In the best documentaries, you feel like you're immersed in a
constant stream of information: just enough to always have something
new being revealed, without being overwhelming. In contrast, watching
In Search of the Trojan War is like drinking a glass of water
using an eyedropper: it takes forever to get just a few unsatisfying
drops. In a program that runs nearly six hours (six 56-minute
episodes), that adds up to a lot of restlessness as we wait for some
sort of informative payoff.
The key phrase in the title is the "In Search of": the
documentary is less about the Trojan war than it is about the history
of attempts by archaeologists to determine whether or not Troy was a
real city, and if it was real, where it could be found. It's not a
bad approach, but it's the kind of thing that works best in
moderation; it's simply not as interesting to hear about the
personality of Heinrich Schliemann and
other archaeologists as it is to learn about the historical origins
of Achilles, Agamemnon, or Helen. In Search of the Trojan War does
work in some information about the real Troy, but surprisingly
little, and in a rather disorganized manner.
The documentary program is made up of six episodes. "The Age of
the Heroes" focuses on German amateur archaeologist Heinrich
Schliemann and his obsessive search for Troy; "The Legend Under
Siege" (misspelled as "seige" in the menu, I might
add) reviews the post-Schliemann investigations; "The Singer of
Tales" addresses the historicity of Homer's Iliad; "The
Women of Troy" looks at whether Helen of Troy existed; "Empire
of the Hittites" discusses Troy's relations with its neighboring
empire; and "The Fall of Troy" covers what was known about
the fall of the city. There's certainly potential in these topics,
but the sad fact is that the actual content is so thin on the ground
that it all could be condensed easily into a single episode.
The annoying thing about In Search of the Trojan War is not so
much its slow pace (which is, in fact, glacial) but the fact that the
slowness is blatantly unnecessary. It's not that we're taking our
time to explore difficult-to-grasp topics, or that a lot of
supporting detail is being provided for everything; those would be
acceptable causes of a slow pace. No, In Search of the Trojan War
is slow because it puffs everything out. We see conversations with
archaeologists and museum curators... including idle chit-chat
between them and the narrator. We get lingering shots of completely
irrelevant scenes, like modern traffic or anonymous ruins, liberally
thrown in between scenes in which we actually do get information.
Added to this maddeningly slow pace and skimpy amount of information
is the annoyingly pretentious narrative style. The narrator, Michael
Wood, is given to pseudo-poetic ramblings about Troy and the search
for it, and even ordinary information is given a flowery presentation
that just comes out as cheesy rather than stylish.
The image quality of In Search of the Trojan War reveals the
program's 1980s vintage. The picture tends to be grainy and rather
faded, with a washed-out, grayish look much of the time. A few flaws
crop up here and there, but they don't stand out much; what's more
noticeable is the general soft and fuzzy
appearance of the picture. It's watchable, but you won't mistake it
for anything modern. The program is presented in its original
1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The soundtrack is underwhelming, even for a documentary that doesn't
put much strain on the audio system. The overall sound is flat and
rather lifeless, and quite muffled-sounding. The volume varies
considerably as well; scenes in which the narrator is speaking in
front of the camera, as opposed to giving a voiceover, are often
On the first disc, we get a 25-minute interview with Michael
Wood, the narrator, who discusses his experiences with the program.
While a date isn't given, it's clear that the interview takes place a
number of years after In Search of the Trojan War. It's clear
that he's still enthused by the "journey of discovery"
approach that the documentary takes, although to his credit, it
probably was a lot more fun to participate in it than to watch it.
The second disc has a few odds and ends of special features. A photo
gallery presents images of artifacts and sites related to the Trojan
War, with informative captions; it's more interesting than the
typical photo gallery (although that's not saying much). Trailers for
other BBC documentaries are also included.
Search of the Trojan War takes an interesting topic and waters it
down to the point that it's not worth watching. While the program
offers some material of interest, I simply can't say that it's worth
sitting through six hours of fluffed-out, pretentious episodes to get
the few nuggets of worthwhile material. Viewers who are interested in
ancient Greek civilization will do better to check out the excellent
Spartans instead, even though it covers a later historical
period than the Trojan War. In Search of the Trojan War could
have been worthwhile, but sadly all it gets is a "skip it."