When judging the artistic value of a film, critics and audiences tend to hold certain ones in higher regard than others. Filmmakers have an opportunity to create movies that possess genuine artistic value. Immortals, released in 2011, is one such example. The film is much more than a “sword and sandals” epic. Due to the creative approach of visionary director Tarsem Singh, the movie stands out as a true work of art. Here are a few reasons why Immortals is considered an impressive artistic achievement.
How Tarsem Singh Approached Immortals
The team behind Immortals had a clear goal in mind when they decided to hire Tarsem Singh. Although the filmmaker had made a number of major Hollywood pictures before, such as The Cell (2000) and Mirror Mirror (2012), he was not known for his work in the action genre. However, what he was known for was putting absolutely stunning images on the big screen.
This is an important element in a film such as Immortals. These types of movies celebrate the grand epic stories of the past. Therefore, they require a visual style that represents a heightened reality. If that visual style also recalls the works of art that depicted these subjects in the past, even better. Thus, hiring Tarsem Singh, whose work in music videos serves as a testament to his skill as a visual artist, was a smart choice.
Singh himself made his intentions clear during the production of the movie. In an interview, he explained how he saw the film: “It’s turning into, basically, Caravaggio meets Fight Club. It’s a really hardcore action film done in Renaissance painting style. I’m going for a very contemporary look on top of that so I’m kind of going with, you know, Renaissance time with electricity… a bit like Baz Luhrmann doing Romeo + Juliet in Mexico; it’s just taking a particular Greek tale and half [make it contemporary] and telling it.”
Classic Visual Style
Clearly, Singh always intended to bring a classical visual style to the project. However, it’s also important to pay attention to his comments comparing the picture to Baz Luhrmann’s take on Romeo + Juliet. Luhrmann is another filmmaker who infuses all of his pictures with a distinctive visual style. That said, he also knows it’s important to make a movie that has enough energy to captivate modern audiences. Stunning shot composition may be impressive initially. However, a film also must have a sense of excitement and urgency.
That’s why Singh’s vision worked. By comparing the picture to a blend of a famous painter’s work and Fight Club, he made it clear that this movie would combine the visual splendor of great art with the excitement of a modern action film.
An Ever-Evolving Art
It is also worth noting that, for a mainstream Hollywood film, taking this approach was a somewhat unconventional one. In other interviews, Singh points out that most filmmakers approach action pictures from one of two visual perspectives: they either model the shot composition on comic book frames, or they use handheld cameras to give the action a sense of immediacy. Singh stated that he wanted to model his film’s visual style on classic Renaissance paintings. This involved considering every single detail, including the lighting. Singh pointed out that the light source in such paintings tends to be far away and often serves as the only light source in the composition. Singh wanted to ensure that he lit his film with this style in mind. He also made it clear that he would not rely on fast cuts or editing to conceal the action. He wanted audiences to truly see how the characters fought.Again, this is not common in many of today’s films. Choosing to approach the visual elements of the picture as if he were composing a grand painting of heroes is one of the many decisions Singh made that allowed Immortals to stand out among the numerous other action movies released around the same time.
It is important for studios and filmmakers to embrace these kinds of lofty goals. Film is an ever-evolving art, and relying on the same visual style for every movie prevents further growth. By hiring a visionary director, the team behind Immortals proved that even an action film could be great art. That’s no small feat.