Is Immortals Helmer Tarsem the Honey Badger of Directors? A Movieline Investigation
New theory: Immortals director Tarsem Singh (excuse us, visionary director Tarsem) is the honey badger of film directors. In an unprecedented move Saturday in San Francisco, the filmmaker behind such films as The Cell and The Fall stole the hearts and minds of WonderCon attendees away from Cowboys & Aliens helmer Jon Favreau -- and mind you, Favreau is so popular that he has his own entrance music ("Back in Black," natch). So how did visionary director Tarsem bring the house down during the panel for The Immortals, a 300-styled movie he described as "Caravaggio meets Fight Club?" Hit the jump for highlights from TarsemCon.
Taking the stage with stars Henry Cavill (Theseus), Luke Evans (Zeus), Isabel Lucas (Athena), and producer Mark Canton (300), Tarsem gave the audience their first glimpse of The Immortals in the form of a teaser trailer. (Peruse the Tang-soaked first posters here.) In it, strong visual parallels to Zack Snyder's 300 abound, thanks to the Greek battle armor worn by Cavill, mass battle scenes, and green screened otherworldliness, but the key difference is Tarsem's unique visual sense. Gorgeous painted backdrops and magical use of CG, not to mention stunning sequences (a battle scene envisions hundreds of warriors fighting in a surreal tableau composition), make Immortals feel immediately like a Tarsem film.
Plotwise, the teaser offers a basic setup: Cavill, as Theseus, watches the Genghis Khan-like Titan Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) massacre his loved ones before leading a rebellion on earth, while Evans as Zeus -- a gilded vision in gold armor who wields a fiery whip -- wages his own battle in the heavens, where gods aren't technically allowed to interfere in the war below. Glimpses of Rourke in what resembles a spiked, bunny-eared helmet, Freida Pinto as the forlorn-looking priestess Phaedra, and plenty of shirtless, mud-caked Cavill are also included. While story details are somewhat thin (and, alas, there's no Stephen Dorff to be found), the teaser effectively tantalizes on the strength of its visuals and action.
But on to Tarsem. How did the India-born former music video director, who will next tackle his own take on the Snow White tale, win over the WonderCon crowd (and become our new personal hero) so handily?
1. He came to WonderCon wearing a homemade t-shirt emblazoned with the words "I'VE BEEN MEDIA TRAINED." The shirt was a cheeky response to media training he underwent days ago courtesy of his studio overlords, and he paired it with a blazer that seemed to be made out of curtain material. The ensemble totally worked, because TARSEM DOESN'T GIVE A S***!
2. Upon mention of his last film, The Fall, Tarsem chided the audience members who cheered enthusiastically. "If there had been more of you, I'd have had a lot more money!"
3. Tarsem's thoughts on 3D, to which he says his style of filmmaking lends itself.(Immortals will be released in 3D on November 11): "It's a tool. You put the cart ahead of the donkey and I think you've got a problem. I'm looking at this thing and I don't want to poke your eye with it. If I did, I'd probably make Piranha 3DD." (Immortals producer Mark Canton, who is producing Piranha 3DD, offered to sign Tarsem on as a director on the spot.)
4. It's "Caravaggio meets Fight Club," Tarsem explained of the concepts that inspired Immortals. "I laid down the rules of physics in this film; they were more like Fight Club or Oldboy - something where I thought you could feel the physicalness involved." Gods, being immortal, he says, can defy physics and never get hurt. "Batman, I know how to do. Superman, I don't know."
But after countless audience references to "Caravaggio meets Fight Club," Tarsem grew tired of his own reference. "I started with Caravaggio. In the end when you see it, it looks nothing like Fight Club. It looks nothing like Caravaggio. If it does, I would have failed."
5. Tarsem sits at home watching The Discovery Channel just like the rest of us. Asked to name influences on his art he responded, "Everything you grew up on -- the books you read, the literature you read, the porn you watch, the Tarkovsky films you've seen, The Discovery Channel with animals eating each other. I don't know."
6. Question from the audience: "I noticed on IMDB that Hercules is in the movie." Reply from Tarsem: "No, he's not. [Pause] But IMDB always tells the truth."
7. He gave Luke Evans as Zeus a flaming whip chain to wield. As evidenced in a glorious slow-motion shot in the teaser trailer, this looks amazing. What's that? Gods don't need weapons on account of their all-powerful godliness so that seems entirely unnecessary? Pshaw. Not so in The Immortals!
8. He's a ham. After countless collective sighs, "awws," and questions directed to Henry Cavill by ladies in the audience, Tarsem perked up in mock surprise when a question came his way: "A woman, asking me a question!?" Later, mis-hearing a question from the audience, Tarsem chalked it up to the questioner's "white man accent." And the crowd went wild.
9. "Zack [Snyder]and Michael Bay, we were in the same class. So all that visual porn that you see out there, these guys are responsible for it." Upon meeting David Fincher, it was suggested that they work together but Tarsem declined. "I said, 'I don't think I'm ready. I don't feel like making films. I love advertising, I love music videos, I'll be doing this for another decade and a half. And when I come out, I'll make movies if I can.'"