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‘Immortals’ fuses arthouse with fanboy

Mythic pic makes subject matter accessible to modern auds

Relativity’s upcoming release, “Immortals,” aims to do for ancient Greece what “Gladiator” did for ancient Rome and “300” for Sparta — treat the subject matter seriously and with a refined visual sense, but also make it accessible for modern audiences.

Of course, as producers of the 2007 global hit “300,” which grossed $456 million, Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari — who share producing credit with Relativity honcho Ryan Kavanaugh — have had some experience with sword-and-sandal epics. “That film established a brand that helped change the landscape, and that was our measuring stick for this,” says Canton. “And it’s no accident we did ‘300’ and then ‘Immortals.’ We’re both huge fans of myth and history.”

Adds Nunnari, “Our goal was to keep exploring these mythic stories, but through different eyes this time.”

Starring Henry Cavill — cast as Superman in the upcoming Warner Bros. reboot — as Theseus, Mickey Rourke as his nemesis King Hyperion and Freida Pinto as the Sybelline Oracle, “Immortals” is billed in the company’s literature as “an epic tale of treachery, vengeance and destiny,” and is helmed by Tarsem Singh, known for his uber-stylish visuals in “The Cell” and “The Fall.” The film is due to be released in November in 3D.

After developing the project for several years, the producers decided that Singh had the necessary vision — and stamina — to bring the project to life.

“A key part of the process (of making this kind of movie) is the sheer determination of the director,” Nunnari says. “Tarsem loved the project from day one, and never wavered. He created all these designs and drawings, and we talked at length about how he was going to approach it.”

While “300” had happily embraced its graphic novel origins, Singh opted for a more classical, painterly approach in terms of a look, even if recently released footage reveals the monochromatic sheen of “300.” “Falling in the wake of comic strip films, I wanted to make a painting strip film and settled on Caravaggio and his ‘finger of God’ lighting,” says the director.

With the principals in full agreement about the artistic direction, “the most challenging thing was getting Ryan to greenlight the budget of a film that wasn’t a comic strip or a sequel,” Singh says. “Also, adapting static tableaux for action.”

As for shooting in 3D, “apart from the technical challenges, it wasn’t a big problem because the tableau-y style we chose lent itself very easily to 3D,” says the director.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office for Hollywood.com, says it’s a bit too early to prognosticate on the film’s B.O. prospects. But based on its trailer, which started making the rounds in April, Dergarabedian says “it has that whole ‘300’ vibe going for it but it also reminded me of (Singh’s) other work as well.

“When I saw ‘The Cell,’ I thought ‘this guy could do a big-time horror movie because of his amazing visual style,’ he just hasn’t had the breakout film or done enough (feature) work to be that next big super hero movie director. That’s not to say he can’t do it; I’m sure he can put a very interesting spin on it.”

Dergarabedian draws parallels between Singh and another director known for blending fantasy, a fanboy sensibility and highly stylized visuals. “Guillermo del Toro seems to have gotten a handle on bridging the gap between art house, with ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ and mainstream, with ‘Hellboy,’?” he says. “I think Tarsem is quite capable of that.”

Prior to Relativity’s involvement, the producers had approached several “very interested” studios, reports Canton. “But there was no graphic novel or built-in audience for it, so they were nervous about the risk,” he adds.

They came closest to pacting with Fox and, according to Nunnari, “twice we went home with a deal” — “but not the right deal,” adds Canton.

For the producers, the best match came with Kavanaugh’s personal interest in “Immortals.” “Ryan believed in the vision, he believed in the filmmaker, and he was very passionate about the project and let us do what we do best, which is put all the pieces in place,” Canton notes. “And then he supported it.”

The fact that Relativity became involved in the distribution business between the project’s nascent stage and post was “another important piece of the puzzle,” believes Canton. “They chose to distribute ‘Immortals’ themselves, and they see this as a tentpole franchise and part of their legacy.”

That Relativity has already kicked its ad campaign for the film into high gear — some six months before its 11-11-11 release date — is not something Canton takes for granted. “I’ve never seen a campaign start this early,” he points out. “We already have the teaser billboard on the side of the Sofitel, we had great response to our teaser trailer at WonderCon, and our 3D trailer is going out with ‘Thor.’?”

Relativity’s recent promotional deal with Clear Channel Communications, which operates more than 850 radio stations in the U.S. and a million billboard displays throughout the world, certainly ups the ante.

So why the 11-11-11 release date? “Simple,” says Canton. “Ryan’s hedging his bets. In case Roland Emmerich was right and the world ends in 2012, we want to have the best date in ’11.”