07 November, 2004

Watching Troy

WATCHING TROY
The movie is Hollywood’s new take on Homer’s great epic, one of the greatest love stories of all time. Hollywood, however, seems more focussed on war than on love.

BY SUSHMA JOSHI
Greek mythology is not some thing that usually draws a crowd of teenagers at nine a.m. on a Saturday morning. But with a bit of Hollywood thrown in, it may just be possible. Show up at Jai Nepal Hall and watch the crowd that gathers for “Troy,” Hollywood’s new take on the greatest love story of all time.

Homer might be disappointed, as I was, about certain aspects of the movie—for instance, the casual disposal of Helen and Paris’s love affair in the first half of the movie—for what the director considers the real juicy story, the story of Achilles. In keeping with current American preoccupations, war seems to be on Hollywood’s mind more than love.

Immortality is the reason why men would prefer to die in war rather than live in peace, says David Benioff’s version of the screenplay. Mothers would disagree, and this version gives about two minutes to Mama to make her case. Of course she loses. The profound one-liners about life and death are almost Buddhist in their awareness of the present, but dharma seekers be forewarned: An excess of ego-driven emphasis is put on personal post-mortem fame. All that made Achilles tick was his need to have his name blazing across a cinema hoarding 4,000 years after his death, according to this version at least. This is what fuels Brad Pitt’s testosterone-driven Achilles across the landscape in some profound scenes. Brad Pitt is not somebody you would think of as a particularly mythological character, but he definitely takes this role head on.

Peter O’Toole gives a moving performance as Priam. As the father who has lost his son, he took my vote for best scene as he negotiated with Achilles to get the body of his dead son, Hector, back for a proper ritual. And while the male actors give stirring and substantial performances, the women are relegated to looking beautiful and crying.


Contrary to Homer’s version, a spectacularly insipid actress is cast as the beauty that launched a thousand ships. This Helen bemoans the deaths of men who are dying because of her with the same passion as she may ask for a cup of coffee. Think shampoo ad, and you get the general picture. Orlando Bloom is cast Helen’s heartthrob Paris. Bloom looked adorable with his pixie ears in “The Lord of the Rings” and as Johnny Depp’s sidekick in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but this viewer thought he wasn’t quite as hot as Paris.

The director pays a lot more attention to the thousand ships than he does to the face that launched them, but the thousand ships will not disappoint you, I guarantee. Nor will the spectacular fight scenes that are suspiciously reminiscent of blockbusters fights in “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Can Hollywood please find some other guy from a place other than Hong Kong to choreograph their fight scenes? That drumbeat in the distance is getting particularly familiar.

The Achilles’ heel of this particular version of Homer’s epic may be its overemphasis on war. What balanced out the Iliad and made it epic and immortal was its careful balance between love, desire and the search for power. Take out one of these ingredients and you get a two-week flick that amuses but doesn’t quite become an epic itself.

Besides a bit of history, you will also get some down-home Nepali comments to spice up Homer if you see it on a Saturday morning. There were gasps of repugnance as fake blood gushed down the actors’ faces, spontaneous clapping following the stabbing of a sleazy Agamemnon by a feisty priestess of Apollo and laughter when a boy shouted out, “Be careful, that’s your bhinaju,” during the fight between Hector and Achilles. Perhaps the immediacy of the warning came from our own contemporary situation. With almost 10,000 dead after an eight-year war, we are close to the human toll of what occurred in Troy almost 4,000 years ago. The Trojan war lasted for 12 years. How long will ours last?

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