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REVIEW: ‘Immortals.’ It’s Quite Impressive How Many Crunches the Gods Did.

The Projector

1. If "Immortals" were just a succession of still shots -- which I suppose it is, but you know what I mean -- like a random iPhoto slideshow, I think it might be one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. It is, without question, one of the most visually striking mainstream Hollywood films you'll ever come across; director Tarsem Singh has an eye for composition that's unlike almost any other director working today. Each one of his scenes start off with an isolated, fascinating image that you sense Tarsem spent hours orchestrating and fussing with until it was dead perfect. But then, because this is a movie and not a Still Life Exhibition, the images have to start moving, and the people have to stop talking and then "Immortals" is stultifyingly stupid. If only movies didn't have to move.

2. The story of "Immortals" is the basic origin story of the Greek gods and their ongoing interactions and battles with humans. I mean, I guess: I'll confess to not being up on my Greek myths as this movie sort of assumes I am, considering how little explanation it gives its narrative. Certain characters pop in and out for no reason, and then a new character will suddenly show up and he's the center of the movie for a few minutes. From what I can understand, Zeus (Luke Evans, as well as occasionally John Hurt, in another conceit I didn't understand) is the father of Theseus (Henry Cavill), a peasant boy who apparently had nothing to eat growing up but Nordic-Tracs and Ab Crunchers. They're fighting King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, because hey, why not?) for control of some golden bow and then there are people in cages who are titans and honestly we've wasted too much time on this already.

3. Tarsem spends so much time primping his still images -- honestly, if this movie were just establishing shots, it'd be terrific -- that he forgets (or doesn't even bother) to give us any basic story clues to what's going on. It doesn't help that the movie is so relentlessly humorless, without so much of a wink that a bunch of shirtless men running around in masks and carrying spears is, uh, a little bit silly. I'm not sure Tarsem or any of his cast worried too much about what anyone was saying or doing, which is strange, because this is a ridiculously simple story to tell and they've still botched it. A lot of bad action movies feature people sitting around just sort of waiting for the action scenes to start. "Immortals" is a lot better when people are just sitting around.

4. That's not entirely fair. There's a battle sequence that ends the film that has some zest to it, if only because it's shot in "300" Vision, where the action freezes and then speeds up so we can feel every THWACK and GOOOSH. (Even in fight scenes, Tarsem would rather things not move.) And as a leading man, Cavill, soon to be our Superman, certainly cuts an impressive figure, and if he can figure out a sense of humor, or at least the ability to lift one or both of his eyebrows, he could be a perfectly passable Man of Steel. Rourke rather clearly doesn't know what movie he's in, but he's still a kick to watch anyway, if just because Rourke hamming it up has its charms even if there is purposely no context. Also, Freida Pinto is in the movie and smiles and is pretty and remains about as dull an actress as there is working. She is pretty, though. That's something I wanna get clear.

5. Not much is done with the 3D, and you sense that Tarsem would have just as soon gone without it; it just dulls his images, making them darker and harder to decipher. (There's one closeup on Cavill's face in which you legitimately can't make out his features. Now that's 3D that's too dark.) Still, "Immortals" is a little better than it probably had to be, and for all the talk about how much it's trying to be "300," that movie's slightly better ability to tell a story doesn't outweigh Tarsem's images, no matter how nonsensical they may be. There are certain sections of the film, if just because of the wild, unleashed costume decisions made by noted costume designer Eiko Ishioka, who apparently was just given a free budget to go as nutty as she wanted. (She also did the costumes for the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, if that tells you anything.) If you showed me just still shots of the film, I'd love it. Stupid movements. This is an awfully dumb movie that I'll still remember for a while.

Grade: C+