Judge Daniel MacDonald is a fan of socks-and-sandals epics.
Our review of Troy: Director's Cut (Blu-Ray), published November 5th, 2007, is also available.
Unseen in theatres. Unrivaled in spectacle.
Like the recent Kingdom of Heaven, Troy was released theatrically in a version with which the director was not entirely happy, and performed below domestic box-office expectations. Also like Kingdom of Heaven, the director has returned to his film to create a definitive version closer to his original vision, unconstrained by running time or MPAA ratings considerations. So, is Troy: Director's Cut substantively different and, more importantly, is it a better film?
Facts of the Case
Troy tells the story of the Trojan War in a world of mortals, without the intervention of the gods. Paris (Orlando Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest), a Trojan prince, has fallen in love with Helen (Diane Kruger, National Treasure), who just happens to be the wife of Spartan Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson, Gangs of New York). Paris's absconding with his lover back to Troy earns the wrath of the Spartan army, led by ruthless king Agamemnon (Brian Cox, Manhunter), setting off a siege of the great walls of Troy. Paris's brother Hector (Eric Bana, Munich) prepares the Trojan army for battle, while the Spartans' greatest warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) is convinced to go to war—not for his king, but for eternal glory.
Sweeping battle sequences and fatal character flaws abound this loose adaptation of Homer's The Iliad and parts of The Odyssey from director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot).
I liked Troy in its theatrical version. I thought it was entertaining swords-and-sandals flick, but also thought that it was rather shallow for an adaptation of so mythic a story; it felt too short, almost superficial, which is an odd way to perceive a 163-minute picture.
It has several good points—Achilles is a great character to follow as he chooses his actions for completely self-serving reasons, and the country-first Hector makes a fine foil. Costuming and production design are sumptuous, making for a veritable feast for the eyes, especially when the Trojan horse is brought to life in such a realistic manner.
Troy features an incredible group of actors, with absolutely perfect casting in the lead roles of Hector, Achilles, and Paris. The script had the Internet buzzing about writer David Benioff 's phenomenal take on the material, Benioff having previously written both the screenplay and source novel for Spike Lee's 25th Hour. Director Petersen knows how to effectively blend the spectacle expected of summer fare with intimate human drama. How was this not a Best Picture nominee? Somehow the sum ended up less than its parts.
It would seem that the demands of meeting a release date, coupled with the necessity of cutting the film to a length of which both the studio and theater owners would approve, led to a compromised vision of Troy hitting the silver screen in 2004. All that's changed now with the release of Troy: Director's Cut, and I'm pleased to report that this version flows much, much better than the original. More than 30 minutes longer, Troy now features fully fleshed-out characters with clearer motivations and stronger dilemmas befitting the source material.
New material is obvious right from the beginning with the inclusion of a scene of a dog following bloodied pieces of armor until coming face to snout with his expired owner, the camera pulling back to reveal two armies of thousands of men apiece. It's an appropriate way to begin this version of Troy, especially with the added gore, as that is one element turned up to 11 here—whereas before the battles were mostly bloodless affairs, all manner of dismemberment and impaling are on display. Late in the picture even babies are tossed around like teddy bears. One would expect clashes involving swords, spears, and arrows to be brutal affairs, and this is an unflinching depiction; the first Spartan landing on the beach nearly takes on a Saving Private Ryan quality, a claim that could never have been made previously.
Also new to the battle sequences is the expanded character of Ajax, a hulking brute who does some serious demolition with his sledge hammer-like weapon of choice. By showing Ajax in action several times before his showdown with Hector, the stakes of that fight are raised significantly, and its resolution is that much more satisfying. On the other hand, if you're going to have a character try to sell lines like, "I am Ajax, breaker of stones—look upon me and despair" without making them laughable, you may want to get a more seasoned actor than Tyler Mane (X-Men).
The relationship between Helen and Paris has been rejuvenated, injected with passion and intensity sorely lacking in the original version; certain shots have been reframed to add a bit of nudity, making love scenes more intimate and less sterile. In other quiet scenes, and almost in recognition of the additional carnage, a couple of moving funeral scenes have been restored, one each for the Trojans and the Spartans, with some lovely vocal work accompanying them.
Beyond all these major additions, attentive viewers will notice many new snippets of dialogue that for the most part add to character motivation, and bring shades of gray to scenes that were initially black-and-white. Not all of it is welcome—Hector, in particular, has a rather heinous bit of unnecessary exposition—but on the balance, nearly every element is better developed in this cut, from the amusing introduction of Odysseus (Sean Bean, Patriot Games) right down to the final scene.
My greatest problem with the theatrical cut was its music, which was profoundly uninteresting. Not that there is anything wrong with James Horner's score, and the man has certainly done some indelible work over the years (Aliens, Apollo 13), but Troy's is entirely predictable, playing exactly the emotion one would expect in any given scene. For Troy: Director's Cut, musical changes have been made, some obvious, others more subtle. The score has been reworked, both to fit the new edits and smooth out some rough spots; on the balance this is an improved (but still not great) experience. Unfortunately, the one cue I actually liked from the theatrical version, from Hector and Achilles's fight scene, has been completely altered, a chunk of music from 2001's Planet of the Apes heard where the hypnotic, percussive rhythms once were. Dammit.
Because of its extended running time, Troy has now been split across two discs, and the picture quality benefits greatly. Instances of mosquito noise and compression artifacts from the previous DVD release have been eliminated, leaving a crisp, film-like image in their place. Not only has the bit rate been improved, but the colors are much more saturated, lighting more dynamic, doing full justice to the work of cinematographer Roger Pratt (The End of the Affair)—the sea is a gorgeous shade of turquoise, the skies a vibrant blue, flesh tones more natural. Audio provides lots of bombastic effects and immersive ambience, and sounds very similar to the previous DVD, with clear dialogue and decent channel separation.
All of the supplemental features from the previous release have been ported over in non-anamorphic widescreen, fairly lightweight behind-the-scenes fare split into two to three minute segments. New to this edition is an introduction by Wolfgang Petersen in which he espouses how happy he is to revisit the picture without the stress or pressures that affected his earlier cut. Also new is a several part, anamorphically enhanced featurette "Troy in Focus," which provides more making-of type information and points out a number of changes made. It's a little under 30 minutes in total, with a convenient "play all" option, and is marginally better-produced than most of the other special features. I would have loved a more in-depth, warts-and-all documentary chronicling what must have been the enormous challenge of bringing this work to the screen, though.
While Troy still isn't a perfect film, this is absolutely the way to see it. The pacing is much improved, the action is more engaging, and the picture quality is significantly improved. Check this one out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Troy Revisited: An Introduction by Wolfgang Petersen
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