It's easy to look at Immortals and make the snap judgment that it's coming at a bad time for Greek myth movies. Last year's Clash of the Titans left critical audiences with a foul taste, and no one is looking for a repeat of that letdown.
Then again, Immortals springs from the mind of Tarsem Singh, the visionary behind The Cell and The Fall. Like Zack Snyder, who went similarly Greek and epic with 300, Tarsem is a guy with the unique sensibilities of a true film auteur. Mark Canton produced both Immortals and 300, and he claims to understand the right recipe for delivering a Greek epic to modern audiences without it turning into something like Clash of the Titans. Or, worse, Alexander.
"The whole thing about our movies is we don't use any sandals, that's the key," Canton told Spinoff Online at WonderCon. "When we were gonna make 300 after Troy and Alexander were made, the studio said, 'We don't want to make anymore sword-and-sandals movies.' That was the line I came up with, and it actually worked. No sandals. That's how we feel. We're just badass."
"Badass" is certainly an apt term for describing Snyder's work on 300. And, as anyone who saw the WonderCon footage can attest, the same is also true of Immortals. A standard was set with 300, one that was never really matched in subsequent films with similar settings, like Clash, which Canton said "took [things] in a whole other direction."
"It has a basis in mythology," he said of Immortals. "I think what we did in 300, which was smart -- and the same goes for this story -- how do you know unless you were really there? Obviously, they didn't have the communication tools that we have today. This is more fanciful."
Canton describes Tarsem's vision for the film as "a Caravaggio Renaissance style, like a painting strip." He wouldn't divulge anything about any of the movie's big moments, but in terms of the ideas, he offered a few hints to chew on as to what audiences can expect.
"I think they'll [be talking] about free will, what distinguishes mortals from immortals, [the fact] that mortals have to make their own choices. They can't be made by others, even if you believe," he said. "You've got to make your own choices. And I think they're going to be talking about how badass [the showdown] is between Mickey and Henry. Can Superman go down or not?"
Canton is of course referring to two of the movie's stars, Mickey Rourke as the villainous King Hyperion and Henry Cavill -- Snyder's Superman -- as Theseus, the human protagonist. Cavill is a young actor who has done some great work in his short career but who still has the humility of someone who is on the cusp of "making it." Rourke is another matter entirely, and Canton spoke a little bit about the unique experience of working with him.
"He's very Mickey," the producer said. "We did something that we didn't do in 300. We cast all of these emerging, great actors, but then we decided to get a name, which we didn't do in 300. I love his work and Tarsem loves his work, the studio loved his work. He's fearsome in the movie. Tarsem was saying it [during the WonderCon presentation], that you don't really have to direct Mickey. Just wind him up and get out of the way. It's a big role for him."
Tarsem is the architect, though, and his painterly approach to filmmaking ought to suit the story's Greek setting well, even if it is a stylistic departure from what one would typically expect. Canton is confident, in both the choice of director and the eventual quality of the finished product. "He's a special filmmaker and I think it's a great fit, so now we just have to finish the movie and we'll do fine."
While principal shooting is done, the production team is still working hard to ensure that the movie makes its planned Nov. 11 release date. The 3-D conversion -- yes, that's happening -- is in process, the score is being assembled and, of course, a digital coat of paint is being applied in the form of visual effects.
That release date comes at a tricky moment. It's the height of the holiday shopping season, which means that movies aren't the only things vying for attention. Home video releases and video games pull people away from theaters as well. And that's not even mentioning the return of a certain wildly popular vampire series.
"It's always a heavy time," Canton said. "We have the next Twilight coming the week after us. I respect them, [Twilight studio] Summit. I love them. It is a different audience though. We're not pulling any punches, that's for sure. We'll drain their blood in a different way."
Of course, we couldn't let Canton get away with probing for a little bit of information on the long-talked-about 300 prequel centering on Xerxes. "It's talked about," he said. "Ask Zack."
"It's in Zack's hands. We're in a very good place. We've taken a lot of time, we didn't want to just make a sequel. We're very close to the group of people who made that movie and very respectful of what the fans think of the movie, so I can assure that we're determined to make a great follow-up. It will not be a conventional sequel at all."
Asked if this is the story we've heard about, the one that connects with Xerxes, Canton grew hesitant. "Kind of," he said. "It's just more Godfather Part II-like. There's a lot going on, a parallel story. There's a lot going on. Zack is writing it."