Review by Diana, MaceVindaloo, VagBoy
Screenplay: David Benioff
Starring: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Peter O'Toole, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Julie Christie, Garrett Hedlund, Sean Bean, Rose Byrne
Rating: Imperial Star Destroyer (popular crowd pleaser)
There are actors and there are movie stars. Actors are paid to act according to how a director wants them to perform. Whether the movie makes money or not depends on marketing, budgeting, distributions, blah, blah, blah, and a lot of luck. Movie stars, however, are hired to ensure a movie is a success and makes lots and lots of money (and thus they are paid huge amounts). Also, movie stars are known to be pickier about scripts and such so what they do theoretically shouldn't totally suck. (Unless they are that sort of movie stars.)
Brad Pitt is a movie star. But in this particular movie, he is more than a movie star. He is god-like, as his character Achilles is normally conveyed by legend. He exudes sexuality and confidence that all women AND men feel. He's just hot, and he's tremendously buff and athletic and sexy in this film, more so than he normally is. Many have commented that the movie sucked, AND that Brad was the sole reason to go see it anyway.
As for the rest of the movie ... it was filmed as a glamorous Hollywood-style epic, reminiscent of the movies of Cecil B. deMille. Which means it is very lightly based on Homer's poem, not really based on anything historical, and depended on effects to carry off what deMille would have used casts of thousands to do instead. It was actually a solid movie, very nice to look at, excellent effects, good technical solutions to problems of scale and numbers ... but it still made a lot of people mad and left them scoffing at how little Americans know about history or anything.
Never mind that the director is from some other country rather than the USA. Yeah, we get blamed for it just because ... but in this case, the guilt is about spectacle rather than nationalism, with a touch of bait-and-switch. It was billed as a love story, but in fact, it's a boys' war story, more reminiscent of westerns and war dramas than girl-boy smoochies (that part isn't necessarily bad, okay?) In a way, it's a decent date movie in that the boys get the hand-to-hand combat action, the girls can ooh and aah at how pretty everything is, and everyone can ogle Brad.
It was a nice movie to watch, but if you're not a total lout, it was way too easy to see that there were so many things wrong with it. These weren't just minor things to tell a good tale, that is, the usual condensing and pruning ... Some wrongnesses were major inconsistencies within the production itself, which pulled you right out of the movie. Like, okay, director Wolfgang Petersen can decide not to use any of the gods to make the movie more of a human drama (he thought the gods were silly), but his treatment of these "god" elements is not consistent. In the DVD documentaries, he and his crew emphasize "authenticity" ... if they wanted this to be a drama about humans rather than about bickering gods, that's fine! Never mind that the gods are central to Homer's tale; Petersen made all the elderly "god believers" appear foolish, which was far too simplistic and might have gone too far. You don't get to be a king by being foolish. He also decided to use a more "glamorous" scale for the sets, like the 40 foot tall statues and 60 foot tall buildings in a time when 10-foot statues was pushing it. Gods, no; Hollywood effects on steroids, yes.
Petersen didn't originally want to have a Helen in the story because what she looks like should be up to the viewer's standard of god-like beauty (she's the daughter of Zeus and Leda). But since the producers insisted that Helen needed to be shown, he chose an unknown actress with Aryan features, not in keeping with the swarthiness of other casting choices (Brad excluded, of course). He did go to the effort of drafting 800 actors from Bulgaria and Mexico to play Trojan and Greek warriors the right build and coloring, we guess. But obviously for Helen and Achilles, that would not do ... And what about the duel of Paris with Menelaus, when he should have died? It's said that Aphrodite intervened, or was it Hector, who violated a warrior's code to protect the man who brought war to Troy? The god story might've been improbably, but the human solutions were not satisfying, or disturbing. I mean, the watched Hector die and didn't do a thing ... when Paris shrieks like the whelp he is, they defend him??
