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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Troy: Director's Cut
Troy: Director's Cut
Warner Bros. // R // September 18, 2007
List Price: $20.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Brian Orndorf | posted September 16, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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TROY

When Paris (Orlando Bloom), the prince of Troy, falls for Helen, queen of Sparta (a bland Diane Kruger), the young man makes a disastrous decision and steals Helen away from her brutish husband, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). Enraged, Menelaus turns to his warmongering brother, Agamemnon (Brian Cox, eating the screen in an awe-inspiring performance) to request help bringing Helen back. Sending 1,000 ships across the sea to the remote coastal empire of Troy, Agamemnon prepares for a colossal battle to take the treasured city away from its king (Peter O'Toole, bringing ideal regality to the production) and its finest soldier, Hector (Eric Bana). However, to guarantee victory, Agamemnon needs the help of Achilles (Brad Pitt), the fiercest warrior in the land, and one who fights only for the glory of his name, not for the spoils of war.

Loosely adapted from Homer's "The Iliad," "Troy" fusses just enough with the source material to infuriate the purists, but manages to nab a fresh take on this oft-told tale with a little help from heaping piles of money and a magnificent cast. The unmistakable template for the film is Ridley Scott's 2000 blockbuster, "Gladiator," which is evident in the immense size of the production and the musical score (by James Horner), which works well, but tries too hard to remind audiences of the Russell Crowe film.

"Troy" harkens back to an earlier era of cinema, when historical epics gradually rolled out narrative and mounted their visuals lavishly. "Troy" reminded me less of Scott's heavily-manipulated visual scheme and more of the gigantic, exceedingly gorgeous productions found in Joseph Mankiewicz's "Cleopatra" or William Wyler's "Ben-Hur," bringing back genuine widescreen awe to the multiplex in place of cluttered ambition.

Director Wolfgang Petersen ("Das Boot," "In the Line of Fire") doesn't have the luxury of working with miles of sets and thousands of extras, but armed with a computer, the filmmaker is very convincing in his design of the fall of Troy. The film is long and moves well, but it's paced with a repetitive tempo, which could be disarming to those expecting a slap fight around every corner.

The battles back in 1100 B.C. were vicious, but also oddly respectful, even shown in the film to break before nightfall for rest and mourning. "Troy" is basically made up of identical combat sequences, with Petersen able to make them all count in very distinct ways. The look and sweep of the battle scenes have been cribbed big time from mass-attack extravaganzas such as "The Lord of the Rings," but Petersen takes the Hobbit epic one further and boldly stages the mayhem in broad daylight, which is typically Kryptonite to any form of CGI.

The special effects are shockingly seamless, and easily convince the eye that 10,000 troops are waiting to do battle on the scorching beaches of Troy. Very impressive. Petersen keeps the juices flowing by continually stoking the dramatic fires (from a wonderful script by David Benioff, "25th Hour"), and staging intermittent, intense one-on-one scraps to keep the story as intimate as something this extensive can possibly get.

While "Troy" represents dependable, structured filmmaking all around, the curiosity of Brad Pitt's performance as Achilles is where the holes start to poke through this durable fabric.

Pitt has always been a unique actor who just needs the perfect project to reveal his considerable talents ("Fight Club," "12 Monkeys"). Always up for something different, Pitt faces the greatest acting challenge of his career in "Troy." Cursed with a thick tongue, the literal golden idol has trouble with Achilles's lengthy dialogue, but he makes up for it with an inspired, passionate performance of pure physicality as the warrior of warriors. He's miscast in the role - that cannot be denied - but he makes the ill-fitting performance (in which Achilles has been awkwardly pushed forward to be the main character of the film) work when it counts (battles, nudity), which helps him coast through when scenes don't suit his type of acting (any type of human interaction). In a landscape crammed with incredible performances, Pitt's is the weakest, but not quite the disaster it could've been.

"Troy" rolls through the material's iconic sequences with grandeur and suspense, leading to the awesome sight of the mysterious Trojan Horse in the film's final act, which climaxes the picture on an extravagant and epic note. Petersen isn't exactly dealing with the freshest material around, but he certainly does the elaborate story justice, guiding it effectively and respectfully through big Hollywood battlegrounds.

TROY: DIRECTOR'S CUT

Over the last two years, we've seen many costume spectacles lace up their boots again with fresh DVD cuts, ranging from a test of the old "can't polish a turd" theory in Oliver Stone's "Alexander" to the majesty of Ridely Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" restoration. Yet, "Troy: Director's Cut" is not a complex reconstruction of a lost classic. The new version (33 minutes longer) simply restores the fat to a compromised film. However, it's pretty fantastic fat.

