Ever since the dawn of cinema, people have aspired to adapt the great myths and legends of history. The tales of the Arabian Nights, the legends of Heracles, and most significantly, the Illiad and the Odyssey of Homer. However, the technology required to tell the second to last has been a little lacking. However, the Lord of the Rings films, with the technological development of the Massive Engine, when was used to show the massive battles of the books, now the time has come where Homer’s works can be given the adaptation they so richly deserve, in a live action format.
This film is not that adaptation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t bad. It’s just not the Iliad. The film attempts to hit the bullet points of the Trojan War – Paris flees Greece with the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. King Menelaus is not pleased by this development (as you can imagine), so he contacts his brother Agamemnon asking him for help getting her back. He in turn contacts all of the kings of the various city-states he’s turned into vassal-states and tells them that it’s time for them to fulfill their end of the deal and bring along troops to go with him to Troy, and get his brother’s girl back (and also to get control of Troy).
Alright, here’s the main thing, that I’m going to get out of the way right now. In the Iliad, the Greek Gods weren’t just set dressing, they played a major role of the story. Unfortunately, this is set aside in favor of an philosophical sub-plot about – basically, atheism vs. theism (in Troy – with the theists causing Troy’s destruction), and another plot about leaders leading from the front vs. leading from the rear (Achilles being the former, Agamemnon being the latter). Now, I normally wouldn’t have any problems with such a sub-plot in other films, but it feels out of place here.
This is mainly because of the film’s source material. With the Illiad, as mentioned previously, the Gods are actively coming down to the battle regularly (on both sides even) for the first 2/3rds of the book. Posideon sides with the Greeks. Aphrodite (who gave Helen to Paris as a bribe in a beauty contest between herself, Hera and Athena) sided with Troy. Further, in the Illiad, the many of the heroes of both sides were children of Gods (and not just of Zeus, who anyone who remembers their Greek mythology knows would couple with anything that had a vagina). This lead to hand-wringing by the Gods, who cared about their children, and didn’t want them to die, but to interfere would just make the battle worse.
Also, in the Illiad, both Agamemnon and Menelaus are both front line leaders, with Menelaus being killed in action, and Agamemnon being wounded but surviving. Instead, the conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon is more focused over respect than leadership styles – Agamemnon took a woman from Achilles who he’d claimed as spoils for work he’d done. To be fair to the writers of the film, Homer’s Achilles would come across to modern audiences like a whiny bitch. Still, there had to be a better way to resolve that without settling to one of the top two insipid straw men to come out of your standard High School political arguments (“When we go to war, the President should fight in combat!”, with the other being “Politicians should force their kids to fight when we go to war”). Other than that, most of my complaints are the standard Hollywood stuff, like the deaths of Agamemnon and Ajax (which don’t happen in the Iliad). Additionally, the sack of Troy is basically the standard Hawk the Slayer, Deathstalker-style burn then pillage sacking, just bigger, though not better.
With my bitching out of the way, let’s talk about what I liked about the movie. Wolfgang Peterson did a really good job with this movie, both in terms of the casting and the directing. Eric Bana is great as Hector, Brad Pitt is great as Achilles, all the casting is just good. Everyone puts in excellent performances whether they liked their performances or not. Sorry Peter O’Toole, even if you didn’t like this movie, you put in a damn good performance, and you, Pitt, Cox, and Bana’s performances (as well as Sean Bean’s as Odysseus) are some of the high points in this film. The fight choreography is also excellent, and they even do stuff that I hadn’t seen done in other films before (like actually incorporating the participant’s greaves in the choreography).
To be absolutely honest, I had a lot of fun with this movie, and I’d say that this is one of the best “epic” films I’ve seen out outside of the Lord of The Rings that I’ve enjoyed in a while.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
Note: I’ve decided to go back to assigning scores to reviews. This is basically because when it came to give a verdict, I always kept leaning toward “rent it”, which feels like a cop out response to me. Assigning scores isn’t a graceful conclusion, but it’s one that I feel better about as way to more clearly express my thoughts on a film.