Do you know how many people watch movies on Thursday mornings? Lots. I think it's to do with the fact that most movies begin their run on a Thursday so many are keen to get the first peek.

Incidentally, I went to watch at the TGV in 1Utama, and the cinema we were in (screen 6) had a really fuzzy, streaky picture. The picture next door (screen 7) was crystal clear, so go figure.

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You know, it looks good. The poster looks really classy - an almost unrecognisable Brad Pitt, muscled up, frozen in mid-action, embossed in gold. "It's a classic, a saga, a return to epics past!" it screams out. But you know what they say by all that glitters. Here was a film where director Wolfgang Petersen had a chance to revive the golden age of cinema with a classic mythology and instead gets bogged down in serious realism.

First the story: Troy is loosely based on The Iliad and bits of The Odyssey, and if you don't know what that is, I'd strongly recommend you go down to the library and pick up a copy. Even if it is an abridged illustrated version for kids under ten. It'll still be better than watching this film.

The film stars Brad Pitt as the famous warrior Achilles. This is a man born to fight, but condemned to serve King Agamemnon (the excellent Brian Cox) to fulfil his destiny. If you're wondering why you never remembered the original Achilles like this, it's because good ol' Brad was encouraged to infuse a great deal of gravitas into the character. In this movie, he is human, after all - his mother is cameod by an un-Sea Nymph-like Julie Christie.

He lives to do battle and the chance comes up again when Paris (Orlando Bloom) seduces Helen (Diane Kruger) and whisks her from right under the nose of King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Paris' brother, Hector (a bearded Eric Bana) is furious - after all, they were on a peace mission, and whisking young wives away isn't really part of the whole peace-making concept. Personally, I would have just thrown her overboard together with Paris and told Menelaus "Helen? What Helen?".

When they get back to Troy, their father King Priam (the wonderfully cast Peter O'Toole) agrees that things do look bad for them but surprisingly he too doesn't think about chucking Paris/Helen to the ocean or a bunch of lions. Go figure.

When Menelaus tells Agamemnon, his brother, about this development, King Aga is more than a little pleased at the excuse of to invade yet another nation. But, he has to get that broody Achilles and his Myrmidon army to join him. It's amazing how fifty well-motivated young men led by an invincible warrior can help your army of fifty thousand and tip the balance.

Eventually the Greeks row their monoremes onto the Trojan beach and take it in a scene reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, except with arrows and a nifty human tank made of linked shields. Now why didn't the Allies think of that at Normandy?

After that there is fighting, fighting and more fighting with a bit of soul searching in between. There isn't actually as much fighting as you might think because the film-makers thought it prudent to compress a ten-year siege into a war that lasts all of a month, and then there's so much made of the one-on-one battles that you'd think that it could all have been over by the weekend if they had just put their mind to it. On the other hand, they were kind enough to let Achilles join in on the Trojan Horse, seeing that in the original Illiad, he was killed some time before that and was little more than a pile of ashes by the time.

Now you might think, reading all I've written so far, that I don't think very much of the film. Well, not all is bad. The production sets are nice, reminiscent of the extravagant pieces used in classics like Cleopatra or those old Roman epics. Actors like Brian Cox and Peter O'Toole do the best they can with relish, and even Sean Bean manages to have fun in his role as Odysseus. Finally, a lot of the set pieces are wonderfully shot - simply beautiful.

But you know, at the end of it, it's all about the story, both the idea and the telling of it, and this is where Troy fails miserably. Bad enough they mess around with the story, they've also decided to humanise the whole thing by throwing away the gods and making Achilles a broody hero. And Paris is such a wimp that even his redemption at the end is less of a heroic deed and more in line with the idea of a back-stabber. There's really very few people to admire in this movie. Nobody is a hero, everybody is flawed.

And the dialogue - don't get me started on it. It's so literal in places. It's like they had plotted the whole story out with notes like "In this scene, Hector says that he's not happy", and then a scriptwriter picks it up and writes "Hector: I'm not happy". Where are the great inspirational speeches of war? The best the had was "Immortality lies over there" "Immortality! It's yours! Take it!" - some distance from "Once more unto the breach" methinks. And there's hardly any levity to counter the soul-searching. It's all serious, serious, serious. Now, I'm sure David Benioff is better writer than me, but, still - I hope he squirms every time he watches this movie.

The movie drags on for far too long and most seem contrived to fit with the "plot". I started expecting so much and left thinking I was cheated.

Well, for a moment, I thought we might have a wonderful twist in the end. The Trojans go down to look at the horse that the Greeks left as a gift on the beach. "What shall we do with it?" they ask. Paris simply says, "Let's burn it". Well, it was worth hoping for.

posted on Saturday, May 15, 2004 - permalink
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