|Henry Cavill stars in "Immortals."
Immortals takes me back to childhood when I watched cheesy sword-and-scandal epics based on Greek and Roman mythology and thought it was reality writ large.
The trouble is that I am no longer a naive youngster. Nor are modern epics such as Immortals made for children. Self-appointed "visionary" director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar made Immortals for adult audiences, with savage violence, gratuitous female nudity and a $75 million budget that allowed him to build a Mount Olympus of special effects. The buzz line on this week's new DVD and Blu-ray releases is: "Prepare to be amazed."
Yet Immortals still plays like a low-budget 1950-60s movie with bad actors saying stupid things. It just looks great. Hence the possibility of amazement, although the effect is fleeting and the results pretentious. Tarsem Singh "paints" the screen with a flourish and he knows it. A Blu-ray featurette is entitled Caravaggio Meets Fight Club: Tarsem's Vision. Do yourself a favour: Google the work of the Italian artist and watch Fight Club. But their relationship to Immortals is incidental.
Immortals is out in several options, including the two-disc combo pack I have for review. It combines DVD, digital copy and Blu-ray. The DVD carries a modest if pedantic featurette, It's No Myth, in which academics expound on the meanings embedded in Greek mythology.
The Blu-ray expands the bonuses. Alternate beginning and end scenes are offered. The original long opening introduced us to Theseus as a child, when he first unknowingly meets Zeus (John Hurt as the Old Man version and Luke Evans as the young god). Zeus will tutor "the bastard" in how to be the heroic leader Henry Cavill plays as an adult, when he goes up against Mickey Rourke as the mad King Hyperion. The alternate ending shows Theseus' fate as melodrama, with tearful Freida Pinto as the oracle at his side.
For fans of Immortals -- there are some because $217.6 million in worldwide box office, according to Box Office Mojo -- the best extra is Tarsem's Vision. For fans, the director shows off. For me, he sounds overconfident. "Just like the Renaissance re-defined the Greeks," he says, "we are kind of doing that in our movie."
GAME OF THRONES
Mythic fantasy is now in its golden age, thanks to digital effects and the rigorous storytelling style that Peter Jackson perfected in his epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.
The current HBO series Game of Thrones exactly fits that noble tradition. Everything that is wrong with something like Immortals -- bad acting, clumsy plot, stupid dialogue -- is right about Game of Thrones -- with its great ensemble, complex yet compelling plot and intelligent writing.
Coincidentally, both Immortals and Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season debuted on DVD and Blu-ray this week. It is not difficult to discern which I prefer.
Game of Thrones is based on George R.R. Martin's book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. While parts feel like a tale from Britain's medieval history, it is actually a broader fictional world named Westeros. This is exactly what Tolkien did with Lord of the Rings: He rooted his novels in historical reality and mythology and then conjured fantasical creatures and events.
This new series is more realistic but still fantastical at times as creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss tell the stories of the Seven Kingdoms and their eternal intrigues and wars. It will help tremendously if, after watching the first of the 10 thrilling episodes here, you study the four family trees, the Houses of Stark, Baratheon, Lannister and Targaryen. Then watch the Blu-ray extras, particularly the Complete Guide to Westeros, which goes into exacting detail. I find the menus to be plodding to negotiate but the content is excellent.
The Blu-ray package is a five-disc set with more background material that one can absord at a single viewing. So this is a dangerous game that Game of Thrones is playing. It threatens to take over my life.
JACK AND JILL
The Razzies nominations were announced pre-Oscars for the worst movies of 2011. Adam Sandler sits on top of the dung heap, with a record 11 personal nominations as producer, screenwriter, actor and actress. His crimes against cinema were for Bucky Larson: Born to be A Star, Just Go With It and Jack and Jill.
Jack and Jill just debuted this week on DVD and Blu-ray. It is a doozy! Coincidentally, it also generated 11 Razzie nominations, including Al Pacino and Kate Holmes as worst supporting actor/actress. Sandler is cited both as worst actor and worst actress.
He plays twins, one male and one female. As Jack, he recoils when his annoying sister Jill, a social misfit, comes for an extended visit. Pacino meets her and falls in love for no apparent reason. Nor is there any explanation of how a legend would submit to this piece-of-crap movie.
The storyline is about the reconcilation of the twins, with Pacino as awkward comic relief. But the funniest stuff is hidden in extras on the stand-alone DVD and Blu-ray releases -- and on the two-disc combo pack which packages them together.
"This is a ludicrous mess," Pacino tells Sandler candidly on-set. "Yes, yes," Sandler admits, "but I think that's why people are going to love it!" Sandler was wrong. Pacino and the Razzies got it right.
NEW THIS WEEK: Immortals "¢ Jack and Jill "¢ Footloose "¢ The Skin I Live In.
NEW NEXT WEEK: The Adventures of Tintin "¢ The Descendants "¢ My Week With Marilyn.
COMING SOON: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (March 20) "¢ Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (March 27).