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If you sighted one thousand ships armed with ferocious warriors sailing towards you, you might just soil yourself. Unfortunately, the approaching Greek warriors are the least of your worries, especially when Wolfgang Petersen is at hand to dole out his lax direction and cheesy filmmaking antics. Brace yourself, the tide is rough today!

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Movie
Troy details the epic story of Achilles, a mythical warrior who fought in the infamous siege of the aforementioned city. Based on Homer’s Iliad, a lengthy Greek poem that tells a rich story of war, love and destiny, Achilles must lead the world’s largest army into battle when it is discovered that Paris (Prince of Troy) has taken Helen of Sparta as his love. When Paris and his loyal brother Hector arrive back at their home, Priam (the King of Troy) and the Trojan people must brace themselves for impending doom as a thousand Greek ships set sail for war.

The original story is bathed in brilliance; the atmosphere, the mythical radiance and of course the romance all flourish to make for one of the most intriguing stories ever told. I guess German director Wolfgang Petersen certainly had a great big smile plastered onto his face when he was handed a working script based on this very story. Sadly, even the script could not do justice to Homer’s poem; it didn’t have the ripe mythos attached or the heartfelt romance embroidered into its core. There were other, more glaring problems such as some mushy dialogue and a rusty character embodiment.

Petersen didn’t exactly help matters either when he brought this underachieving script to the big screen. Sure, the many production designs and CGI work were impressive to say the least, but nothing really ever seems properly photographed. Petersen hardly ever seems to capture the stark magic that’s on offer, nor does he display it in a (forgive the pun) poetic fashion. It’s epic alright, but on the same level, it isn’t. It’s kind of hard to explain, but suffice to say the film suffers from awkward pacing and control as a result.

His battle scenes, for example, are huge. There are thousands of troops marching, swords clanging and the splintered thud of shields breaking up before the eyes of their masters. It all sound great doesn’t it, and if this were a Peter Jackson or a David Lean film, then it certainly would be jaw dropping, but not here. Something is amiss, some odd sentiment that doesn’t quite fit. Is it the rather hopeless casting that gets in the way? Is it the way in which the camera follows the battle? Or is it simply that by the time the battle arrives, the prospect of cinematic greatness seems like a lost cause? Frankly, it could be any number of those arguments and more.

About the casting; let me assure you that Troy is a befuddled mess. I get why they cast Brad Pitt as the muscularly heroic Achilles. I don’t really agree with casting such a popular and often generic actor such as him, but the presence works. Unfortunately, his performance never really glows, especially when less- substantial actors make Pitt look like he was still an amateur. It’s no secret that he isn’t a great actor, and that is part of the problem. This role didn’t just need brawn, it needed sophistication, it needed a lead actor with a gift to capture the screen, a gift Pitt never seems to have.

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The only actors in this entire movie that were properly cast were Eric Bana, who plays Hector, and Peter O’Toole who plays the King of Troy, Priam. Both of them really are perfectly suited to play their respected characters and are probably the best thing about this whole movie. Everyone else, male and female, just seem out of place and unsuited. This is a truly great shame and is part of the reason Troy fails to rise to the higher realms it seems desperate to reach. Looking for a moment to Ridley Scott’s sword-and-sandal epic, Gladiator; everybody in that film was simply fantastic, not least Russell Crowe in the lead role of Maximus.

It is this character integrity what Troy lacks, and it is a big enough flaw to sink the entire project. When will some filmmakers learn that casing some of the most beautiful actors in the world simply doesn’t make a quality product? It makes it obvious and drains what superb performances the few properly-cast actors put in. Gladiator, amongst many other epics, didn’t particularly have the best looking actors, but at least the film worked and seemed more organic. The end result? People could take it more seriously, hence a better film. In comparison, Troy seems like a highly manufactured soft-porn movie for those don’t really care about a good movie, but rather for those who are on the look out for good bodily features instead. Troy is a film made for aphrodisiacs!

A few months before Troy was scheduled to debut in theatres, I caught the rotten smell of a feud that arose between Warner Bros. and the at-the-time musical composer, Gabriel Yared. Apparently, and no thanks to Wolfgang Petersen’s loose control of his project, Yared’s score was dismissed just prior to the film’s completion. After a test screening of the film, one or two supposedly marked down that the musical score didn’t fit the film (or something to that effect). Day’s later, Yared received word that his score, which he acknowledged was the best work of this career, was to be axed. James Horner was called in, and weeks later had finished what is easily one of the worse, most disgraceful film soundtracks he has ever produced. Don’t get me wrong, it is not a completely negative score, just a highly overused and highly fabricated one.

What makes this matter so important was the actual work Yared afforded Troy. His unused score, which will probably never see a commercial release, was available on the composers’ website, and upon listening to it I had to agree, the music was simply breathtaking. One could argue that it was too good for the current movie in fact. It was almost as if the score was written for the actual poem and not for Petersen’s flimsy adaptation. To think that the studio simply cast aside so much hard work and so good-a-product at the account of one or two test-screeners is barbaric. I have no doubt that Gabriel Yared would have earned an Oscar nomination for his work; it is that good!

Another element of James Horner’s score is the song he used at the end credits. I have always been a tad unsure at the use of lyrical material at the end of historical or war pieces, but Peter Jackson’s decision to use songs on the end of his Lord of the Rings trilogy made me think otherwise. I then realised that if handled correctly, a song can often be the exact send-off an epic needs. This was of course before I saw Troy, whose end song is so bad, so horribly cheesy and cringe-worthy that I nearly threw up in the cinema aisles. Honestly, in all my life and of all the hundreds of films I have seen, I have never heard such a horrendously mismatched song as this.

