    of course, this is Comic-Con in a nutshell, it's one big hawk and sell of our wares from the studios. So you're aware of this, great. Consider yourself discerning. Congrats?

  • Edward Davis | July 25, 2011 4:07 AMReply

    is it a positive report on Snow White? I thought it was just a recap of the events. They didn't show anything, so how could it be overly positive? If we're there at an event, we're going to cover and recap it.

    We gave our thoughts on Immortals footage for example and the writer said it was both "insane" and potentially a huge "mess."

  • frantisk | July 25, 2011 4:04 AMReply

    Joe Roth now has the entire internet reporting that "Snow White and the Huntsman," which he even admits is just a cash in on "Alice in Wonderland," has the scope and scale of "Lord of the Rings"

    Does he have Weta Digital? (no) Peter Jackson? (no, first time director) Great source material? (no) Great cast? (no)

    .....

  • frantisk | July 25, 2011 3:56 AMReply

    the bottom line is, studios are parading their casts and crews around at comic con and they are selling nothing other than that they are intending to make a good movie.

    Which, well, every move pretty goes into production with the idea or hope that it will be good and successful.

  • frantisk | July 25, 2011 3:46 AMReply

    Yes, he does....so "the future of 3D is bleak, but at least in my movie we use it well for the storytelling" - if anything, he's acknowledging the backlash and trying to refute it in regards to his own movie.

    Again, totally get the need to cover the comic con stuff and what was said - no problem there, didn't mean to come across like I was knocking that, I'm not.

    But seriously, I mean we're now giving positive reports on "Snow White" which literally hasn't started shooting yet based on a 2 minute demo reel of its director?

    Honestly I read the Playlist and a lot of other movie sites, enjoy the coverage. But it's becoming really, really clear the studios are totally playing the internet/blogging community. They know exactly what to do to get positive word out there.

    The only thing out of comic con with bad buzz is "Cowboys vs. Aliens" the one movie that you know, showed the movie. That says something.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | July 25, 2011 3:26 AMReply

    "Yet Director Tarsem Doesn’t Believe In Its Longevity" are you guys blind?

    We thought it was interesting that he said both in the same breath. A guy who is SALES PITCHING does not say that. Duh.

  • padre | July 25, 2011 3:25 AMReply

    @frantisk

    Yep

    Pretty bizarre when the usually cynical Playlist starts taking the sales pitches at face value.

  • frantisk | July 25, 2011 2:36 AMReply

    um...why do people actually believe what they say at panels at comic con? I get the need to report on the presentations and what's being said, but come on.

    Spider-Man saved Andrew Garfield's life? 3-D is going to enhance the story telling? Please. These are all just sales points dictated by a studio.

    With 3D being rejected by audiences, all the studios that have already invested in 3D for movies coming out now have to do damage control and try to market the 3D as "unique" since it's no longer something that audiences get excited about. Sony's Spider-man reboot was made solely so they didn't lose the rights, "Immortals" was made solely to be "300 in 3D" - nothing more.

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