The ‘Illiad’. The most classical of classics. An epic in every sense of the word. And best of all, no copyright. Nobody owns rights to this thing! Let’s make a movie!
Troy: (some guy named) Homer, David Benioff
I got into Greek myths at an early age. I don’t know how many kids go running right to Bulfinch’s but I guess most were like me. I grabbed up those ‘Greek Heroes for Youngsters!’ type books and sort of worked my way up.
That means you usually get the basic story of the Illiad and some of the big players in prose before you try the poem. If you’re like me you might have also been a little disappointed and puzzled when you finally did get to the poem.
It’s kinda boring. Yeah, it’s a ten year war but mostly everybody sits around alot. Achilles, mightiest of heroes, dipped in the river styx, godlike warrior…sits in his tent and whines like a little bitch. Because they wouldn’t let him keep the woman he stole. Plus, it’s one thing to read in prose that a god helped out a mortal but in the poem the gods are everywhere. I mean everywhere! Trip and stub your toe? Yeah, that was Zeus. Can’t find your greaves? Aphrodite hid them so you’d be late for the battle (which never happens anyway cause they just yell insults at each other before everybody goes home). So when I saw a short trailer with a bunch of Brits, Scots, and Aussies, and one Brad Pitt I just wondered, “What are they gonna do with it?”
Phase one: Get rid of the gods. All of them. They have to go. Deus ex machina has come to mean the same thing as cheating. At least for a modern movie goer there’s just not any tension if you know an all powerful deity can help or hinder whoever your rooting for or against. Now the characters are human. Achilles is not invincible- he’s just a badass. Paris isn’t snatched out of combat- he runs away. Hector has to defend his city knowing Apollo will do absolutely nothing to help him. Now there’s tension and human actions with human motivations and no magic powers.
Phase two: That war takes too long, let’s have a shorter one. Let’s say you take a couple months off from work. You rent a small cabin in the hills, go for canoe rides on the lake and spend your evenings reading by the fire. Perhaps a nice cigar and a fine tawny port. That’s a good time to read the Illiad. But most movies are two hours or less. We don’t really have time for a decades long war so let’s just make it a couple of days. Now we’re moving, baby! Storm the beach! Kill some Trojans! Attack the Greeks! Drive ’em back to the ships! Whatever you do, make sure it merits an exclamation point!
Phase three: Pare down that dramatis personae. I am not ashamed to say that my mind is boggled by all the people in the Illiad. There’s like three Ajaxes! I can’t keep everybody straight. With thousands of lines Homer can talk about whoever he wants (which is apparently everbody). In a movie that’s been moved into the action genre, we need to focus on a smaller cast. Really the movie is about Achilles and Hector.
Achilles: Brad Pitt is a big factor in whether or not you like this movie. Some people consider it a huge miscast. Maybe not John Wayne as Genghis Khan huge but… I think it was a good choice. Not because of his looks but because of his fame. The movie Achilles isn’t invincible or immortal so he’s obsessed with the classical Greek way to immortality: fame. And he goes after it in the classical Greek manner: killing lots of people with a spear. Pitt is also unafraid to play Achilles as an unlikable character. Yeah, his armor and moves are cool, but Achilles is empty outside of combat. Pitt plays him as sort of a spoiled rock star. The writer does give him an arc though. He realizes there’s more to life than combat and manages to thank the person who gave him that chance before he dies.
Hector: Hector has the same gift as Achilles- he’s an extremely gifted warrior. But Hector hates war. He sees no glory in it and seems to think the people around him who do love war are a little mad. Hector is more likable and more identifiable than Achilles. He’s a family man fighting to defend his home against invaders. Most of the best lines about war go to Hector and Eric Bana’s performance really holds up the movie. Without him it’s just a bunch of psycopaths hacking each other to steak tartar. He sort of becomes the movies conscience which makes his death a savage blow even though we know it’s coming.
If you want the Illiad, don’t go see this movie. The Illiad is an epic but Troy is not an epic movie. Most of the criticism I hear from friends involves everything they changed. In other words everything I thought made it a good adaptation. Now, it’s not a perfect film. There might be a little scenery chewed on here and there. But I think it was underrated as a war movie and an action movie. If you watch it for that instead of an epic I think you’ll enjoy the ride.