Sunday, December 4, 2011

Immortals vs. Vampires: Less than the sum of their body parts

When I was a youngster, I loved Edith Hamilton's take on Greek Mythology. Each story had one simple illustration, an idealized drawing of Icarus falling from the sky or Psyche discovering Cupid's face. And the stories were even better. Edith has been the go-to gal for most young people, but now movies, tv, and games have taken over, and the tales are now mismashed into a steady stream of confused mayhem.

Consider the pre-CGI films that featured Ray Harryhausen's inventive stop-motion monsters battling C-list actors as Jason and his crew. Jason must rout screaming harpies, animated skeletons, the hydra (my favorite), and so on. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS did have some good moments and it did hew fairly closely to the Jason/Medea/Golden Fleece legend. Plus there was the great Bernard Herrmann's "original" score which was created from six or so of his great films of the past like VERTIGO. In 1981, Harryhausen returned to form with the surprise hit CLASH OF THE TITANS, featuring A-list actors as the gods (Laurence Olivier as a doddering Zeus) and Harry Hamlin as Perseus. This time Medusa is his best creation, a slimy multi-headed female monster turning Perseus's men to stone. Again, the story is not too far from the original, and the movie is a delightful and cheesy funfest.

But, times and special effects have changed, as seen in last year's dismal remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS and the recent entry, THE IMMORTALS, which purports to be the story of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the war between the Titans and the Gods. All of this is so crudely sloshed together that it's difficult to tell who is who and what is happening. Theseus, a buff Henry Cavil (soon to be the new Superman), must lead a rebellion against the evil Hyperion (Mickey Rourke?) who seems locked in his role from THE WRESTLER. Theseus spends one fateful night with Phaedra, the virgin oracle, and after becoming a martyr in the final battle, becomes a demigod who will lead the next battle between the Titans and the Gods. Hmmm, I suspect a sequel post haste. The film itself is curious. Some of the scenes are beautifully designed and lit. The director himself chose to imitate his favorite painter Caravaggio, known for dark chiaroscuro and dramatic, often steamy scenes from mythology as well as the Bible. These work, but the clunky dialogue and Cavill's bland performance don't. Both the gods and the warriors fight with little more than sandals and aptly placed shields, and like the similar 300, this film looks as if the cast was recruited from Venice Beach, California. The time period is before that of the Troy legends, yet we have Roman arches, classical Greek sculptures, and a corruption of the Minotaur legend. So, if you are looking to introduce your kids or grandkids to Greek tales, forget THE IMMORTALS.

You would also be wise to skip the fourth installment of the TWILIGHT series, BREAKING DAWN, in which we witness the wedding, deflowering, pregnancy, and "turning" (becoming a vampire) of our heroine Bela. Most of this is not pretty, especially the last few. There are montages of pulsing blood that owe much to previous Dracula films. ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST are also heavily used. And the delivery itself is a great tool for Planned Parenthood. Except for these scenes, the film's pace is leaden with full close-ups of the dreamy lovers, both of whom look stoned throughout. I will say this for Kristen Stewart; she has developed into a fine actress and looks terrific, except when pregnant. The same cannot be said for her male co-stars, especially Taylor Lautner, who simply doesn't understand the lines he has to say. After BREAKING DAWN 2, he won't have anything.

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