The “sword-and-sandals” film is a classic Hollywood genre that encompasses a number of famous pictures like Spartacus, Clash of the Titans, and 300. However, unlike many other genres, like westerns or romantic comedies, this type of film is rare. This is likely because it can be difficult to get right. Because these movies usually depict stories and lives that audience members can’t truly relate to, the filmmakers need to include certain essential factors in order for these movies to succeed.
Immortals, released in 2011, is an example of a movie that gets the genre right. Telling the story of a mortal man whom Zeus chooses to be the savior of the world, the film works thanks to the following key qualities:
An Epic Scale
It’s fair to say that a movie about saving the world isn’t telling a small, intimate story. By necessity, any entry in this genre must be far more epic in scope.
This is one of the reasons why Immortals is so effective. By including characters like the Greek God Zeus, the filmmakers make it clear that this is a truly mythological tale, with stakes that concern every living soul on the planet.
Regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs, it’s clear that societies have needed these types of stories for millennia. Nearly every major world religion and mythological tradition includes tales in which nothing less than the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. Movies like Immortals feed an innate hunger all civilizations have to see larger-than-life figures battle against larger-than-life circumstances.
A Human Hero
Simply seeing characters with the powers of gods fight one another isn’t all that appealing to an audience. Although some characters in Immortals are gods, the protagonist is a human, which makes it easier for audiences to relate to this type of story—especially if the main characters have the same weaknesses and frailties as actual human beings. In fact, one reason why these kinds of tales resonate across cultures is simply because they reassure people that, when the odds are nearly insurmountable, it’s possible to call upon a deeper strength than the average person could ever imagine they possess.
Additionally, when human characters must overcome these kinds of seemingly insurmountable odds, the natural tension of the story increases. It’s hard for audiences to get too worried about one superpowered character fighting another because they know that both entities are capable of meeting the challenges before them. However, audiences are less sure of the outcome when the character is only human.
A movie like Immortals requires a striking visual approach in order to enhance and complement the epic scale of the narrative. After all, these movies bring audiences along on the kinds of journeys they’ll never actually experience in their own lives. While the human characters may tap into universal truths about the human experience, the actual events of the stories are much less familiar.
Thus, a sword-and-sandals epic shouldn’t be shot in a way that feels too naturalistic or realistic. These movies are not meant to be grounded in reality. Instead, they should, in a visual sense, depict scenes that no average person will ever actually encounter.
Violence is simply an essential element in a movie like Immortals. Again, these films are about epic themes like bravery, sacrifice, and the willingness to fight endlessly to save that which is important.
Films tell stories viscerally. They rely on the senses to convey everything from basic plot points to major themes. That’s why, when making a movie about a human hero fighting against a madman committed to unleashing the Titans and ruling the world, it’s necessary to include scenes of bloody violence. While it may not be necessary in another type of movie, in this genre, violence gives the major themes a sense of physical reality.
While it’s not easy to make a movie like Immortals, when filmmakers succeed in doing so, it proves that they took the time to understand the nature of the story they were telling. Again, these epic narratives have existed for thousands of years. When Hollywood tackles this genre, the team behind the project must understand that they’re participating in one of humanity’s oldest traditions. Clearly, the team behind this film did.