Troy – Movie Review
History’s first-ever “war novel” gets the full-blown Hollywood treatment in Troy!
It was 2,700 years ago that the blind Greek poet Homer dictated his epic poem to a scribe. The poem’s first installment, The Iliad – the story upon which the film Troy is based – tells of young love and glorious battle; the second installment, The Odyssey, records the journey of a hardy group of Greeks who refuse to ask for directions and consequently get lost on their way home from war – but that is a story for another time.
The Iliad is almost 1,600 lines long, so we are offering our readers the following condensed version: boy meets girl; they fall in love; boy takes girl home to meet dad; girl’s husband (oops!) takes offense; husband follows wife and brings 50,000 close friends to set things right; boy’s brother pays huge price; extended intermission.
The film Troy (now out on DVD) is Wolfgang Petersen’s modern-day adaptation of The Iliad. Both The Iliad and The Odyssey are based upon oral stories and were written roughly 500 years after the Trojan War was purported to have occurred. No one knows exactly what happened during this war, so if viewers put aside any expectation of a documentary-quality film, they’ll be rewarded with a fast-paced story about love, lust, war, honor, comradeship and the value of revenge as a motivational tool.
Viewers may find it helpful to have a scorecard handy to keep the players straight. Let’s begin with Helen of Sparta – supposedly the most beautiful woman in the world – who is married to King Menelaus. Menelaus is interested in negotiating a peace with the Trojans, led by King Priam. During a treaty conference, Helen meets two of Priam’s sons, Hector and Paris. Helen abandons Menelaus for Paris. Upon learning of this betrayal, Menelaus enjoins his brother, King Agamemnon of the Mycenaeans, to rally the troops and redeem the family honor. Sensing an opportunity to mix family business with kingdom business, Agamemnon gathers his forces and commences the campaign. It took 10 years but the Greeks finally won, Troy fell, all the key players died, and Homer had a boffo story line.
The Iliad centers on the anger of Achilles and his disgust with King Agamemnon – Agamemnon abused his power and mistreated someone special to Achilles. The movie holds true to the spirit of the conflict and lends a sense of humanity to this tale of the gods. It is also a story of old ways at odds with new ones. The tradition of honorable leadership, embodied in the Trojan Prince Hector, directly conflicts with the political motivation of the Greeks. Achilles and his band of Myrmidon warriors are caught squarely in the middle.
As moviegoers might expect, some of the historical representations in the film are questionable. For instance, archeologists have identified nine phases of the ancient city of Troy . Troy VI seems the most likely phase around which the movie centers. Therefore, rather than the large collection of buildings depicted in the film, the actual Troy was probably little more than a royal residence with a few hundred inhabitants inside the walls and a thousand or so outside them. There are also some other questionable points. Achilles’ band of Myrmidon brothers numbered less than 50 in the movie while Homer describes thousands. And Homer tells of Achilles sending his close friend – not his cousin – Patrocles out to lead the Myrmidons in battle wearing Achilles’ personal armor. Also, The Iliad makes no mention at all of the legendary Trojan Horse and ends with Hector’s death at the hands of Achilles. The film, on the other hand, does show the Trojan Horse and concludes with the sack of Troy .
Several aspects of Troy are very well done. For example, the individual fight scenes are great! The two exciting “mano-a-mano” challenges in the film are actually based on similar historical accounts. Achilles is presented as both god-like in his fighting skills and human in his emotional frailty; however, the movie weighs heavily in favor of his warrior attributes, which is typical of most “sword and spear” epics. The Greek hoplite armor appears accurate right down to the greaves on Achilles’ ankles and the 8-foot-long iron-tipped spear he uses to unhorse Hector’s wingman at 100 yards. And if Helen’s face launched a thousand ships, then the computer-generated imagery does justice to the magnitude of that armada. The Trojan Horse, whether historically accurate or the stuff of legends, actually looks like it was created from materials at hand and not like some hood ornament on steroids. In all, this movie offers a simple story line that doesn’t clutter up the important themes of political maneuvering, honor and individual combat.
There’s yet another encouraging facet of this movie. The high quality of the fight scenes reassures this reviewer that Hollywood now has the technical capability to do justice to author Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, another tale involving an intense, thought-provoking and visceral story of battlefield leadership and individual fighting tactics. Happily, sources say a movie adaptation of his story of the Spartan 300 at Thermopylae may go into production in early 2005. For now, however, I recommend Troy as an interpretative and entertaining balance to Homer – which is likely what the producers intended it to be all along.
Originally published in the March 2005 issue of Armchair General magazine.
Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) David Cavaleri is a published author and holds a master’s degree in history. He currently works for the Department of Defense.