'Troy' needs more mythology, maybe a cyclops


Brad Pitt stars in the epic action adventure film "Troy," now available on VHS and DVD.

Warner Brothers
Published: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 10:40 p.m.

Facts

NATE'S KEY:

4 "E"s: Tremendous (best of the bunch);
3 "E"s: Superior;
2 "E's: Fair (it's been done better);
1"E": Avoid (save your money)

'Troy" has arrived on DVD and video, and now you can watch the greatest battle ever waged from the privacy of your own living room.
"Troy," as you may know, is an adaptation of "The Iliad," that really long poem we had to read in English class years ago. Homer's epic narrative told the tale of Helen of Troy, who piqued the interest of god and man alike, and sparked the largest war ever mounted.
The deadliest warlords in the world converge on Troy and do battle as a disagreement between men escalates into a power struggle between kings and their armies.
And these warlords I speak of? Meet the cast: Achilles, blessed by the Gods as invincible in combat, is the pothead-smoking-out-of-a-Honey-Bear-bong in "True Romance" (Brad Pitt). Hector, field general, tactician and honorable combatant, is the incoherent, stab-happy biker from "Chopper" (Eric Bana). Paris is played by a former elf (Orlando Bloom), Ajax by a former pro wrestler (Tyler Mane).
I say this not only to poke fun at "Troy" but to explain what type of movie this is. When you come right down to it, "Troy" is good to look at, with incredible special effects, gorgeous cinematography and a proven storyline backed by hundreds of years of required reading. But beneath all of that is a silly, ridiculous little picture.
And there is nothing wrong with that. After all, this is a movie taken from the pages of mythology. As we all know, movies based on ancient mythology are inherently silly and ridiculous. It is the nature of the beast, because mythology itself is usually silly and ridiculous. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's a window into a culture's belief system. But more than that, mythology is just plain ridiculous.
Follow that logic, and you'll understand when I say "Troy" would have been much better if it had been more ridiculous.
"Troy" jettisons the supernatural aspect of the Iliad and chooses to present the story like an honest-and-true historical event. In the Iliad, the Trojan War is the focal point for man and God alike, giving it a little extra thematic juice. In the movie, since there are no Gods involved, the battle does not seem that earth-shattering; it's just a bunch of guys with spears and swords chopping at each other, which is surprisingly common in movies today.
In trying to take itself so seriously, "Troy" loses the playfulness, energy and sense of fun of other mythology movies.
Take, for example, "Clash of the Titans." This spectacular 1981 film is a loose retelling of the Greek story of Perseus (son of Zeus) and his love, the Princess Andromeda. To secure her hand he must complete a series of perilous tasks, including capturing Pegasus the winged horse and battling various monsters and mutant nogoodniks.
A pre-"L.A. Law" Harry Hamlin as Perseus, Sir Laurence Olivier as Zeus, the Kraken, Medusa, a flying robotic owl, Burgess Meredith - "Clash" really has something for everyone. It was the last movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, and it goes for broke, stopping just shy of the kitchen sink.
"Clash of the Titans" is cheesy and overdone; but then again, so is mythology. The effects are alternately impressive and laughable; once again, similar to the constructs of mythology. The ridiculous nature of the movie is, in part, what makes it so entertaining.
Harryhausen is the godfather of modern movie special effects and a pioneer in bringing fantastic images to life. His work on the old "Sinbad" movies is the stuff of legend. His most famous work is "Jason and the Argonauts," yet another film taken from Greek legends.
"Jason and the Argonauts," much like the later "Clash of the Titans," tries to make the myths of yore as grand and fantastic and larger-than-life as humanly possible. Considering the film was made in 1963, I should say more than humanly possible. Harryhausen gives us an army of skeletons, harpies, a hydra and a giant bronze monster.
Compared to films like these, "Troy" seems rather flat. Having taken away the gods and monsters, the film's creators killed the movie magic that could have been. Instead of aping "Lord of the Rings," this movie apes "Gladiator," which was a major mistake.
Not to say that "Troy" isn't completely ridiculous in its own right. It has, I dare say, one of the single most ridiculous moments in modern movie history.
In the middle of a raging battle, on a field filled with tens of thousands of blood-thirsty soldiers, two important warriors face each other in one-on-one combat. All the other soldiers stop fighting and peacefully watch the fight, as if it were two kids fighting on a schoolyard. One of the men is killed, and the other man takes off his helmet and makes a grand announcement.
He actually calls off the Trojan War for the day. He gives 50,000 men the afternoon off, I suppose for private reflection. I actually had to pause the film until my laughter subsided.
In a movie in which a cyclops eats men by the handful or a sorceress turns people into sheep, this scene would not have been that funny. After all, these stories are allegorical flights of fancy. But in "Troy," which is so achingly earnest, this moment comes across like breaking wind during a moment of silence.
That was the low point of the film, but paradoxically also the high point.
"Troy" is not a terrible movie, nor is it a good one. It's not boring - a tall feat for a three-hour tour - but it could have been something special. Instead, it is just something.
Send smart remarks to Rewindcolumn@hotmail.com.
Troy EE (two Es)
Clash of the Titans EEE (three Es)

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