Anyway, this movie will make you really mad if you know any mythology or history at all. Even if you forego the gods and the fact that they are credited with causing and progressing the war, the story was twisted and changed so much that maybe they shouldn't have called this "Troy," especially since all the actors had British English accents ... We spent the viewings hollering at the screen, yelling stuff like, "W-w-what happened to the ..." and "No, he's still ALIVE after that!" etc. No golden apple of discord, but yes to sticking to the legend of how Achilles died and how exactly did he get that property unless there were gods involved? Achilles apparently lost his head / heart to a "priestess" Briseis (who wasn't one, but she was actually slave booty as a former Queen, from the siege of cities outside of Troy rather than a virgin), rather than to the boy Troilus, the other son of Priam, who was never mentioned in the movie ... and since when was Patroclus his younger cousin as opposed to his companion at arms and main squeeze?? (That would make more sense than cousin, don't you think??) And the siege of Troy was supopsed to take nine years, not a few battles on the beach as portrayed here, but that's okay ... we don't want nine years of this. Paris was initially portrayed rather "authentically" selfish, spoiled, cowardly, rather dumb, but stunningly beautiful brat (the type of guy a bimbo like Helen could love, maybe?). But after Hector's death, he became a heroic and skilled archer à Legolas and yet pains were taken to establish that he had no experience in war nor did he possess battle skills. According to mythology, Apollo guided his hand in killing Achilles, but hey, the director said no gods, right?
Never mind that the whole war effort started as a sort of vermin eradication effort by the gods. Zeus had thought there were too many humans and their cries were annoying him. And thus this game among the gods was a population control program ... but that's never mentioned anywhere, since that's just silly, right? Oh right, no gods ...
Obviously, the story was stripped down and the bits that made a simpler tale were reconstructed into this Frankensteinian effort. Bet some people will think this is the true-to-history version of the tale, which is just galling. When people say this movie sucks, this is the aspect they are attacking. Yet, the movie on its own, without source context, was actually beautiful to watch. so turn off your brain to watch this one.
Brad Pitt trained for six months to acquire the physique of "a Greek god" and did all of his own stunts and fighting, as did Eric Bana. Despite the Nordic / Aryan features of the actor, one believed that he was indeed Achilles; the demigod might even have been jealous of the mortal who played him. Hard to believe the "real" Achilles would have been finer. The "god-like" fighting style executed by Pitt was part dancing, part dream, all grace, and all man. His leaps and twists and lunges were thrilling to watch; there simply isn't another word to describe the experience of watching this beautiful man do his thing as only he could! Wait, you want more evidence of his godliness? Believe it or not, the man is 40 when he makes these moves ...
This movie was not so much about Helen of Troy as it was about the battles between men and their weaknesses. King Menelaus, Helen's husband, of course had to defend his honor and pursue his young runaway wife (by the way, the legendary Helen was the mother of three or four children, or possibly five, depending on who's count you go by). His brother, King Agamemnon was bound by blood and pride to help him in his campaign, and besides, he wanted to control Troy so he could control the whole of the Aegean. Thus an army of 1000 ships, each containing 50 to 70 men, embarked for the heavily defended city of Troy (they did forget to mention the obligation all these men had to help the husband of Helen ... bah!). The story contained more realistic and humanistic reasoning for what might have went on, not the romanticized love story about a beautiful woman. The love stories are actually those between flawed men (despite their cutting out of all the homosexual stories); the enmity between Achilles and Agamemnon; the love of Priam and Hector for the idiotic Paris; the love of Agamemnon for Menelaus; the love of Achilles for Patroclus; the love of his men for Achilles. It reminded us more of Saving Private Ryan than a conventional boy-meets-girl love story.
In the end, it was a decent story (though with plot holes) based on small portions of what Homer might have sung all those centuries ago. There are nods and references to the legends and myths. But why are we so pissed off at it? Because the DVD commentary even admitted that they wanted to be "authentic" (that damned word) in terms of the effects, but they were willing to ignore the many good details of the story and settings. Yes, it's a movie, and I am a big advocate of not letting the truth or details get in the way of a good story. But if one is going to call a story "Troy," shouldn't it reflect the events that occurred in the original telling in some way, rather than just building boats or suiting up soldiers in a manner you might associate with that period of time?
