I suppose there are two ways to consider "Troy," Wolfgang Petersen's adaptation of Homer's Iliad, which hit the theaters as this summer's must-see blockbuster. One way is from the standpoint of a Classics professor, the other as a member of Petersen's general audience. The movie is definitely geared toward the latter, though that's understandable and even forgivable, what with the reported $200 million budget.
Though "inspired by" the ancient Greek epic, Petersen seems to have had no trouble taking major liberties, not only with peripheral characters, but also with events central to the plot. The story, as Homer tells it, involves a whole host of Olympic gods, several dozen kings, a ten-year siege, and a plot centered on the ideals of courage, duty, warfare and honor. While Petersen tries to preserve these sentiments, he also manages to modernize them, most notably with cynically atheistic speeches from Achilles, played by Brad Pitt, whose character otherwise mirrors Homer's Achilles. Pitt underacts in many crucial scenes, only to be saved by Agamemnon (a well-cast Brian Cox), Briseis (Rose Byrne), Priam (Peter O'Toole, splendid as always) and Hector (Eric Bana at his best), who, to be fair, also has some of the movie's best lines.
The cinematography aspires to be first-class, and while the computer graphics succeed, the film falls short in the editing department - it's too choppy. Alternately dim and muted or blindingly bright, the lighting is annoying. For the sake of expediency and plot continuity, Petersen condenses the ten-year war into a few months and omits all but a few references to the deities of Olympus.
To yank at our heartstrings, he alters and augments the love story between Paris (the properly pitiful, albeit beautiful Orlando Bloom) and fair Helen (Diane Kruger). Kruger does little acting, but does she need to? Her beauty is enough to assure the audience that her face could, indeed, launch a thousand ships.
The other love story, between Achilles and Briseis, is beefed up compared to its role in Homer's epic. The increased emphasis on this subplot actually works well since their union is essential to the story. It also gives Petersen further opportunity to showcase Pitt's sculpted form off the battlefield.
Those are major changes, fairly obvious to anyone familiar with The Iliad, but there are many minor ones as well. Various characters who prospered after the war die by the walls of Troy. Ages are changed, noticeably with Patroclus and less so with Aeneas. And, speaking of Aeneas, the film extends beyond the pages of The Iliad and jumps into the opening sequences of Virgil's Aeneid (though the credits don't mention it). Petersen probably reasoned that this would add closure, and he was probably right.
I went to this film hoping for an accurate interpretation of The Iliad, and while "Troy" doesn't remotely approach that, it does manage to be a decent and even a likeable film. Despite its many quirks and faults, "Troy" gets some things right: it's a heartfelt tale of humanity, conveying the spectrum of human emotions relating to honor and pride, love and hate, war and vengeance. If you're willing to approach it as "Troy" rather than The Iliad, it's well worth spending a few hours watching.
This movie is rated R.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.