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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Troy: Two-Disc Widescreen Edition
Troy: Two-Disc Widescreen Edition
Warner Bros. // R // January 4, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 21, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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Too many broken hearts have fallen in the river
Too many lonely souls have drifted out to sea
You lay your bets and then you pay the price
The things we do for love

The Movie

It's been about five years since I last read The Iliad – not that I actively read Homer on a regular basis, mind you; it's also been about five years since I last read an Archie Double Digest – but even then I hardly would have equated that exemplary cornerstone of the development of Western Civilization to a peppy (if disposable) 10CC tune from 1977. But while I was watching the entirety of Wolfgang Peterson's latest big-budget extravaganza, I couldn't get this ridiculous yet strangely apropos tune out of my head. So now it's going to be stuck in your head, and better you than me. Ha!

Anyway if you're a mythology buff, Troy begins pretty much where you wouldn't expect it. Paris (Orlando Bloom), Prince of Troy, isn't asked to judge a beauty contest as a result of Eris's pain-in-the-ass shenanigans, but rather is witness to the peace treaty between Troy and Sparta. Spartan King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and his wife Helen (Diane Kruger) toast the new peace only fleetingly, as Helen and Paris are consumed in a lusty affair. To the dismay and anger of his brother Hektor (Eric Bana), Paris sprints Helen off to Troy with him, enraging Menelaus, who turns to his brother, the Greek King Agamemnon (Brian Cox), who has successfully united the various Greek kingdoms into a single fighting force. Agamemnon agrees to go to war with Troy, not on the behalf of a brother who could not hold on to his woman, but in order to consolidate his power base and extend his own command over the Aegean. Troy is the only kingdom left that is powerful enough to challenge Agamemnon's united Greece, and that, of course, simply won't stand.

But Agamemnon cannot take Troy without Achilles (Brad Pitt) and his army of Myrmidons. Achilles is the greatest warrior of his time, but grows weary of Agamemnon's endless warring and ultimately self-serving goals. While training his young cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund) in the art of warfare, Achilles is visited by Odysseus (Sean Bean), Agamemnon's most trusted General and future poster-child for AAA, who convinces Achilles to go to war – not for Agamemnon, but the glory of Greece herself. After a visit with his mother Thetis (Julie Christie), who warns her young son that he will find both legendary immortality and death at Troy, Achilles agrees to lead his Myrmidons to fight, not for Agamemnon or Menelaus, or even for Greece, really, but for immortality and glory.

Meanwhile, back at Troy, battlements are being erected and the men gear for war. Paris prances about with his young lady love, while Hektor – a renowned warrior in his own right – prepares to lead the Trojan armies into battle. Their father Priam (Peter O'Toole, giving the film's most powerful and memorable performance) views Paris's abduction of Helen as simply the will of the gods, a whim of fate and circumstance, and somewhat shrugs off the impending invasion with little more than a "que sera, sera" attitude. The cool-minded and sensible Hektor, perhaps the only one in command with a real sense of what danger Troy faces, is left responsible for leading the defense of his home.

The invasion begins in earnest with Achilles's aggressive and impulsive storming of the beaches at Troy, hitting the ground before Agamemnon's signal. The invasion is nothing short of impressive, with Achilles and his Myrmidons slicing through the first line of Trojan defenses like German infantrymen marching into Paris (took about the same amount of time, anyhow.) Securing the Greek forces first victory, Achilles desecrates a Temple of Apollo in an act of shocking defiance against the gods. Agamemnon naturally takes credit for the victory, further infuriating Achilles, who refuses to fight on behalf of a man he loathes.

And so begins Troy, a mega-budgeted adaptation of Homer's Iliad from director Wolfgang Peterson, who alongside screenwriter David Benioff has crafted a tale that has jettisoned the mythological and supernatural elements from the tale and instead concentrated on presenting a more grounded and "realistic" version of the events surrounding one of the greatest battles of legend. Yes, that's right: much like the recently released King Arthur, the filmmakers have striven to present legend as history, grounded in extremely tenuous historical veritas and stripped of anything remotely resembling wonderment or fantastical whimsy. How much historical accuracy has been assembled here? Well, there were once various Greek kingdoms and a place called Troy. Oh, and they fought with spears and probably looked good in skirts. That's pretty much it; everything else is just narrative fluff ripped directly from Homer's tale, sifted and shaped into a $200 million, two hour and forty minute big-budget Hollywood epic.

Troy is flawed, but it isn't a horrible movie. For all of its lofty aspersions, it succeeds as a contemporary extrapolation of all those swords and sandals epics from the past. Indeed, for as much as we look back fondly upon beloved Technicolor classics of yore like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, The Ten Commandments or even the infamous Cleopatra, there was a ton of fluff, filler, anachronisms, painful melodrama, and off-kilter pacing issued contained therein. Keeping in line with that particular pedigree, Troy succeeds at those basic goals. The cinematography is resplendent. The sets are glorious to behold. The huge, sweeping feel of the film is engaging and enjoyable, especially for those who enjoy epic filmmaking as a cinematic buffet. Unfortunately, it's in the details where the film sags. None of the characters are especially delineated. Pitt strikes a hell of a figure in Achilles - the man simply looks like a Greek demi-god on screen - but he exists as more of a prop and a plot device than a fully-fleshed character. The only really memorable performances and characters are Bana's Hektor, O'Toole's Priam, and Bean's Odysseus, and Hektor is the only one who retains any serious screen time (although O'Toole's scene opposite Pitt is dazzling.) The battle scenes - of which there are plenty - are well staged but grow repetitious as the movie ambles on; it's the smaller but more potent conflicts, like the stand-offs between Paris and Menelaus, or even more impressively that between Achilles and Hektor, that provide more satisfying visceral excitement. Yet sandwiched between all the pomp, pageantry, and excess is a workmanlike script and some fairly lifeless dialog.