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It is entitled ‘Remember Me’ and is performed by Josh Groban and Tanja Tzarovsk. It is certainly not a song I wish to remember! Latched onto a Disney sequel such as Beauty and the Beast 8, it may not have been quite as bad with its laughably electronic, heavily synthesized backing and bad rhyming lyrics. But here, attached to a mature war epic, it is hands down one of the worst musical selections I have ever come across. I usually sit though movies’ end credits, but Troy was one such film I opted to just walk away from.

Another thing that confused me about Troy is its rating. It was given the R certificate in the US and was graced with a 15 in the UK, but aside from a few spills of blood and semi-nudity, the film doesn’t seem worthy of such a stature. It almost feels like the filmmakers were aiming for a PG-13 or 12 rating, but got lumbered with a higher one instead. The nudity is covered up with some of the most cliché tactics which often makes for a few unintentional laughs, especially with one such scene involving Orlando Bloom and Diane Kruger. It never quite feels like Petersen filmed it with adults in mind, but rather for audiences with children by their side.

Alas, those are the major critiques I have with Troy, a film seemingly burden with so many flaws that its summer release seemed all too perfectly suited. I at first questioned why such a film wasn’t held back and released during the later months, but I now realise that it shows all the symptoms of a generic summer action flick. It’s hard to see it as just that however, because it really wants to be more than just a typical summer bonanza and occasionally tries all too hard to gain the respect it wants. Troy comes off as a disjointed work, but if you really, really try to look past its many flaws, you may just be able to enjoy a semi-decent action adventure.

Video
Presented in the fantastically wide 2.40:1 aspect ratio, one would think Troy’s transfer to DVD would have been something to shout home about. Sadly this is not the case. There happens to be quite a lot of grain and imagery problems scattered throughout the two and a half hours of film. In all honestly I was expecting one hell of a good DVD presentation from Warner Bros., but like the film itself, it didn’t quite deliver.

Troy being a colourful film and having lots of wide shots, the palette demands at least the right level of balance. The colour itself is well balanced and the daylight battle scenes look impressive enough, despite there being a torrent of on-screen activity. The blue of the ocean also looks gorgeous, possibly even slightly faux looking. Darker scenes such as the battle at twilight are quite hard to make out, but still look gorgeous to behold.

Ultimately the main problem with this image is that it looks too ordinary. It is good, but just doesn’t seem as though the transfer has been delicately handled or given the old DVD touch-up. It appears to have been dealt with just like most other discs; quick and standardised. I suppose it’s a good job the film looked dandy to begin with, because this lazy treatment would have seriously hampered the final score.

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Audio
Sadly we only get a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but you can expect to have a pretty great ride with what the film has to offer. The thunderous marching of armies and the quietness of birdsong can be equally praised for their clarity. I was quite disappointed by the LFE signals; I expected them to be more robust, maybe even louder than they were. Still, the dialogue and directional sounds are beautifully presented and shine as brightly as the sun god himself!

If there was any one problem I could speak of, then it would be a similar problem to the video transfer. There seems to be a very ordinary feel about the sound, almost as if the film’s audio has been ripped directly from the original source and not been enhanced for DVD.

Extras
Troy may have been one of the biggest hits of the year, but Warner sure have skimped on the extras. Everything here seems expedited; the bland packaging, the boring menu screens and the sufficient lack of any noteworthy extras really doesn’t make for an impressive package.

‘In the Thick of the Battle’ is a dull sixteen minute feature accounting all the fighting and action seen in Troy. I’ve seen plenty feature like this on the Lord of the Rings DVD’s, but the one here seemed trite in comparison. Everything about it came across as being too formulaic and repetitive.

‘From Ruins to Reality’ last for about fourteen minutes and flaunts all of the many visionary set pieces like the city of Troy itself and the famous Trojan Horse. Once again, this is just your average run-of-the-mill making of featurette.

‘Troy: an Effects Odyssey’ is a feature all about the many effects used in the movie. There’s nothing new here, just a quick ten minute insight into how the effects team wove their technical magic into the film.

‘Gallery of the Gods’ is a little feature that walks us through all of the many gods and their role in Greek mythology. Technically speaking, this feature conjures up more wonder and ambiance than the movie or any of the features are able.

Well folks, that’s it, that’s all you get on this much hyped double disc DVD set. Personally, I think it is extremely shabby all things considered. Even this year’s Van Helsing had a better DVD treatment and the film wasn’t nearly as good.

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Overall
After criticising Wolfgang Petersen so much, he does admittedly deliver a reasonably good directorial performance, but I don’t think he was the right man for the job. Then again, the screenwriters are also to blame for this calamity, if not more so. They all push the film too hard, too fast and it takes a great many stumbles to warrant any significant praise. The supposed epic scope is no redemption either, because it seems almost tame when compared with other cinematic epics. Nothing about it ever stands out or makes itself noticed. Troy is the classic that isn’t.

As for the DVD itself, I have to say that this is one of Warner’s worst efforts in ages. Everything stinks of blandness and manhandling. The image is noteworthy, if somewhat standard, and Dolby’s 5.1 soundtrack actually does do justice to the source material. However, the real stinker comes in the form of the scarce extra features included. In all, Achilles’ voyage onto the digital platform was an unworthy and disappointing one.


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