Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Troy? Oy!

I went with a couple of friends to see the 5:30 p.m. showing of Troy last night. We had the theatre pretty much to ourselves so we were free to make like the gang in Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and make snarky comments about the movie out loud if we were so moved.

Boy, were we.

Let’s get the nitpicking out of the way first:

  • There’s a subtitle early in the film announcing that we are seeing “The Port of Sparta.” Sparta is land-locked; it’s like announcing we are seeing “The Port of Las Vegas.”
  • The city of Troy was located on the west coast of Turkey; therefore the sun should set over the ocean. In the film, the sun sets and rises over the ocean.
  • According to all three versions of the legend of Troy (Euripides, Homer, and Virgil), Agamemnon survives the war and returns home to face his own troubles (Clytemnestra, his wife, was not too happy to see him return home – she’s got a little something on the side named Aegisthus.) He’s killed off in the film – apparently leaving the playwright Aeschylus without source material for his trilogy.
  • The same goes for Menelaus – he and Helen are reunited in the legend.
  • Patroclus was not Achilles’ cousin – he was his “close friend.” (Some say they were lovers, but Brad Pitt doesn’t do gay.)
  • The siege of Troy, according to Homer, lasted ten years. The movie seems to cover about three weeks from start to finish.
  • If Achilles is “invincible,” why does he wear protective garments including a helmet, and carry a shield?
  • Speaking of “invincible,” there’s an assumption made by the director and the screenwriter that the audience knows Achilles is vulnerable only in one spot – his heel – because that’s where his mother held him when she dunked him in the River Styx to achieve his invincibility. That’s a pretty big assumption considering there’s no backstory in the film about how Achilles became invincible and the climax of the film turns on that bit of knowledge. (And shame on director Wolfgang Petersen for delegating the luminous Julie Christie to just a walk-on as Achilles’s mother.)

    I have read a lot of reviews of the film and many of them give Brad Pitt high marks. Well, he looked good – his six months of hitting the gym have paid off in buffing him out, but then he took the thrill away when he opened his mouth. To be fair, it’s not just Mr. Pitt; a lot of the dialogue was clunky and tortured, and the only actor who seemed to be able to get through it without contortions was the amazing Peter O’Toole as Priam. He has the style and the polish to carry off any role he’s in. He is riveting, and in the film when he has a scene with Brad Pitt, you can really see the difference between an actor and a movie star. Pitt’s bulging biceps are no match for the talent that O’Toole shows in just one tortured gaze. But that’s the only truly inspired acting in the film. The rest of it clunks along like Wagnerian opera, and there’s one death scene that goes on and on to the point where we were shouting at the screen, “Oh, die already!” Top it off with one of the worst film scores since Xanadu and it becomes an assault on the ears in both quality and volume.

    I’ll give the set and special effects designers high marks; they did a fine job of creating a believable fortress of Troy, although I was a little bothered by the Art Deco-ish Temple of Apollo – the statue out front looked like something that fell off the Chrysler Building. The battle scenes were appropriately noisy and bloody, although you could tell that some of the soldiers were faking their hits. There’s enough exposed flesh of both the male and female variety to get the attention of straight and gay audiences, and the teenagers should be happy with the puppy-love story of Paris and Helen – neither of whom we care enough about to see in a movie all their own (Orlando Bloom brings back the soulful pout made famous by Robbie Benson in the 1970’s). But it doesn’t make up for the slapdash treatment of the source material. The final credits say “Inspired by The Illiad by Homer.” Homer should sue. In the original poem, the gods play a major role in the story – at times the war seems to be nothing more than just a chessmatch for them. Director Wolfgang Petersen said he took the gods out because he thought they were “silly” and superfluous (as opposed to what screenwriter David Benioff did to The Illiad?). Shortening the timeframe from the original ten years to a three-week skirmish makes the whole thing seem petty and trivial like a gangland turf war, not the stuff of legend and mythology.

    Throughout the entire film the characters seem obsessed with making their names immortal. That’s a truly human instinct for wanting to be remembered, but if this was the greatest moment of these people’s lives told in such a hackneyed and scene-chewing style, then Homer wouldn’t have bothered to tell it, much less commit it to the annals of legend.

    On the other hand, it would have been really fun to see what Mel Brooks or Monty Python could do with it…

    [Updated to add another nit to pick.]