You might remember Judge Ryan Keefer from other period piece rip-off films as "O Mother, Who Art Thou?" and "What a Friend We Have in Cheese Whiz."
Our review of Troy, published January 10th, 2005, is also available.
"Aww, and the movie still sucked!"
-- The honorable Mrs. Keefer, after seeing a behind-the-scenes clip of Troy describing how a hurricane partially destroyed the set during production.
One of the later entries in the "swords and sandals" genre of films that include Gladiator, Alexander, and the Rome series on HBO, Troy is helmed by Wolfgang Petersen, a director used to large-scale films with equally large production values (The Perfect Storm). Contrary to popular assumption, Brad Pitt (Se7en) is not the title character. Rather, he plays Achilles in the film. So how does the film look in high definition?
Facts of the Case
I guess the convenient thing about adapting Homer's The Iliad for the screen is that at least he can't come back and "note" you to death, as Tobias Fünke might be prone to say. So David Benioff (25th Hour) took the story and ran with it. At least the pitch meeting had to have gone well to get the studio go-ahead, right? (Cue the Wayne and Garth-like flashback sequence music in your head)
"So I've got this idea, about this guy, see? And he's a real good warrior. His name is Achilles, like the foot thing, right! And his ideas clash with the Greek King, his name is Agamemnon (Brian Cox, Rushmore). Agamemnon is a power and land-hungry guy and invades foreign lands all the time."
"But this time, things are a little more interesting. In this village named Troy, there's a King named Priam (Peter O'Toole, The Lion in Winter) and he's got two sons that are princes. One's named Hector (Eric Bana, Hulk), and he's been in battles through the years, and he's the big brother. The little brother is named Paris (Orlando Bloom, Kingdom of Heaven), and he's a bit of a pimp. He even steals a woman named Helen (Diane Kruger, National Treasure), who's married to a Greek king named Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). So Menelaus is pissed, and him and Agamemnon invade Troy."
"Well, they try to. Hector kills Menelaus (who'd just beaten up Paris), the Greeks invade and they're repelled. Then this guy Odysseus (Sean Bean, Ronin) thinks that the Greeks should build this big horse to hide in. The Trojans see it, bring it back to Troy, everyone's happy, they drink and pass out. But the Greeks in the horse come out and they fight one last time. How's that?"
"Beautiful, just beautiful! Here's 175 million dollars, and a running time of almost three hours; go for it!"
The thing is: there were many problems with the execution of the above judgment. First, Pitt (whose accent in the film seems to be a cross between Kevin Costner's in Robin Hood and that of a schnauzer with a chew toy) just isn't the person that should be carrying the film. I mean, Suzy Homemaker, the one who's always been pining for Pitt, even now during this whole enlightened conscience phase he's in now, doesn't want her man to be portrayed as one that hates war, but is a very good warrior? Achilles appears as a reluctant warrior with some common sense, but that sense gets thrown out the window when a relative of his, who looks a lot like Jason Mewes (Clerks), gets killed by Hector's hand, prompting a grudge match between Achilles and Hector, in the steel cage at the next pay-per-view. Okay, I made the last part up. I think. Still, his character shouldn't garner a helluva lot of sympathy in a more organic setting, and trying to do it in Troy is like trying to watch a toddler put a square peg in a round hole.
The other thing wrong with the film is that because it's so choked with stars, everyone has to have a scene to run with. I mean, really, Julie Christie (Shampoo) is in this thing, for God's sake, go figure that! That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when the story is almost off-the-charts bad in terms of the types of things it does with its characters, time seems to slow down in the eyes and mind of the viewer. There's actually a pretty good scene involving Bana near the end where he gets his proverbial house in order before battling Achilles, and it's done to decent emotional effect, but if it were given to an actor who could generate a lot of emotional depth, I'm sure it would be a lot more powerful than it is. I think Orlando Bloom can stop portraying the tiny guy in an action film that can look cute because he's oh-so-vulnerable. Kingdom of Heaven disproves that idea and, moreover, it's getting on a lot of people's nerves.
I will give Petersen credit in the aspect of some of the tracking shots during battle are quite good, but after seeing some of them, I'm left wondering what Peter Jackson has done with his cinematographer. At the end of the day though, Troy does put one in the midst of the experience. Or to phrase it more exactly, after watching 162 minutes of Troy, I felt like never wanting to go to a museum again, if any of what was used outside of Homer's poem is remotely true.
The big show-off part of this disc is the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround, one of a handful of Warner discs that boast the lossless audio format on their DVDs. For those of you who have seen the movie, you get how good the format sounds within the first five seconds of the disc, as the drums from James Horner's score come thundering in. Oh, and don't keep the audio too high when the battle scenes come in, as the bass is a room-shaker, worthy of attention from down the road if you've got the audio muscle. While I personally prefer the TrueHD soundtracks from Constantine and Training Day as next-gen audio "reference quality" discs, this one is right up there. As far as the picture goes, there's a slight deviation from the film's 2.35:1 standard-definition DVD release, as the HD-DVD shows off a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen viewing. Not to worry though, the picture looks pretty sharp—so much so that the CG-armies and ships are really exposed as a result. I couldn't help but focus on it during parts of the film, as the acting and story didn't entertain me.
The big extra that is exclusive to the HD-DVD is another one of the In-Movie Experience extras that Warner periodically includes on their HD discs. This one, however, doesn't put together much, if any, material from the extras already available, and the new material is welcome. Petersen, Pitt, Bana, Bloom, Gleeson, Cox, and O'Toole (to name a few) discuss what they thought when they saw the script, and the types of things they wanted to do with their characters. The production and costume designs are covered, along with the obligatory looks at weapons from the times, along with the occasional historical reference. For full-on unique content that people haven't seen before, it's pretty good, but if you put Coolwater on a steaming turd, it's a temporarily nice-smelling steaming turd.
The other extras are ported over from the SD are "In the Thick of the Battle," a 17-minute look at the fight scenes, including a mix of rehearsal shots, previsualization, and computer effects shots, and getting a multinational group of extras to take direction from a German director. "From Ruins to Reality" switches gears to the production design of the film and the desire for historical accuracy. The only tidbit I gained from this is that the production had to relocate from Morocco to Cabo, a.k.a. the Mexican Baja, because of the then-impending Iraqi conflict. "Troy: An Effects Odyssey" shows a split-screen comparison of pre- and post-technology enhanced shots, along with illustrating where some of the seams between the natural shots and the film lie. And from there, it switches over to the sound editing and foley work for the film, and call me crazy, whenever I see any piece on any foley artist, I'm reminded of a bit that Ben Stiller did one year for a random awards show, on the lost art of foley work. That could have been included here, instead of this. The previsualization Easter egg included on the standard definition version is listed straightaway as a two-minute extra.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Even if the film sucked, one would have to think that you could put out an exhaustive list of material that could change the mind of the viewer. Ridley Scott has his P's and Q's down for DVD, and I would have assumed that on a huge production like this, that someone could have followed Petersen and the cast around while this thing was getting made. At least we know who the DVD-friendly directors are. But someone has to start doing this for the Petersen films. Any takers? Oh, well.
I'm glad to be done with Troy. From performances that were disappointing to extras that were less than substantial, whomever greenlit the film to be as boring and as bloated as it wound up should be smacked in the mouth repeatedly. This film was a lot better the first time when Russell Crowe played the protagonist.
The court finds the defendants guilty and sends them to the Christians. Or the lions. Whichever one lost.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• In-Movie Experience with Cast and Crew Members
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