Ever since the release of Gladiator, a few sword and sandal epics have been given the greenlight by various studios, all hoping to recapture the money and awards that Ridley Scott's 2000 film garnered. The sporadic projects have had varied critical and commercial success, and often no one film was able to get both at the same time. Wolfgang Petersen's Troy made plenty of money worldwide, but left many critics cold. Petersen himself was unhappy with the version released to theaters, and convinced Warner Bros. to let him go back and recut the film in a director's cut version. This cut is now seeing the light of day on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray.
The story remains very much the same. Greek Warlord Agamemnon (Brian Cox) has succeeded in uniting all of the disparate Greek kingdoms under his standard. He did so using the brains and brawn of the world's most reknowned warrior, Achilles (Brad Pitt), despite an intense dislike between the two men. Agamemnon lusts after the city of Troy, and gets his chance to go after it when his brother, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) finds that his wife Helen (Diane Kruger) has run off with Paris (Orlando Bloom), a prince of Troy. He calls together all of the Greek kings, including Achilles' friend Odysseus (Sean Bean), to fight with him. And so the conglomeration of Greeks sail to Troy. Achilles goes with them not for Agamemnon or even Odysseus, but for the chance to achieve everlasting glory. They quickly find that Troy's walls are not easily overcome, and that their army, led by Prince Hector (Eric Bana) is a powerful fighting force, even though their numbers aren't as great as the Greeks. Faced with a potentially endless siege, the dominating personalities of many of the men start to clash and threaten to destroy the entire endeavor.
Troy is, of course, based on Homer's The Iliad, as well as The Aeneid, myths, legends, and other tales surrounding the event. Petersen made a choice early on to exclude gods and other mythological creatures as actual characters in the picture. And while this certainly makes it easier to digest, it also strips the story of the grandeur it has had for thousands of years. While the Greek gods were petty and cruel (in the classic tale, the entire mess starts when Paris judges a beauty contest amongst three goddesses), they at least gave a larger than life scope to the piece. Without them, it just seems like a bunch of vain assholes fighting over nothing and less than nothing. There's also dialogue, such as when Achilles' mother tells him that if he goes to Troy, his name will be remembered for thousands of years, that make no sense unless you realize that the Greeks believed heavily in obtuse prophecies from oracles. With this knowledge, the words have much more weight. Without them, they just make Achille's mom seem kind of kooky.
Speaking of lacking scope, the entire picture feels too small. Yes, there are shots of an uncountable fleet of ships coming to invade Troy, and many of the battle sequences are appropriately massive, but the entire story feels like it takes place over the course of three weeks. For comparison, The Iliad details the events of the tenth year of the siege of Troy. The whole film suffers from many such compressions. This also serves to stunt the growth of many of the characters. Achilles goes from bloodthirsty in one scene to love stricken in the next to vengeful after two more scenes and then regretful. Agamemnon also gets short shrift, being portayed as nothing but an opinionated jerk who used Achilles to cheat his way to power. In reality, Agamemnon was a rather heroic figure with several ego-based character flaws.
To be fair, Achilles was also a brave man with deep character flaws. But his extreme arrogance and hubris only makes sense in the context of traditional Greek storytelling, where a common theme was that a man who grew too proud courted the wrath of the gods. In the film, Achilles is softened to the point where practically all of the rougher and darker sides of him are erased. I mean, he's played by Brad Pitt, for Zeus' sake. Granted, he's not portrayed as a total white hat, but his main stance is in opposition to Agamemnon, and with such a one-sided playing of that particular character, Achilles comes off as a much better person than what Homer laid out.
Another reason Achilles looks so good is because even in this extended version, Odysseus is pretty much ignored. He's got a few scenes and a few lines here and there, but for the most part, he's dropped in as an afterthought. Considering Odysseus was thought to be the smartest of all the Greek kings, with the most talented political, speaking, and tactical skills, it seems a little odd to have him do nothing while everyone else preens and postures. Odysseus was the man who came up with the Trojan Horse (another event where all the significance is drained away), but none of that is explored here.
So what do we get in the new cut? Well, there's actually half an hour of new footage, including a new opening. Wolfgang Petersen has gone in and added extensions to scenes, recut footage as necessary, changed the color timing of the entire film, and re-edited the score. This is one of the more drastic alternate cuts I've seen in a while. But the problems with the film are so fundamental that while some of the new scenes are most welcome (Odysseus finally has a proper introduction), they generally only serve to remind us of how many of the issues with the picture were a fundamental inability to translate Homer's epic to to the big screen. So yes, now Odysseus has a full scene where he's formally introduced, but Petersen never uses him to the fullest. So why bother?
