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Brad Pitt might be Achilles but David Benioff is no Homer,
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This review is from: Troy (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
As a teacher of Classical Greek and Roman Mythology I was looking forward to "Troy." In the past I have put together a unit on the Trojan War that included not only Homer's epic poem the "Iliad," but also the plays of Euripides and Aeschylus and other ancient works on the stories of these characters. In other words I am familiar with this story to the extent that when Briseis showed up wearing a garment with long sleeves I was upset that we did not get to see the lovely arms that were part of her usual epithet. So, suffice it to say, that when characters who survived the Trojan War started dying in this film, I was not exactly happy. Consequently, the truth is that the less you know about the Trojan War of classical mythology, the more you will enjoy Wolfgang Petersen's "Troy."
I have no problem with the idea that Homer and the other ancients have to be adapted in making a modern motion picture about the Trojan War. The decision to eliminate the gods is appropriate, getting away from the idea that this was a ten year war makes sense, and if the alliance of the Greeks is now political rather than as part of an oath sworn by the princes who were suitors for Helen's hand, I consider that to be legitimate. I do not understand why Iphigenia, Cassandra, and Hecuba are all eliminated but there are not fatal omissions. But when you start rewriting who gets killed that is going a bit too far, especially when one premature death starts a chain effect that means Athens will never develop the jury system, which means we probably lose out on it too. David Benioff's screenplay was "inspired" by Homer's "Iliad," which at least is an honest way to characterize what he did in this script, but I still do not have to like it or endorse it.
The big selling point for this film was not Homer but rather Brad Pitt as Achilles. Stories abound about how Pitt worked six months to get in shape for this film, gave up smoking, and ended up hurting his Achilles tendon in one of those profound ironies that indicates that maybe the gods were not pleased with what was happening in this film. Pitt certainly looks good, not just in terms of taking several opportunities to display the line of his nude body, but in how he carries himself as Achilles. The whole idea is that this guy is the greatest warrior on the face of the planet and Pitt exudes that with the way he strides across the sands of Troy. Even more impressive is the choreography for the fights, because Pitt's movements are so smooth and powerful, especially compared with that of Eric Bana's Hector, that you do not doubt that this guy is in a league by himself as a warrior. I also like the way he uses the distinctive form of his shield when fighting. They thought this part out quite a bit.
The fight choreography was worked out by Simon Crane, the film's stunt coordinator and second unit director, who describes Achilles as fighting with a boxing style but with the velocity of a speed skater and the agility of a panther. They also come up with a nice touch in that Achilles looks slightly to the side at his opponent until he is ready to come in for the kill. The best fight sequences of "Troy" are when Achilles is fighting. The giant battle sequences of computerized soldiers are not as impressive, mainly because the camera is always in motion and the cutting is so fast that we are left with an impression of the battle rather than always being able to tell what is going on (which has become my constant complaint with most movies with large battle sequences).
Bana does a good job of capturing Hector's nobility without turning him into a marble statue, while Peter O'Toole fills the role of Priam naturally. On the Trojan side the problematic character is Paris (Orlando Bloom), again because of the writing more than the performance. Priam has negotiated peace between Troy and the Sparta of King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), but that is destroyed when Paris persuades Helen (Diane Kruger) to run away with him. Both Hector and Priam know that Paris is wrong and their reasons for supporting him and thereby dooming Troy ring hollow (the less than stellar "Helen of Troy" television miniseries did a nice job of providing a solid motivation for the Trojans to protect Helen).
It you want to draw a clear distinction between Homer's story of Achilles and that of Benioff it is that the former is about the rage of Achilles (see the first line of the "Iliad") and the latter adds an equally strong love element. The one character whose role is most inflated in this version is that of Briseis (Rose Byrne), the Trojan slave girl who comes between Achilles and Agamemnon (Brian Cox), the king of kings for the Greeks. This change becomes the reasoning behind how the film rewrites the end game of the Trojan War, although I still do not understand why some of the key characters get to live happily ever after. But since Pitt's performance dominates the film and he is clearly the horse that director Wolfgang Petersen is riding to make the whole thing work, it makes sense that he has to be around until the very end.
The good news is that when I teach mythology after this DVD comes out my students will probably enjoy attacking Benioff's changes in the original stories of Greek mythology in their papers. I think this will definitely help them understand why the writings of Homer and the other ancients are considered classics.
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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 3, 2007 4:01:21 PM PST
Walter C says:
I agree about the computerized battle scenes being disappointing. They really were cheesy and cartoonish and done better by other movies such as Last Samauri which chose to emphasize a subjective battle with tight shots of real people instead of trying to impress us with cartoon wide battle angles to literally tell us this is an epic battle with cartoon soldiers.
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 15, 2007 10:14:38 AM PDT
The battle scenes were hurriedly done without much forethought just like the rest of the movie.
Posted on Sep 28, 2007 11:02:45 AM PDT
Rhindle The Red says:
Given the accepted notion that the Trojan War (in some form or another) *did*, in fact, happen and the obvious conclusion that it didn't happen exactly the way Homer said it did, the depiction in 'Troy' is equally valid to that given in Homer. What I liked most about the movie is that it ignored Homer when it wanted to present a *potential* depiction that could have led to the legends Homer depicts. Things like Achilles not dying of the arrow through his heel, but that being the only thing left once he was dead. This could have led to the myth that he was invulnerable except for his heel. It's clever touches like that that make 'Troy' a resounding succes. If all your students are able to come up with when comparing Benioff to Homer is to attack him, then they have failed to learn to think for themselves much. A better idea would be to compare the relative values of both stories and why one worked better in Homer's day and why one may work better now.