Is it safe for me to say that Lord of the Rings - for better or for worse - has pretty much ruined epic battle scenes in films? I doubt I'll find too many naysayers on that line of reasoning. But while that series' endless shots of CGI warriors battling against CGI orcs eventually grew very tiresome, what made them work was the underlying emotional resonance that Peter Jackson imbued in their presentation. In Troy the battles are large, loud, and kinetic, but they seem somewhat empty, leaving the viewer in a somewhat indifferent state. As the movie progresses, you simply find yourself not caring that much about what happens to several of the main characters. By the time the film gets to the fabled Trojan Horse (which, as we all know, never occurred in the Iliad), we're suddenly shocked from lifeless indifference with the thought that, "Oh yeah, there's still more to go... I forgot." The film simply doesn't sustain very well over its extensive running length, and although it does end in a rather exciting sequence, it lacks the ongoing momentum to make the payoff so effective.

The DVD

Troy is presented in a two-disc Special Edition from Warner Brothers.

Video:

Troy is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing happiness. The resulting image is generally pleasant and very enjoyable but not perfect. Color levels are remarkable, even for a film that surrounds itself in mostly subdued browns and grays. Image detail and sharpness are both notable and well represented. Grain structure is present throughout much of the film, retaining much of the original film-like presentation of the source material, but at times it does seem somewhat excessive. Contrasts are well rendered but not quite as pinpoint perfect as one might hope to expect. There's an almost imperceptible... but perceptible... haziness to the image, as if there were some slight filtering going on. Shadow delineation is mostly strong, with some remarkable shadow structure in places, but a few night scenes seem somewhat murky in comparison.

Have you noticed a trend yet? Everything in the transfer seems to be very good, sometimes really good, but just not great. And given that Troy , as a film, succeeds mostly on its visual presentation, the fact that this transfer isn't superb comes as a mild disappointment. Still, on a purely objective scale, the transfer is very pleasing.

Audio:

The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Alas, there is no DTS to report here, but the DD track is mostly impressive. There is a thunderous amount of activity present throughout the soundtrack, especially during the various battle scenes. Here the soundtrack doesn't disappoint, with engaging and aggressive use of the surrounds and some impressive LFE punch. There is vivid use of discrete imaging and directionality, giving the space a fine level of detail and immersion. The battlefield simply roars to life, from the thick sonic walls of armies clashing against armies to the one-on-one directionality of single spear against shield combat. The orchestral score demonstrates fine dynamic range, giving James Horner's score (which I found to be rather bland and uninspiring) a lush and rich delivery. Dialog is delivered cleanly and with fine clarity. Overall, this is a rich and satisfying soundtrack.

Extras:

The extras are solely located on Disc Two. Much of the supplemental material is made up of three short featurettes that should have comprised one larger and more cohesive documentary. A "Play All" function would have been nice, but there you have it.

We start off with a 17 minute piece entitled In The Thick of the Battle, which examines the various logistical challenges involved in creating realistic battle sequences. This piece focused on the fight choreography, prosthetics, stuntwork, and special effects work used in the production of the film. From Ruins To Reality runs for about 14 minutes, and focuses on the set design and location scouting utilized for the film. This was probably the most interesting section of all the featurettes. Here you can see how much of the film was designed, gaining inspiration from the images of the past. Here's an interesting tidbit" much of the film was shot in Los Cabos, Mexico, and an environmental issue appeared when they realized that much of the beaches were endangered turtle habitats. The production crew had to construct their own turtle incubators and help release them into the ocean.

Troy: An Effects Odyssey runs 11 minutes, and focuses squarely upon the special effects worked used in the production of the film. CGI was used extensively to produce the 1000 ships that Helen's face launched, extending the various armies, and enhancing the set design. Attention is also paid to the sound effects as well; how quickly we admire the visual effects of a film while rarely giving a second thought to the impressive audio work. Alas.

Wrapping up the special features, Gallery of the Gods is a cheesy look at the 12 main deities that comprised the pantheon of Greek gods. Given that they have absolutely no involvement with Troy, the movie, one wonders why they are included here. To pad out the rather slim set of special features? Nah, that can't be it. Anyway, we finish off with the film's theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

Troy means well, but it just can't deliver the emotional goods. The spectacle of the film is enough to make you ooh and ahh appreciatively. It certainly looks great, and the all-star cast of both accomplished actors and Hollywood pretty boys certainly makes watching the film a more appealing prospect than, say, dinner with Joan Baez. (Oh I'm just kidding, you rascally Joan Baez fans... that's the first name that popped into my head, honest.) The movie starts engagingly, sags in its bloated middle, and never recovers enough to make the rather thrilling finale anything more than a cinematic afterthought. It's a shame, really, that given the enormous budget, acting talent, and talented filmmakers behind the movie, that something more substantial couldn't have been the result.

The DVD is also something of a puzzle. The quality of the presentation is notable. I had some pesky issues with the transfer, but the audio was rich and meaty. Yet the special features were, dare I say, not that special? 42 minutes of featurettes, a trailer, and a pointless look at the Greek Pantheon hardly constitute anything too memorable or exciting. After all, this film was Warner Brother's 2004 summer tentpole, and its release on DVD is rather perfunctory at best. Alas. Overall, as a DVD Troy is worth a strong rental but little more.

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