Saturday, May 24, 2014

TROY (2004) - Directed by Wolfgang Petersen - A 10-Year Retrospective Review

So I have been privileged to write a ten year retrospective review of Troy (2004) for Kenneth R. Morefield's film review website,  The review ended up running into three parts.  I'll post the links to all three parts here as they go up.

It has now been ten years since Wolfgang Petersen’s old-fashionedly classic film on the Trojan War was released. In hindsight, some of the controversy that roiled round the film at the time now seems rather silly. But then much of the criticism the film took was much worse than silly. Much of it consisted of a sort of “chronological snobbery” in which critics produced excoriations upon the story’s outdated ideas. Often a film will inevitably include a certain amount of modern sensibility adapted to the telling of an ancient story. But no serious film critic should ever criticize a film for those cases when, against the odds, it successfully avoids doing so. Complaining that the filming of a story, thousands of years old, is not anachronistic enough is just plain absurd.

I’ll  make two admissions up front. First, I enjoyed Troy very much. In spite of its changes to the narrative, it kept the spirit of the story as much as a film could be expected to do so. Second, I felt it was rather embarrassing to read many of the reviews that were written about it back in 2004.

“The main problem with this film, wrote Adrian MacKinder (for Future Movies) tendentiously, “is that the central story itself doesn’t really lend itself to a modern audience.” If, like me, you are rather hoping that MacKinder was intending this strange statement as a criticism of the modern audience, he quickly lays any such hopes to waste and continues: “Trouble is, the character of Achilles isn’t really very nice and while that needn’t be an issue in itself, the developments of the narrative elements that the script has drawn from the original source make it very difficult to find sympathy for his cause.” ...

Click here to read the rest of Part I.

Last among the major criticisms of Troy was that it subtracted the gods from the Iliad. This is probably the most noticeable difference between the film’s story and that of the original source. Ken Hanke (Mountain Xpress) quipped that “[m]aybe they thought gods were passé and might make people laugh at their oh-so-serious film.” James Keast (Exclaim Magazine) complained that “the thrust of the Trojan war is that it’s a squabble between the gods over a beauty contest [....] But clearly Wolfgang Petersen has no interest in making a bigger budget Clash of the Titans, and thus replaces all the god talk with more mundane political motivations. He turns Achilles from an immortal warrior into a mercenary; [and] it makes Agamemnon a more powerful figure than he actually was …”

Now, to reduce one’s estimation of the Iliad into nothing more than “a squabble between the gods over a beauty contest” is one thing, even if rather flippant. We can dismiss depreciatory remarks of that nature as the sort of thing said by those souls who possess sad memories of incompetent classical literature professors in the past. But to insist that it would have been a better film with the gods and goddesses constantly intervening as they played the human characters like instruments, is another thing altogether. Such a criticism neglects the natural problems of including the gods in the film to begin with ...

Click here to read the rest of Part II.

Think for a moment. How interesting is it that the Iliad is one of the most famous and inspiring stories in the history of the world? (As legend has it, Alexander the Great always kept copy of the Iliad under his pillow.) I bet this seems strange to many of us now, living with our modern ideas of morality, with our culture’s sensitivity to individual “natural rights,” with our entertainment’s cardboard cutout characters who are designed to be identified with, sympathized with, copied, emulated, worshipped, cheered for, etc. It is quite true that the Iliad does not possess our modern sensibilities, whether in politics or in entertainment. Instead, I would suggest that it possesses a number of classical themes that our modern views of the world could profit by. In their masterful book, Who Killed Homer:? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom, Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath defend the value of classical literature and discuss the main classical themes of the Iliad and the Odyssey. In chapter four, they go to the trouble to list and explain these themes. Let’s consider how the film Troy invokes a few of these themes ...

Click here to read the rest of Part III.