Posted on Mar 10, 2008 8:15:44 AM PDT
Paul Papadopoulos says:
I was going to write a review but after reading these comments I realise I would have nothing to add. I absolutely agree with his critique. It is one thing to allow poetic licence, quite another - even from Hollywood's warped viewpoint- to allow barbaric and unnecessary abuse of one of the world's great epics. Only one minor point of disagreement with Prof.Bernabo: I've always felt that Paris was rather an effete wimp anyway, so Orlando Bloom portrayed him well! Indeed, the good actors lifted the movie from very poor to barely acceptable.
Posted on Apr 3, 2008 5:24:36 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 3, 2008 5:25:43 PM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2008 9:45:15 PM PDT
Kenneth Sohl says:
Since Homer was passing a word-of-mouth history, I think that totally contradicting him is quite a bit more than just having a different outlook on the events depicted. Much of the problem apparently lies in the fact that director Peterson was trying to spin a modern, PC angle into the story, comparing it to the US modern involvement in Iraq. While the timeless notion of East vs West actually makes this valid (the trojan war was where it all started), his need to make Agamemnon a typical hollywood bad guy who must get his just deserts seems to have overcome his ability to think out a more creative way for him to depict this occurence as it actually happened in Homer's narrative. Also, I agree that leaving out Cassandra, Agamemnon's sacrifice of his own daughter, etc. left out a lot of great dramatic material. I'd also like to point out that Peterson seemed to be trying hard to make Paris and Helen out to be good guys when it was so obvious that their selfishness was what brought about Troy's tragic downfall, as other viewers have pointed out. I agree with this review 100 percent. Having Menelaus die while Paris survives is unforgiveable. At the same time, Brad Pitt's performance and the lavish sets and battles are the highlights that make this film worth watching.
Posted on Dec 5, 2009 10:05:05 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 5, 2009 10:35:15 AM PST
While your review is quite informative and helpful, it's unfortunately handicapped by the same lack of knowledge about the "making" of the film most of us shared until the director's cut was released. We were all left wondering about changes from Homer's epic poem but anyone that wants to understand why things were done the way they were should get the director's cut and listen to the interviews.
To your point about character deaths (i.e., "But when you start rewriting who gets killed that is going a bit too far..."), Peterson addresses what I assume is your biggest complaint, the untimely death of Agamemnon while sacking Troy. This was done purely for theatrical reasons so the audience wouldn't be forced to think he carried out his threats to enslave Briseis, and exactly what that would mean. Come on, do you want to see her treated like that? No, of course not; none of us do.
As much as I enjoyed your review, the part where you stated "The good news is that when I teach mythology after this DVD comes out my students will probably enjoy attacking Benioff's changes in the original stories of Greek mythology in their papers" saddens me. This movie can only enhance the experience of reading Homer and in no way detracts from it. If Troy gets people interested in studying what is obviously an important subject for you, then are we all not better off? Education, and the ability to juxtapose differing viewpoints and comprehend larger contexts is what's important, not "attacking" something because it doesn't fit our desires for adherence to some belief.
What surprises me most often is that critics of all sorts, amateur and professional alike, forget that this is a movie, designed to entertain for a few hours, leave people feeling good (for the most part), earn lots of money, but not really educate people about Homer, Virgil (the Trojan horse), and life in the Bronze age. The education is secondary, if that, but the entertainment is primary. I for one, enjoyed the whole thing and support Peterson, Pitt, and even Benioff wholeheartedly. It was an exciting, and very enjoyable ride.
Posted on Jul 14, 2010 8:13:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 14, 2010 8:14:04 PM PDT
The biggest complaint I had about the film wasn't that it didn't follow Homer, but that after having completely wrecked Troy's peace treaty with Sparta, King Priam didn't fly into a rage, but treated it (the entreating, the voyage, sending his two sons, the political implications) as if they meant nothing, not to mention stealing another man's wife! Indeed, it's difficult to paint Hector with any type of honor after he was party to such dishonor! He should have turned the ship around and left Helen on a nearby beach with two guards to make sure she made it safely home -- though making sure they left her before their own presence became...er...politically sensitive. As for Homer, his version was tedious, leaving every slip of the foot to the will of the gods. I'd like to think that some warriors were better than others because of their own merit and not because Zeus decreed that someone stumble on a rock! I love this version, and I despised Agamemnon, the king who sacrificed his own daughter for fair winds and smooth seas. Why would we have to delay seeing him put to the sword?
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 19, 2011 4:24:45 PM PDT
Amazon Customer says:
The movie wasn't based on the Trojan War, it was based on Homer's Iliad, which makes your whole claim very weak.
Posted on Dec 4, 2011 9:26:58 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 4, 2011 9:28:37 PM PST
Sight Reader says:
I find myself wondering if decisions as to which characters die and which survive might have been driven by a potential sequel based on The Odyssey (or, even more ambitiously, a third based on the Aeneid). Perhaps some characters were eliminated to simplify the telling of these latter tales, assuming sufficient box office returns for Troy.
Unfortunately, it appears that the author of this review is not following the comments. It would have been most interesting to have his feedback, as he would know all of these epics intimately.