The fighting was awesome precisely because they'd chosen to stick to more-or-less authentic weaponry and battle tactics. Computer graphics and artificial intelligence-driven software were used to multiply the number of warriors from 800 to 100,000, but the 800 live actors were the basis for all the movements. They were heavily choreographed and had rehearsed in the brutal heat in the on-location Aegean-like sets. The bonus material on the DVD conveyed the scope of the work, and it is incredibly impressive. And they did it all on sand!
I mentioned that Pitt and Bana did their own stunts and fighting, and both men did a superlative job. Maybe it's because since Episode 1 we've come to expect a higher level of hand-to-hand aggression, but this did remind me of many a lightsabre battle. Like those, the spear, shield, and shortsword dance may have been choreographed, but it was energetic, fast, hard hitting and looked totally real, at least as real as in our fantasies. The fights were shot well, executed well, and these men had put a lot of hard training in. You can see they really got into the parts; bloody noses and bruises were even left in and noted for continuity. It was so strenuous that when a hurricane had destroyed Pitt's house on-set, he was so exhausted from the battle filming that he slept right through it. It was also said the Pitt and Bana had a deal where they'd have to pay one another for every accidental hit to each other. At the end of filming, Pitt owed Bana $750.
Though the humiliation and desecration of Hector's corpse by Achilles was only partially shown, Peter O'Toole's Priam begging Achilles for his son's body for proper burial showed everything that needed to be shown. Amazing how when a strong story is depicted as it survived through the ages, it becomes one of the best scenes in the movie. (Though they ruined it with Briseis ...)
The use of fire was amazing, whether on fireballs thrown at the Greek troops as they slept on the beach, or in burning down the city of Troy, or in sending out flaming arrows over the heads of advancing troops to burn down their ships and camps. The costumes and armor were beautifully crafted. The wealthy really were wealthy, you could see the cost of what they owned. The buildings were completely out of scale, since it was more important to be visually stunning than historically correct. The Trojan horse was another "authentic" touch. For realism, the crew decided the only wood the Greeks had were the hulls of burnt ships, and so a beautiful, huge horse was created to conceal the warriors within who would open the gates to the walled city of Troy. Too bad the bit of storytelling leading up to the idea of creating the horse was abbreviated and poorly thought out, though Sean Bean's Odysseus made the most of the three seconds he was allotted to come up with the plan. Again, visually stunning over careful or well-done. (Like, wasn't Achilles dead by the time the horse was even built??? And didn't Ajax kill himself? And didn't Menelaus and Agamemnon make it home? Argh, incidental details, obviously!)
There are many versions of the Trojan War by ancient and modern writers and poets. Who Helen was and how things panned out tend to differ, depending on the political and religious views of the writers and audiences of the time. Wolfgang Petersen had been slated to direct the Batman vs. Superman project, and that tendency to see men as superheroes (or superheroes as men) shows in this production. Those who put faith in gods are fools; at the end of the day, there are only men and their passions, or so he seems to say. Yet the end of the movie showed the death rites of Achilles, and Odysseus's silent eulogy begged history, "If they ever tell my story, let them say I walked with giants ... Let them say I lived in the time of Hector ... and of Achilles." (Hey, why was Achilles still wearing his armor? That was awarded to Odysseus ...) Obviously, this was stuff out off Petersen's and Benioff's guts/ass rather than their heads. The movie really should have been called Achilles, probably.
As an epic though, it was indeed glorious. The whole movie tracks Brad Pitt's Achilles, the man who was the greatest warrior of his time, with no fear of death, who loved and hated with a god-like (and child-like) passion, even killing those who might not return his love (as he did to Troilus at the Temple of Apollo, oops, he doesn't show up in this movie). For that, and some of the breathtaking camerawork and seamless CG, and for the documentaries which at least allows the film crew and creators to explain themselves and tell the why and how, this DVD is worth purchasing. But above all, whether you are a man or a woman, see it for the moviestar Brad Pitt and his buff, glowering, fighting, leaping, god-like self!
Images from www.imdb.com
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