That being said, I know Troy has developed a bit of a following since its release, and just about any fan of the theatrical version will be able to appreciate the changes and added nuance of the director's cut. Some of the more positive changes add depth to Hector, who easily comes off the best in the midst of this unweildy ensemble. By far the most interesting aspect of this cut is the "new but still the same" score, which found Petersen doing cutting the existing music to create some new cues (while throwing in a few outside sources as well). This cut of Troy does feel more complete, but I think its true significance will be in the realm of technical achievement.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Director Petersen used this re-edit to his full advantage and scanned the entire film digitally, and then used the digital files to create a brand new color timing for the entire film. Where once most of the movie appeared with natural colors, here the whole thing gets an overhaul to make things look more Mediterranean. The seas are now a bluish-green instead of a deep blue. The sun bakes down even more, turning bland landscapes into vistas of browns and greens. Thus this 2.40:1 VC-encoded 1080p transfer looks lush and vibrant. The seas practically jump off the screen. The blues of Paris' and Achilles' eyes now dominate scenes. The details are also ultra fine. You can count the number of hairs in Hector's beard, or see the smallest, most intricate details of Agamemnon's battle armor. Even with such a long running time, this transfer is absolutely superb.
While the back of the case lists Dolby True HD 5.1, the disc actually comes loaded with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 track (the HD DVD, on the other hand, does in fact have True HD). It's hard to complain about this mix, which is as loud and aggressive as you would expect from a recently released action film. However, after listening to such stellar mixes as Underworld's PCM or Transformers' Dolby Digital Plus track, I found that the mix here tended to simply blend the front action with the rears, while maybe adding a few extra sword clashes into a particular speaker. Dialogue sequences also don't have as much depth to them as I've become accustomed to. These are minor complaints, and not enough to turn one off. It's still very, very good.
Considering that this is a fairly major retooling of a massive motion picture, the included extras are spartan and weak at best. While most of the previous features have been reappropriated, almost nothing new relating to the director's cut has been shot, other than a new introduction by Wolfgang Petersen. While there are a lot of listed extras, most of them run between 30 seconds and 3 minutes, and since they're all on different topics, the whole thing feels completely myopic. While they do add together to make larger documentaries, the segmented nature makes them seem disjointed and directionless. Aside from the introduction by Petersen, which is in 1080p, all the rest of the footage is in standard definition. Also, the director's cut omits a feature present on the first HD DVD called "Gallery of the Gods."
- Introduction By Director Wolfgang Petersen: Wolfgang Petersen gives a quick overview of why he couldn't release his preferred cut of Troy the first time around, and how the changes affect the overall tone and feel of the film. This is the only feature in 1080p high definition.
- In The Thick Of Battle: An examination of the film's various battle sequences. Including is the training camp for the extras, the weapons used, and troubles that Brad Pitt coincidentally had with his Achilles tendon.
- From Ruins To Reality: The film's production design and physical structures are the focus of this featurette. A surprisingly large amount of the film was physically built, and some of it was destroyed by a hurricane and had to be rebuilt at considerable expense.
- Troy In Focus: Petersen discusses the changes made from the source material, the casting of the actors, and some of the changes made for the director's cut. The best part is where we get side-by-side comparisons of how the two versions differ from each other. Much of this originally appeared on the previous disc's In-Movie Experience feature that played simultaneously with the film. Taken on its own, it's not nearly as impressive.
- An Effects Odyssey: A short and undercooked look at the effects used in the film.
- Attacking Troy: Yet another examination of how the production adapted and compressed Homer's material. The excuses for leaving out large chunks of the story and all of the mythology don't sound any better the second time around.
- Greek Ship Towing: Basically a CGI gag, this wasn't really all that funny.
- Theatrical Trailer.
Troy was flawed before it ever started shooting, and while this director's cut is certainly an improvement over the original theatrical release, it still doesn't hold up very well. Eric Bana and Sean Bean are the highlights of the film itself, but the real stars here are the stellar video transfer and lossless sound mix. The extras, while seemingly plentiful, are light on substance. Hardcore fans will want to give this disc a purchase. Anyone else will just want to Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.