"Troy" still includes the same character arcs and plotting as before, only now the fullness of the picture's emotional depth is stapled back on the film, along with new thematic leanings that were stripped away when the producers chopped the movie down to survive the tight summer 2004 marketplace. The theatrical cut played loose with characters, but successfully covered its tracks with the towering and painstaking production design and shovelfuls of action. The "Director's Cut" essentially restores the brakes to the enterprise, putting the characterizations back in the front seat, and letting the majesty of the creation lead the way, not the mayhem.

The new cut allows Achilles his internal moments of doubt and questioning, provides a richer appreciation for Agamemnon's ego, brings hulking warrior Ajax (Tyler Mane) into the fold more distinctly, makes wonderful elbow room for the worried soul of Troy, King Priam, and allows Odysseus (Sean Bean) a dramatic base to work from. In short, the scene-extensions and fresh additions butter up every actor's role, and the performances are massively enhanced by the restored intention.

The "Director's Cut" also offers refreshed thematic touches, most notably the struggle between the cold reality of death and the mighty will of the Gods. While the theatrical cut took the balance between combat instinct and religion seriously, the second pass at "Troy" really digs into the meat of the matter, somberly restoring elegant funeral sequences along with vital questioning of otherworldly intent. While moments of striking violence (wet, red chunks of flesh fly all over the place) and sensuality (with new peeks at nudity and sex) overpower the eye at first glance, it's the new soul of the material that comes across as the most satisfying restoration of the feature, allowing "Troy" a profundity it never held before.

With the film clocking in at over three hours, there has to be something lying around to score it, right? Well, the new cut surprised me not only by reinstating some of composer Gabriel Yared's deleted score (don't get excited, it's only a small taste), but also cribbing music from other movies - a practice you don't see much of. The biggest addition is discovered in the marathon battle between Achilles and Hector, which is now augmented by Danny Elfman's title theme for "Planet of the Apes" (a brilliant piece of scoring for the film's most visceral sequence). Selections from "Starship Troopers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" also pad the film. I can imagine for some movie maniacs, this development might take them completely out of the picture.

THE DVD

Visual:

Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio), the "Director's Cut" DVD retains all the big screen might of Petersen's epic. A film resplendent with bright, shining visuals, the transfer handles every scene wonderfully, bringing out the glimmer of the locales and the venom of the combat sequences. It's a stunning picture for standard DVD, and the new footage is seamlessly worked back into the feature.

Audio:

The 5.1 Dolby Digital track for "Troy" is a heavy-duty venture, mixing the crash of weapons and the tongue-twisting dialogue with supreme grace. The score is alive throughout the picture, never intruding on the actors, while the battle sequences roar throughout the mix, making great use of the surround channels.

Extras:

Disc One

"'Troy' Revisited: An Introduction by Wolfgang Petersen" (2 minutes) is a short clip of Petersen chatting up the "Troy" reconstruction, enthusiastic about the new cut and the return of original intentions.

Disc Two

"'Troy' in Focus" (23 minutes) is a 2007 recollection from Petersen on his 2004 film. Essentially underlining character motivations and proud-parent gushing, this featurette contains some jewels worth sitting through the repetition, including a peek at Diane Kruger's screen test and further discussion of the changes made for the new cut.

Ported over from the previous DVD release...

"In the Thick of Battle" (17 minutes) covers the production of "Troy" and the overall bigness of the movie. These short bursts of set footage give the viewer a hair-raising look at how armies of stuntmen were trained, fighting styles were born, and how sanity was kept while making the film.

"From Ruins to Reality" (14 minutes) tracks the creation of the sets and the time spent attempting to keep as tight to Homer's original text as possible through the look of the film. We also see the construction and photography of the massive Trojan Horse.

"'Troy:' An Effects Odyssey" (11 minutes) go behind-the-scenes of the picture's near-miraculous special effects. How did they place 1,000 ships in the water, swarm a beach with endless warriors, and create a library of juicy sound effects? The answers are all here.

"Attacking 'Troy'" (15 minutes) once again covers the production of the film, this time taking a closer look at the artistic hurdles that arrived when adapting such a mythical behemoth.

"Greek Ship Towing" (2 minutes) is a collection of goofs from the CGI artists who worked on "Troy." I imagine this stuff is hilarious at the office. At home? Not so much.

And finally, a theatrical trailer is included.

FINAL THOUGHTS

While I appreciated the sheer production labor and entertainment value of "Troy" before, the "Director's Cut" truly cracks open the film as something special. Again, this is not a back-breaking reclamation of a busted feature film, just simply the full-breath version of what was quite exhilarating to begin with. In short, this is the ideal version for both new and old eyes.


For further online adventure, please visit brianorndorf.com
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