By Gregg Barrios
"Sing, O Goddess, the anger of Achilles the son of Paleas that brought countless ills on the Achaeans."
Don't go to Troy expecting Homer's Iliad.
Instead, filmmaker Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot, The Neverending Story) has made a classic comic book version of the greatest story ever told by a blind auteur.
The battlefields of the 10-year Trojan War at times evoke the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan; at other times the recent kitschy WWF match-up "Live From Baghdad," in which real wrestlers entertained the battle-weary troops in Iraq. Occasionally, screenwriter David Benioff wanders into the wrong movie and attempts an ancient take on The Fog of War, but the filmmakers haven't the foggiest where to go with it. The desecration of a warrior, especially with Abu Ghraib fresh on our conscience, hints at something darker than mindless entertainment.
While Homer focused on Achilles' rage, the filmmakers prefer the Trojan prince Paris' abduction of Helen, wife of the Spartan Menaleus. The poetic dialogue is returned to soap operatics. She: "I made a mistake last night." He: "And what about the night before?" She: "I made many mistakes this week."
Orlando Bloom as Paris is superb window-dressing as is Diane Kruger's Helen, but neither is any more convincing than a mannequin. After all, the love story of Helen and Paris is one of the greatest in all history - along with Romeo and Juliet, and Achilles and Patroclus.
Whoa, you say. Pass that by me again. You heard right. Achilles and Patroclus were more than tentmates. When he sends Patroclus dressed in his armour to battle, and his young "cousin" gets killed, Achilles goes into the rage described in the first line of Homer's poem. But movie-goers today are living in a time of "don't ask, don't tell," so Petersen and Warner Bros. aren't going to let gay rage be the theme of a $175 million investment.
Pitt, of course, plays it straight and his physique is so buff that his armor looks lame in comparison. So natch, Achilles is always taking it off and showing his bare assets. He has also been strapped with Nike promotional one-liners for dialogue: "Immortality is yours, take it." After a sword fight he challenges the heavens, "Is there anyone more?"
Casting an anti-hero as the main attraction doesn't play well in what could be a prequel: Fight Club: 1200 B.C. Audiences want to cheer for their heroes. Isn't the recent lesson of The Alamo - which deflated its heroes and its revenues - lesson enough? Achilles was long dead after the Greeks used a wooden horse to invade the Trojan city. But here, Pitt is still alive and ... well, more of an afterthought until the final frame.
And don't look too closely, but Pitt's vaccination scar is visible in one scene. (Not to worry, the same happened to Paris and Helen in the 1956 Helen of Troy. Maybe it's an homage.) Historical accuracy is also lost in the placing of coins on the eyes of the dead. - coins weren't minted until much later.
The forsaken, prophetic Cassandra warned Priam, beware the Greek bearing gifts. Well, she has been left on the cutting room floor. Maybe she told the gods to beware Hollywood geeks bearing booty.
The audience didn't cheer at the end or stick around for the Josh Broslin love theme playing over the credits; instead, the confused popcorn-eaters were confronted on their way to the exit by some Cassandra who kept repeating that this film was going to make more money than all the gold in Troy.
"Is there anyone else?" Gird yourself as the onslaught of epic films, from Disney's King Arthur to Oliver Stone's Alexander, begins. It's going to be a long, hot, dog day summer. May the gods be kind. •