'Immortals' definitely delivers the fiercely pitched battle scenes you expect from an action epic, but if you think the carnage is on par with '300' or 'Gladiator,' think again. Director Tarsem Singh cheerfully explained his stance on screen violence to Moviefone and admitted his goal is to make audiences uncomfortable. Remember the scene in 'The Cell' where Vincent D'Onofrio unspools a victim's intestines? Expect a lot more of that kind of literally stomach-churning ickiness in 'Immortals,' which pushes the R-rating so hard, we have ask: Is it time for a new "hard R" label? Spoilers ahead as we discuss the more gruesome scenes in 'Immortals.'
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm one of the biggest 'Gladiator' fans you'll ever meet. When Russell Crowe beheaded another gladiator with a swift two-sword stroke, I cheered along with the rest of the audience. Singh, however, is adamantly against that kind of enjoyment of R-rated violence. As he told Moviefone, he wants the audience to "feel bad." Well, mission accomplished. The script is by brothers Vlas and Charley Parlapanides, but the execution seems to be all Singh's doing. Consider these scenes (spoilers, of course):
-- Theseus (Henry Cavill) watches helplessly as a soldier cuts his mother's throat in close-up.
-- A monk who's been tortured cuts off his own tongue rather than reveal the location of oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto)
-- A defector is rewarded by King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) by having his face scarred and his testicles bashed in with a giant mallet.
-- King Hyperion kills a minion by pushing his eyes into his skull
-- Three women are roasted alive inside a metal sculpture. We hear their muffled screams and see them dying as their rescue comes too late.
Those scenes read horrible enough, so you can only imagine what they're like in 3D. Similar scenarios have played out in previous films (the eye-gouging in 'Blade Runner,' say, or poor Aaron Eckhart's fire-roasting fate in 'The Missing'), but the sheer pile-up of unpleasantness in 'Immortals' makes each scene that much more distasteful. That's to say nothing of the final battle, when the internal organs are flying fast and furious -- in 3D! -- as combatants are split in two.
Certainly, some people will eat up 'Immortals,' but when you're spending $75 million on a movie, shouldn't you want the majority of moviegoers to enjoy themselves? It's hard to believe a director and a studio would deliberately set out to alienate a paying audience with such over-the-top violence, yet Singh is proud of his accomplishment and considers anything less to be "dumbing down." He's not alone: in the press notes, producer Mark Canton (who previously produced '300') boasts, "It's in your face. We're not playing it safe. History isn't safe. Mythology isn't safe. And we're really not interested in safe."
Yes, the movie is rated R, but when that rating is also given out for an excess of the f-word, as with 'The King's Speech,' 'Billy Elliot' or 'Good Will Hunting,' clearly the ratings system is broken.
It's been said before, but the British have a far more helpful system that more accurately conveys what you can expect when you go see a movie. In the UK, 'Immortals' had to be cut to earn a "15" rating, the same rating that was given to '300' without any cuts being made. The scenes listed above had to be toned down to avoid getting a UK "18" rating. In the U.S., the scenes remain untouched (if the version I saw at the press screening is the same as the one that's being released to theaters) for a meaninglessly blanket R rating.
The MPAA warns of "strong bloody violence and a scene of sexuality." Interestingly, '300,' which had its share of violence but never hit the same visceral, disturbing notes as 'Immortals,' was also rated R for "graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity." Given the MPAA wording, you'd think that "graphic" would be more extreme than "strong." You would be wrong.
If "sickeningly graphic" violence (Singh's own assessment of one end of his filmmaking spectrum) is your thing, then you'll enjoy 'Immortals.' But with movies like 'Immortals' and 'Human Centipede' on the market, there needs to be a different rating to warn people who prefers less extreme violence what they're in for if they buy a ticket. And those of you going just for the extreme violence will be jarred by the overall schlockiness, an immensely unsatisfying storyline and the camp factor of gods dressed like go-go dancers. You have to wonder, who is this movie for?
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