I knew nothing about this film before sitting down to watch it, and within a minute I went “either this is Tarsem Singh or his non-Union Mexican equivalent”. Lo and behold, it was (don’t start patting me on the back, it wasn’t that difficult). Singh also directed “The Cell”, the Jennifer Lopez-infiltrates-a-murderer’s-dream film, where despite the amazing in-dream visuals, the actual case itself was solved purely by good old police work. A man brave enough to have over half of his film be entirely irrelevant to the plot is a man whose films I want to watch.
When I was a young lad, Tony Robinson (off of Time Time and Blackadder) did a kid’s TV show where he went to Greece and did dramatic readings of the famous Greek myths – that, and the films of the great Ray Harryhausen, has instilled in me a love of those old stories that has carried on to this day. So even films like this rather dream-like retelling of the myth of Theseus will capture my interest, and we start off with a brief retelling of those old myths – there was a war in heaven, and the people we now call the Gods beat the people we now call the Titans, and imprisoned them for ever. The only thing that can free the Titans is a special bow, and wouldn’t you know…it gets lost somewhere on Earth! King Hyperion (played with scenery-chewing magnificence by Mickey Rourke) is looking for it, because he’s upset with the Gods, for some reason.
We then meet John Hurt, apparently just an old man, giving peasant boy Theseus all sorts of education and sword-training, so he grows up into a super-fighter who loves his Mum. Hurt is, of course, Zeus, king of the gods, played when he’s in all his finery by XXXXXXX, who also pops up in “The Raven”, which is going to be my next review. The final major piece of this film are the Oracles, four women who dance about and have visions (well, one of them does, but the other three are cover for her, pals, confidantes, a bit like an extremely sexy Golden Girls). Oh, the main one, who has all the visions, gets her power from being a virgin. This may become relevant later on, just like the sun may rise tomorrow.
The main reason for this film’s existence is the look, and that’s one thing Tarsem does really well. I keep wanting to badmouth the story, but there’s only so far you can mess up a story as good as this one. He tries, I’ll give him that – goddammit Theseus, keep better hold of your possessions! – but there are some clever bits in there. The way he shows how reality becomes legend is clever and subtle, I think, and I like Stephen Dorff (how the mighty have fallen, eh? Third banana in a film like this) as the thief who gradually develops morals.
But, it’s not that good. For every minotaur (a really clever and well-done idea) there’s a gods sub-plot. The gods have imprisoned all the titans, because they’re basically impossible to kill, or something…only when we see them get down to the big scrap at the end, it seems they’re really really easy to kill. I mean, they’ve been imprisoned for eternity, so they might be a bit rusty, but…
I couldn’t give this any more than 2 and a half out of 5. But, you know, it’s worth watching, which is where this rating system falls down a bit. It entertains! It’s bloody lovely in HD!