Wednesday, May 19, 2004

At the Movies: Troy a.k.a. "When Ancients Act Like Moderns"

In my efforts to become the next clerical Roger Ebert, I caught a couple of movies while in the Philly and New Jersey. This is the first review.

Troy is the big budget consideration of the classic epic poem, Iliad by Homer. No, not this guy... In many ways, the film is excellent. The cinematography and costuming appear pitch perfect for the period in consideration. The casting, especially of Eric Bana, who starred in this stinker, as Hector, was correct for the most part. And the dialogue was moving and evocative.

But this is where the praise ends. Screechingly does it come to an end. First, the filmmakers do not understand the world view of ancient Greece as it depicted in the The Iliad. Much is made of the "love" Paris has for Helen. This "love" is so wonderful that they decide to imperil the entire known world's peace so that they can "get it on." In the ancient world, this would have been only vaguely recognizable. The women of the ancient world were at best possessions and at worst irrelevant baubles. In keeping with The Iliad, Paris simply captures her as a prize from his cowardly sucking-up to a lovely goddess. And let's talk about Paris. Paris, quite frankly, is a big, stinking coward as the epic poem relates. For those who don't have all the back story, the war starts with a wager between three goddesses concerning who was most beautiful. (I might have some details flipped in my mind, so Fr. Johansen has the free right to gripe about my dumbness.) To settle the dispute, the goddesses bring in Paris who delivers the vote to one who will give him Helen. And it goes down hill from there. But this is not the person the movie depicts. Rather we see a moderately noble person who eventually gets his act together.

Second, the filmmakers left out some significant characters, namely, the gods. Yes, lots of people make reference to the gods' attitudes or actions, but never does a single god show up. In the epic poem, gods and goddesses show up with the regularity of the postman, despite the number of times he/she rings the bell. Furthermore, Hector is portrayed in the movie as a bronze age Rene Descartes, claiming and doubting the gods' interventions or presence. Lastly, when ancient religious practice comes up, it is muddy and badly put forward. The one time the temple of Apollo appears, it more resembled a Jewish altar with horns to anoint and everything. Also, I think that the gods didn't have priestesses; only the goddesses did. But in the movie, the temple of Apollo in Troy has one prominent one.

Third, returning to the worldview point, the filmmakers didn't understand that HUBRIS is the heart of the story and not HORNINESS. Hubris, man trying to take the place of the gods' in the universe, makes the story move. So, Priam acts as though he is the source of strength of Troy, when in fact it is the defense Athena and Apollo gives it. The fact that Achilles is bagging the ladies like Captain Kirk in a leather apron only drives this point home that for the filmmakers, horniness is the watch word.

Fourth, the characters keep saying things like, "I am doing this for my country..." What country?! Greece as a formal nation that we would recognize is still several thousands of years away. Until then, you have petty city-states fighting for control of the region and pressing each other for control.

What it comes down to is every person involved with this movie seems to think that the way ancient people conceived of their world was identical to the way modern people conceive of it. That is far from the case.

I am sure there was other parts that got under my skin but can't recall them all now. I did enjoy the fact that many actors were old friends from LOTR and Braveheart, but I will leave you to find them all.

In all, it was a good, well-made movie, except for some rear, lateral nudity and some hacking and chopping bits. Overall review: 3 of 5 bananas

No comments: