Monday, September 13, 2010

Troy: Director's Cut

Troy was released in May of 2004.  I was about to complete my minor in Classical Studies and I had really mixed feelings about the film when it was first released.  I thought it was a really unfaithful adaptation of Homer's Iliad and I got really bogged down in the inconsistencies and wasn't able to enjoy the film for what it is.
Wolfgang Petersen's Intro to the Film

In 2007, Warner Bros. allowed Wolfgang Petersen to create a Director's Cut of the film.  Reportedly, about a million dollars was spent.  The film is now about 30 minutes longer (196 minutes).  I think the new cut of the film is better.  The first difference you notice is that it breathes more.  There is more room for character development and building of tension and relationships.  The other notable thing about this cut is that it's much bloodier.  Included now are extended moments of Ajax's brutal assault on the Trojans and also the sickening sack of Troy by the Greeks.
From the Director's Cut Website

I have the Ultimate Collectors Edition DVD set.  Overall, I like it.  It includes a small book with some reproductions of production art, a folder with behind the scenes photographs, a portion of the script outline and the two-disc DVD set.  I really wish they had put the film on a single disc and the bonus features on the second.  I hate having to switch discs during a film.  The bonus features themselves also could have been beefed up a bit.  There's quite a bit there but it's not especially in-depth.  The one thing I wish was included that isn't is the theatrical cut of the film.  It would have been nice to have them both together for comparison.
My criticisms of the film remain pretty much the same as they were when it was first released.  As a huge fan of Homer's epic, I dislike that this departs so much from that work.  However, I appreciate that a more faithful adaptation of Iliad would not make a great summer tentpole.  The filmmakers had to beef up the action and romance, compress the timeline of the story and cut out quite a bit to create a simpler plot.  I don't like that some of the characters are forced into archetypal action hero roles.  I also don't like that the gods are relegated to mere mentions.  In Homer's poem, the gods are very much present and involved in the story and I love that about it.  The filmmakers made a conscious decision to keep the film in the world of human heroes rather than mythology.
Overall, I do really like the casting of the film.  Brad Pitt makes a pretty good Achilles.  He's believable as an heroic warrior (even though his accent slips in and out constantly).
Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom are good as the princes of Troy.  Bana is believable as a warrior who is also a family man.  I think the audience actually feels the most for his character.  Bloom is a perfect Paris.  He's pretty enough to believe that Helen would fall for him and he plays a good second to Bana.
Brian Cox is a great King Agamemnon.  He really centres the story and grounds in in the reality of an ambitious man trying to rule the world.  I do hate that he is killed in the film.  In Greek writings he makes it home to be killed later by his wife.  That event is the catalyst for all the great Greek tragedy that follows.  I understand that for the film it's more satisfying to have him die but it still bothers me.
Sean Bean is brilliant as Odysseus.  He does a great job creating a character who is both a great warrior and a really smart man.  His sense of humour is expanded in the Director's Cut and there's also a new scene that introduces him properly.  In 2004 I remember hoping that Warner Bros. would do The Odyssey as a sequel and get Bean to reprise his role.  It would be great!
Helen of Troy is always a hard part to cast for this story.  This is a woman whose face "launched a thousand ships."  She has to be gorgeous and also have an engaging enough personality to have the audience believe that the greatest war in history could be fought over her.  The filmmakers mitigate that somewhat by focusing on Agamemnon's ambition which steals some of the romance from the story.  Diane Kruger is likable but she doesn't have much to do.
Perhaps my favourite cast member is Peter O'Toole as King Priam.  O'Toole is a very talented actor who delivers an impressive performance.  His eyes are incredible and his diction lends a gravity to his words that really steals the show when he's on screen.  
The rest of the cast is peppered with appearances by great character actors like Brendan Gleeson and James Cosmo.  I really like Julie Christie as Thetis and I wish her role had been expanded.

If you watch Troy expecting to see an adaptation of Homer's Iliad you'll be disappointed.  It's an epic historical action film and, as an action film, it works really well.  The Director's Cut makes the battles bloodier and more believable and strengthens the characters but they're still not Homer's characters.  The film has a solid cast and it's very well designed.  The visual effects are impressive and it's easy to shut your brain down and get lost in the world that the filmmakers create for you.

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