Tarsem on Going Mainstream with Immortals and the Race to Finish Mirror, Mirror Before Snow White


Her director on Fireflies in the Garden also recently credited her with championing the project with it seeing the light of day.

Oh, I tell you what, she's really supportive. She was really, really good for that. And this one , it is a bit more commercial just because action tends to be commercial for today's audiences when you're spending $100 million bucks, it's freaky when something doesn't have action and does that well. I like to do action, but what I didn't want to do was half-assed action. So when I go there, you might want to pull people in by saying, "From the producers of 300," which is the problem we were having originally when the effects weren't done and they were trying to get input from people. People would look at it and say, "This looks so cheap, it doesn't look anything like 300"... and finally when we finished it they said, "Why are you selling it as a [similar film to 300], it's so much bigger!" I said, whatever it takes to bring people in. But when they see it, you can see it's not a comic movie. It's actually got a completely different sense of realism to it.

It's interesting that the effects work made that much of a difference, given that you have great props and costumes and sets as it is.

It made a massive difference. The technology of the speeding up and slowing down, that's just one of the cheapest things you can do. That's all they did in [300]. It's something I was doing 18 years ago. But then you see it now, and McDonald's was doing it 10 years ago, it wasn't a hip thing. When they used it in 300 it was fantastic in the movie but it was a one-trick pony.

And post-300, it's so passé.

Very badly so. I hate the idea that everything just speeds up and slows down. I wanted to use the license with the gods, because when a god moves he's so much faster than a human that he can barely move and he could decapitate 30 of them. When the gods fight with each other they can all move at the same speed, but when they kill each other that guy's body slows down to human level. That's why it was really technically difficult that when you kill somebody their body slows down, but you're still moving fast. So what do you do with this body? You can't get it out of the way while somebody else attacks you. That became difficult to choreograph.

It's complicated to even think about how you went about coordinating those multiple speeds in the same frame.

It was very tough, but I love it. That's what I think they pay me for. And you know what? It's not a cheap thing to do. Like the thing in 300, anybody could do that -- that's why Meet the Spartans came out like two months after 300. It's very cheap to do that effect, but this effect is very complicated to do.

That's just one of the many striking visual moments in the film, along with --

Blasting people's heads! [Laughs] They asked me, "Do you have to have that many headshots in there?" I said, "Yes!" They kind of hit some people in the bodies but then he just knocks the heads off!

The bloodlust in Immortals should satisfy a certain audience going in for the action, but there's also the mythology in your story. This is a Theseus adventure, but it's not exactly as it happens in Greek mythology that we've all read.

Not at all. Because if you go with that, those are worth about a ten-minute film. Or an art house film. When you're making something big like this -- gods and Theseus have nothing to do with each other, Theseus's story is a different tale altogether -- so once we mixed it I just said, no, no, no. Do we really have to call him Theseus? It was going to be a post-apocalyptic film, I was going to make this much like [Baz Luhrmann's] Romeo + Juliet in Mexico. It was going to be with a rector city, the Renaissance. We started from that and they said, no -- people right now want to see these things, can't you just pretend it's Greek? I didn't want Hyperion's name. I was going to put an Indian bad guy in there...

Right -- because using these familiar names certainly invokes people's prior knowledge, and that could be confusing.

It does, and it's a plus and a minus. Plus because people think that's Greek mythology and they'll show up. On the other hand, the two people who've read a little bit of Greek mythology will go, "Wait a minute -- why is...?" And I'm just thinking, there's nothing that makes sense in here. It's just a backdrop.

Your Snow White film [now retitled Mirror, Mirror] will also come out with a cinematic doppelganger of sorts, since there's a competing Snow White movie also in the works.

But we are so ahead of them that it kind of makes no difference for me. It's the one that's always second that can be difficult, and I wish them the best of luck. They can afford to be second; we couldn't be. We just couldn't be. Because their budget is much bigger and they're going for a particular thing. I just said no, as a family film, we cannot be second. So kill the 3-D and we finish it first, and that's exactly what we did.

What appealed to you about making a Snow White movie to begin with?

I have a lot of interest, but I did not want to make a queen, again like the gods, that would turn cauldrons and say, "What are the humans up to?" I just don't like the idea of the queen going into a mirror and talking. She goes into the mirror and she walks into a different landscape, she arrives in a completely different place and speaks to herself! She's like a split personality person, doing all the evil she needs to do but yet can blame somebody else for it. So I said if I can get those pieces in, I'm interested in making this.

We've seen relatively little from the film this early out, but I must say the moment I was most intrigued was when I saw Lily Collins' ballroom look.

[Laughs] You know what? That's the best part that I would expect somebody like you to bring up, but on the other hand other people are like, "Why does she have that swan on her head??" I'm like, it's out of context. It's a costume ball and she's wearing the thing, and she looks gorgeous in it!

Shades of Bjork! I'm there.

Swan head!

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