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O Muse, I Sing the Wrath of Spielberg

Troy, Wolfgang Petersen (director), David Benioff (script), “inspired by” Homer, The Iliad (Warner Brothers, 2004).

Looking at it from Hollywood’s point of view—and frankly, given the $200 million investment involved, I don’t see how you can argue looking at it from anybody but Hollywood’s point of view—I think you’d have to say that director Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy makes a pretty good job of it.

It’s not an easy story, The Iliad. Look, we had the Old Guy in for a humongous conference with the best script doctors in town, and even he agreed he wasn’t all that great at tying up the loose ends. The Old Guy? Homer, of course. No, not Homer Simpson, you numbskull! Homer, the! Homer. He was a hoot. Great old dude, not the least bit precious, none of that don’t-change-a-line stuff at all. Sure, we brought in the Wise Hack (David Benioff) and made a few changes, but it was really just tying up loose ends, nothing more.

Okay, okay, so you’re a stickler for the classics, and insist on the skinny about the changes. Here goes. First of all, the gods. They gotta go. Sure, we could’ve done the gods—I mean, have we got digital or what? Look what Peter Jackson did with Golem in Lord of the Rings, or Spielberg with those Jurassic Park dinosaurs. Anyway, we did the computer animated thousand ships and the digitalized 50,000 warriors, but hey, we had two-and-a-half hours of film already. So, why stick in a bunch of gods when you’ve got realpolitik psychology and Brad Pitt doing Achilles, all broody and ambivalent? And those pecs, did you dig those tits?

Second, we kill off Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and Agamemnon (Brian Cox), which I admit ain’t in The Iliad. So, big deal. Needed to tighten the loosy-goosy plot. Epics need villains, and villains gotta get killed. Like, you’ve never seen Ben-Hur, Spartacus, The Greatest Story Ever Told? Ever heard of Cecil B. DeMille? Anyway, we make it clear that Paris (Orlando Bloom) running off with what’s-her-face-that-launched-a-thousand-digitalized-ships—yeah, Helen (Diane Kruger)—is just a coverup for Agamemnon’s imperial power politics. And if you don’t get it, we got old Nestor (John Shrapnel), during one of the dicey moments on the beaches of Troy, saying, “If we back off now, we’ll lose credibility,” just like Donald Rumsfeld.

Okay, now the thing with Achilles and Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund), look, we really agonized about it. We thought about doing the gay thing. We really did, take my word. We know it’s a big hot-button issue today, gay marriage and all. And we could’ve done the big screen kiss with Brad and Garrett. But in the end, we thought about the kids. The kids coming to the movie, who else do you think is paying the bills around here? They would only be confused by the homo stuff. So we make Patroclus the younger cousin of Achilles—he’s still cute, and blond, and teenybopper, the bubblegum crowd goes crazy for him and Paris, and we can still kill him off and drive Achilles mad with bloodbrother grief. Anyway, we make him the cousin, and we pump up the love interest with Achilles and the temple-girl Briseis (Rose Byrne). And that way we still get to show Brad’s tits, a two-second shot of Brad’s bum, and Brad’s groin down to the shorthairs, which is what everyone wants to see, right? It’s all very tasteful and hey, you gotta admit, for a 40-year-old, Brad is one buffed stud.

Now, the ending, there you’ve got to admit we did the right thing. I mean, look at the original. It’s a mess. Ends with the old king of Troy, Priam (Peter O’Toole) going to Achilles’ tent to beg for the body of his son Hector (Eric Bana), who Achilles offed and then drug around the walls of Troy in his chariot. That scene’s a tearjerker, and Peter and Brad really chew the scenery, and Achilles nails it when he tells Priam, “You’re a far better king than the one who leads this army.” And we play some of the leftover score from Lawrence of Arabia. Boffo, but is that an ending?

This is where the Wise Hack earns his paycheque: Benioff pulls in a few scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid–an early sequel, by the way—and that way we get in the Trojan Horse, the sack of Troy, death of Priam, Paris shooting the arrow through Achilles’ heel, and a few important Trojans sneaking out through the secret tunnel. Now, that, my friend, is an ending. So, it ain’t Homer. You want Homer? You’re into reading? Look, it’s on the Net. There’s a perfectly good translation of The Iliad by Ian Johnston, just Google up Homer, Iliad, etc. You’re into reading? Then read, already. But it doesn’t sell popcorn.

Plus which, the ending leaves us with one, maybe even two sequels. We’re doing lunch with Terry Gilliam—you know, Time Bandits, Brazil, Monty Python?, terrific director—about an Odyssey right now. And our Odysseus (Sean Bean), who did a bang-up job—remember his line, “War is young men fighting, old men talking”?—is already on retainer.

So, what’s to complain? There’s battlefield and one-on-one brawls up the ying-yang for the 12-year-old boys with computer games, a little smooching and BradBradBrad for the 15-year-old girls, and some tough talk about war for any geezers who plunk their money down. Everybody’s happy, right?

Berlin, June 6, 2004

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Stan Persky

Stan Persky

Stan Persky taught philosophy at Capilano University in N. Vancouver, B.C. He received the 2010 B.C. Lieutenant-Governor's Award for Literary Excellence. His most recent books are Reading the 21st Century: Books of the Decade, 2000-2009 (McGill-Queen's, 2011), Post-Communist Stories: About Cities, Politics, Desires (Cormorant, 2014), and Letter from Berlin: Essays 2015-2016 (Dooney's, 2017).

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