Director Tarsem Singh is known for his bold, painterly visuals in films like 'The Cell,' 'The Fall' and portions of his new film, 'Immortals,' are indeed gorgeous. As he told Moviefone in discussing his Snow White project (now called 'Mirror, Mirror'), "My stuff tends to be polarizing. When it's for children, it's like, sickeningly kiddie, and when it's the other way, it's sickeningly graphic." 'Immortals' definitely falls into the second category. How violent is it? The sword-and-slice epics '300' and 'Gladiator' definitely pale in comparison, especially since these flying body parts are in 3D. Moviefone sat down with Tarsem for a somewhat contentious interview in which he shared his contempt for '300' and 'Clash of the Titans,' and his belief that movie violence needs to show "the entrails on the ground."
What do you say to the inevitable comparisons to '300?'
That's a comic book movie. It's the reason this one got made, but it's basically just saying people have an appetite for Greek mythology stuff. I said I have no appetite for making a comic strip movie, if you want to sell it like that you can, but I have more interest in looking at something like a Renaissance painting. But if they need to sell it as being from the producers of '300,' go ahead. For me, I don't care if they are Greek gods, Roman gods or anything. I was already mixing everything up.
How do you describe the movie?
It's basically a faithless guy who gets his world turned upside down. I've never had faith, so for a person like me to turn around and declare there are gods out there, it's usually recovering alcoholics or born-again people, they are the most zealous of the lot. So you come with a guy who did not believe in gods at all, finding gods exist and becomes their biggest champion and fighting starts with that. That's where I think the tale starts with.
It seems unbelievable that this movie has the same rating as 'The King's Speech,' which had maybe four swear words in it.
Have you seen 'The Fall?' You should. Because that got an R rating. And there is not a single thing in that film except for one stab in the back.
But 'Immortals' is really pushing the R rating.
What rating would you give it?
I would give it an R. I just think [there's a problem] if you're 18 years old and you think war is pretty, and when people get killed, you don't see entrails. You don't dumb down a whole culture just because at 18 [someone] might find it confusing that battles are bad. It is a war movie. It's a movie about battles. I find it more offensive when you make battle movies for children and it's just a wide shot of people clashing and the hero is just coming out [unscathed]. I find that offensive. You need to be at that macro level where the entrails are on the ground to know why that person reacts so differently from the guy in the B-22 who drops a bomb. That guy is just seeing a clean thing and goes back and has a meal with his children. So when you have that kind of fighting, you end up with a PG rating. So for children, just don't show it. And that's what I like to do for kiddie movies. But when it's for adults, they need to know what it is. It's not supposed to be pretty.
What was the inspiration for the costumes of the gods, especially their helmets? I was reminded of 'Alexander Nevsky,' which has really over-the-top headgear.
We're not making a historical film. If it was, it would be completely true to history. For '300,' the wardrobe and all was already decided for them. So I decided, if we're making a different one, we're defining the fighting to be much more physical, as opposed to CGI, then I need the guys to be young. If they're going to be young, what do they look like? What do they dress up as, these old guys in robes who point fingers and lightning comes out of their fingers? I hate that. If they're physically going to get down and dirty, I told [costume designer] Eiko [Ishioka], you're off the chart, you cannot take historical references, you cannot take comic strip references. Just, if this is the god of war, what does his helmet look like? And she said, "A whole bunch of swords." And I said, "Right? Looks like a mohawk? Put it in." They're physically very hard to work with, as most of Eiko's stuff is. It's a fantasy movie. I'm not interested in making a historical film. When I am, I'll make one. It just won't be a $100 million movie that's made for a mass audience.
Was 'Immortals' made for a mass audience?
A mass R audience, yes.
Who is the audience for it?
But who was it made to appeal to specifically? Gamers?
The only thing I don't like about the gamers is all that stuff with the fighting and flying and all. [Movies marketed to] gamers, I have a problem that there's too much stuff in there that doesn't look violent enough for me. I just think it should not be violent at all, but if it is, it needs to tell your DNA that something is wrong with violence. It needs to feel bad. It shouldn't be that you go into a movie and kill 800 people and you walk out of the theater going, "Yeah!" You should kill two people and be like, "I'm not going to be able to sleep for a very long time, my life's f-cked." That's how I think it should be. So for an audience, I think the gamers will come in and hopefully be more affected by six deaths than by 300,000 that they see dying in their little gaming thing.
If someone sees this movie and gets sick to their stomach, what's your reaction to that? Are you thinking, "Fantastic"?
No, I'm just thinking, "Don't you think you should be sick of violence?"
So you want to show such extreme violence to show that it shouldn't be that way in real life?
It shouldn't be that way in real life. I have nothing against people who eat meat, I eat anything that used to move, I eat meat all the time. But I have a problem with people that think lamb grows on a tree, that people who eat it don't want to see it being slaughtered. So when people say, "Go into a room, kill a lot of people, kill children, yeah, yeah," I say, "Let me show you what that looks like." And it shouldn't look pretty. It just should not.
What do you say to people for whom this level of violence is just too extreme?
Good. If you want to see the PG version, good. See 'Clash of the Titans,' see how dreadful it is.
You saw that and were bored?
They were competing with us earlier and it's just not my type of film. That's really great for a 1950s matinee that you want to watch on a Sunday morning with the family, but it's not a family movie. It's an R-rated movie. I like family films, but not an action film with a family film.
I've already seen Immortals, and yeah, it's pretty violent, although it's so stylized that you can't really take it seriously as you would, like, a war film. (There's a slow-mo head-smashing scene that puts Drive to shame. My audience burst into applause.) It's definitely better/smarter than 300 and Clash of the Titans, but...not THAT much better, let's be real.