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An annotated scene from "Immortals" (Jan Thijs/War of the Gods)
An annotated scene from "Immortals" (Jan Thijs/War of the Gods)

Movies

One frame immortalized: Director Tarsem Singh parses his new movie Add to ...

Director Tarsem Singh honed his arty-pastiche visual style with award-winning music videos and commercials, moving into features with The Cell and The Fall. His latest, Immortals, uses themes and characters from Greek mythology in an original story about a stonemason who leads a small army against the massive, rampaging forces of unhinged warlord Hyperion, with the fate of both humankind and the Olympian gods in the balance.

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Recently the director riffed on one still from a pivotal scene to reveal some behind-the-scenes details.

(1) THESEUS

In Greek mythology, Theseus is an adventurous hero and son of a king and/or a god. In Immortals, he’s a poor stonemason, played by British actor Henry Cavill, who was cast before landing the role of Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel. In this scene, Theseus has just buried his mother, recently slain by Hyperion (Mickey Rourke), who sends his top henchman to kill the upstart hero.

“You could see [Cavill]had the right bone structure. Superman is a bulky body type, but in this film [Cavill]needed to look like a swimmer, with low body fat. I told him a six-pack isn’t enough, you need to be eight-pack, and not a physique from steroids but from long discipline. He trained six months and his dedication was incredible.”

(2) MINOTAUR

“In the myth of Theseus, he fights the minotaur [head of a bull, body of a man]in a labyrinth. None of this was in the movie as it was written. My niece, a well read 12-year-old, asked the right questions so this scene was a late addition. We gave the bad guy a minotaur-style helmet to remind people of this story.

“I had no interest in educating people about classical literature – it’s like the idea in jazz that you learn the notes and then forget them.”

(3) SEPULCHRE/TEMPLE

“The sepulchre set evolved because the village has a burial ground, a place where people also worship the gods. We decided very late to introduce the fight with the minotaur, and that was a problem because a labyrinth in film is the most boring thing you can think of. Left looks the same as right, it’s just a corridor. So our labyrinth was designed as the entrance into the sepulchre, so Theseus arrives in an open space that has symmetry and that’s where the fight happens.”

(4) “FINGER OF GOD” LIGHTING

During early visual planning, the director was drawn to the work of Italian painter Caravaggio, which became a major influence on the film’s overall look. “I didn’t want to go with a comic-book style, which is so popular right now. I didn’t grow up with them and I’m not a fan of that graphic-novel look in movies, which is very limited. But there is an unlimited resource of painters. Looking at Caravaggio’s innovations in perspective and technique, I thought for a while the whole movie might just be medium shots, but that idea evolved into using lighting effects for certain kinds of shots.”

Immortals opens Friday.

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