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Troy: Director's Cut
This director's cut of Troy helps bring balance and heft to Wolfgang Petersen's 2004 theatrical release, which many reviewers judged rushed and spotty at 163 minutes. An additional half hour of scenes adds both character detail and plenty of action to the famous saga. Troy may be no classic but it's a definite improvement over what we've come to expect from modern epic filmmaking.
Robert Wise helmed Warners' first go at this tale in a 1955 European co-production that has its pleasures despite not being well remembered. The spectacle of a couple of thousand extras storming enormous sets to represent the city of Troy made up for the lack of top stars, although the cast used many interesting actors. Wolfgang Petersen's newer production uses a great deal of computer-generated imagery but doesn't abuse the privilege. The only disappointment is that the number of speaking roles has been reduced to a bare minimum, as if the salary for Brad Pitt left no money to pay for the entire cast of characters.
As classic poems into epic movies go, Troy is not at all bad. The action and strategy are clear and we have strong characters to root for; great liberties have been taken with the original but the spirit is more or less intact. Viewers looking for fidelity to Homer aren't going to be happy, as the key character Cassandra has been replaced with a feisty vestal virgin for Brad Pitt's Achilles to despoil. The Iliad is as much about the Gods sparring through their mortal representatives as it is one nation destroying another in a cruel war, and who is to fault using a modern media 'god' like Brad Pitt to his full potential? Pitt's presence is probably what got the movie made in the first place.
Director Wolfgang Petersen gives the audience every bit of the thrill ride it craves. After 45 minutes of warm-up, giant battle scenes are either in progress or imminent at every moment. Screenwriter David Benioff does make the characters rather uncomplicated, with Eric Bana's Hector a shining exception. Hector is the closest thing to a man with modern problems. He sees a tough battle ahead but can't fight it properly because his dolt of a father believes in godly prophecies.
The big picture does suffer from too much exposition, with Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson and Brad Pitt forever discussing 'how things are' in case the audience forgets. Luckily, Pitt's Achilles is the ideal action hero, a perfect killing machine with moves so smooth he practically dances in battle. Like one of the The Magnificent Seven gunslingers, Achilles is both a hero and a style statement. Achilles is introduced sleeping with a couple of gorgeous women, just so we'll know that this isn't one of those gladiator movies where the pretty warriors can be gay or bi. Any hope for further character complications disappear when Achilles' change of heart comes as direct revenge for the death of a relative. When Brad Pitt tightens his jaw he's starting to look like Marlon Brando, but his acting still lacks gravity. When King Priam drops in for an impromptu chat, Pitt breaks his poker face only to roll his eyes. "Dude, can't you knock?"
The production plays smart with all the commercial variables, so as not to offend anybody. In the several warmly lit lovemaking scenes, overly rigid framing keeps erogenous zones carefully covered. The opportunistic Greek plan to conquer their Trojan neighbors is never offered as a parallel to present wars. The battle scenes have plenty of gore (probably more here than in the theatrical version) but with the exception of a couple of grisly wound effects, most of the carnage looks like somebody chopping a salad, with an occasional spray of cocktail sauce.
The unavoidable digital effects are done with some restraint. When we see hundreds of ancient ships under sail and vast armies covering several square miles of battlefield, we know darn well that proliferatin' pixels are at it again. Many of the master shots of commoner crowds welcoming royals are quite beautifully designed. The camera has a fondness for swooping over crowded battlefields but 'impossible' crane shots are kept to a minimum. I don't remember any infantile, show-off shots. We never, for instance, zoom across ten miles of ocean to end up staring into one of Helen's eyes.
Saffron Burrows is an impassioned Andromache. As Helen and Paris, Diane Kruger and Orlando Bloom are never reviled for being incredibly selfish; the movie never really decides what their characters are all about. Greek hotheads Brian Cox (Rob Roy) and Brendan Gleeson fume and fulminate nicely, while Peter O'Toole's Priam is a properly annoying fuddy-duddy. Sean Bean's devious Odysseus provides needed irony, and Julie Christie contributes a short bit as Achilles' earth-mother beach mom.
Warners' DVD of Troy - The Director's Cut brightens and enriches the colors of the first DVD release. The expanded edit is a definite improvement, a more satisfying comic book version of the ancient classic. Dolby Digital tracks are available in English, Quebec French and Spanish, with accompanying subtitles.
The second disc contains a score of entertaining featurettes that land somewhere on the scale between EPK-style promo material and a more thoughtful examination of the filming process. Director Petersen talks about reading The Iliad for school in the original Greek, and screenwriter Benioff explains his rationale for carving Homer's tale into terms suitable for a 2004 audience -- the original's ten-year siege must have been rejected early. We see the preparations for what was surely an expensive shoot, both in Malta and in Mexico. Although only a couple partial boats were built, a big piece of the Trojan wall is real. We learn plenty of interesting details, like the fact that the actors had to learn to ride horses without stirrups for their feet. It seems that wealthy Greek combatants commuted to battle but then dismounted when it came time to actually fight.
It is fun to find out what parts of scenes are 'real' and what are animated pixel-people; a couple of gag extras show what happens when the CGI modelers have fun with the animation programs. A trailer is also included.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Troy - Director's Cut 2-Disc Special Edition rates:
Movie: Very Good
Supplements: Trailer, six production featurettes.
Packaging: 2 discs in Keep case in card sleeve
Reviewed: September 2, 2007
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