About Tyler F.M. Edwards

Freelance writer, fantasy novelist, and nerd of the highest order.

Retro Review: Immortals

I am really desperate for a good, faithful film adaption of ancient mythology.

Immortals is not that movie.

A shot of Theseus in the movie ImmortalsI went into this movie with fairly low expectations — expecting at best a goofy 300-esque romp — but it still managed to disappoint bitterly.

Ostensibly inspired by Greek mythology, Immortals follows a young Theseus as he battles a mad king who seeks to release the Titans from Tartarus. The king is after a magical bow of incredible power, so the race is on to stop him from getting it.

I won’t waste too much time listing off all the different ways this movie was bad. It was overflowing with cliches, there was no character development to speak of, and so on and so forth. It’s every sin you can expect a mindless action movie to commit.

I don’t even mind a simple popcorn movie from time to time — sometimes you just want to watch stuff blow up without thinking too hard — but Immortals doesn’t even work as a popcorn movie. There’s surprisingly little action for a movie that clearly put no effort at all into its actual story, and the action that does exist is very repetitive and uncreative.

It manages the incredible feat of making the story feel both incredibly rushed and painfully stretched out. There is no foreshadowing or natural development, but this is a movie that is far longer than it needed to be.

What bothers me more than anything, though, is how little this has to do with actual mythology. They’re just using the names — this movie has nothing to do with the actual Greek myths. There is virtually no correlation between the plot of Immortals and the actual myths surrounding Theseus, and the rest of the movie’s mythological elements fare no better.

The Titans, for example, are portrayed as these mindless, inhuman zombie-like creatures, not regal progenitors of the gods. Athena is a dual-wielding ninja for some incomprehensible reason. This is Aegis-bearing Athena we’re talking about, here. Hyperion is psycho mortal king instead of a Titan. Theseus has no connection to Athens…

Much of the movie deals with the law that gods must not interfere with mortals, and Zeus’ fanatical adherence to enforcing it. But there’s nothing like that in Greek mythology. The gods were constantly interfering with the lives of mortals — it was pretty much their thing. This is doubly true of Zeus. Dude couldn’t go two weeks without knocking up some mortal girl. Half of bloody Greece was Zeus’ bastard progeny.

Ancient art of the Greek god ZeusLet’s be clear here: I was not expecting Immortals to be a faithful representation of Greek mythology. But there’s artistic license, and then there’s appropriating and bastardizing a rich cultural heritage to sell tickets. This movie has nothing to do with Greek mythology.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard to find a faithful adaption of ancient mythology. Movie producers seem to think they need to sexy up the old stories, but they really don’t. If you actually study ancient mythology, you know that it’s already full of so much absurd sex and violence it could pass as a Game of Thrones episode.

If anything, they might have to tone things down a bit.

I can’t help but compare Immortals to 300. 300 clearly wasn’t trying to be slavishly accurate to history, yet the broad strokes of the story were remarkably accurate to the true events of the Battle of Thermopylae, and I when I studied the Greek-Persian War, I was amazed to learn how much of the movie’s events and dialogue are taken straight from the pages of history.

That whole “tonight we dine in Hell” speech? If you trust the historical records, Leonidas really said all that.

300 was also far more creative and colourful in its action scenes, and it did not waste time, focusing on the bloodshed we all wanted to see. Despite that, it was still a movie with some heart and a relatively strong amount of character development.

Immortals has none of that. I could forgive it being crude and poorly written. I could maybe even forgive it being a ludicrously inaccurate debauchery of the Greek myths. But on top of all that, it’s also frightfully dull, and that just can’t be forgiven.

I have only two good things to say about this movie.

One is that I thought it was cool that the super powerful magical weapon is a bow this time around instead of a sword. That’s a nice change of pace. Too bad the bow is hardly ever used for anything.

Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion in ImmortalsThe other is that Mickey Rourke is very good as King Hyperion. The character is written terribly, but Rourke portrays him with a great deal of gravitas, and he’s chillingly convincing as a brilliant but cruel despot.

Those things aren’t anywhere near enough to save this trainwreck of a movie, though.

Overall rating: 3.3/10 Just don’t.

Shannara on MTV: I Have a Bad Feeling

In case you weren’t already aware, there is a television series in the works based on Terry Brooks’ sprawling Shannara series of fantasy novels. The series will be titled “The Shannara Chronicles” and is being produced by MTV. It’s scheduled for release sometime this year.

A map of the Four Lands, setting of the Shannara novelsThis feels like the sort of thing I should be celebrating. I’m desperate for some quality high fantasy television, a terribly under-served niche, and I’ve been a Shannara fan since I was a kid. But there are several things about this that are just making my heart sink.

Firstly, MTV. Need I say more? If I was going to make a list of networks I trust to make a quality, serious fantasy series, MTV would be waaaay near the bottom.

I don’t like judging products by their pedigree too much, and I won’t say that MTV’s involvement means this series is doomed, but it doesn’t inspire one to confidence.

The other main problem is what they’ve picked as the source material. The series will be based on The Elfstones of Shannara, the second book of the original trilogy. It’s a seemingly arbitrary choice, and it strikes me as a pretty poor one.

It’s not the worst book they could have chosen, but I’m only saying that because The Wishsong of Shannara exists. They’ve chosen to throw themselves into a worst of both worlds scenario by starting in the middle of the story and not jumping ahead enough to get to the really interesting Shannara stories.

Cover art for The Elfstones of Shannara, the second book in the original Shannara trilogySee, the Shannara franchise begun as a supremely generic — if still well-executed — high fantasy story. The first book, The Sword of Shannara, was pretty much a pure Lord of the Rings rip-off. Over time, the Shannara series started to develop a lot more personality, incorporating aspects of magitech and science fantasy while also developing the history and culture of the Four Lands very well.

But that hadn’t yet begun in The Elfstones of Shannara. While it wasn’t as transparent a Tolkien knock-off as the first book, it was still a very generic high fantasy with little to distinguish it from the pack.

But it is book two, which means newcomers to the franchise will be lost as to why the Ohmsford family is so important or what the backstory of the world is. Unless MTV wants to butcher the history of the series and just ignore the events of the first book.

I’m also not sure how they intend to get a full TV series from one relatively short book, unless they want to stretch out the story endlessly, which would get boring very fast, or start over with a new cast and story every season, which seems very foolhardy from a marketing and financing perspective.

If they wanted to go to the original trilogy, I really think starting with Sword would have been the best bet, even if it is obviously similar to Lord of the Rings. It gives people a good introduction to the world of Shannara, and it was the best of the first three books, derivative or not.

Cover art for a compilation of the Heritage of Shannara seriesBut the really smart thing to do would have been to go with something even later in the franchise. The second major series, The Heritage of Shannara, was where the Shannara series really came into its own. It had a much bigger and more cohesive story, and it transformed the Four Lands into much more than a weak Middle-Earth knock-off.

As a four-part series with a huge cast and a lot of literal and metaphorical ground to cover, it also offers much more fodder for a full television series

If I had a magic wand, I’d do a TV series based on Genesis of Shannara, as it was by far the most original and powerful of Brooks’ novels, but its bizarre mash-up of high fantasy, urban fantasy, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi is probably a little too unusual for the average viewer. So Heritage seems like the best choice.

There are other compelling options. The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara would also make a good TV show. A wild adventure into the unknown to battle a lizard monster, a crazy witch, and a freaky Borg-esque supercomputer? I’d watch.

Really, there are so many better choices than Elfstones. I don’t understand what they were thinking. It doesn’t even feature the most interesting aspect of the entire Shannara franchise, the sword of truth itself.

I want to believe the Shannara TV series will be good, but there’s just so little to give me any hope right now.