Troy - Press Archive - AICN

 
Source: Ain't It Cool News
Troy Script Review
 
 
Hey Harry:
Long time no talk. Anyway, since Troy is now on the fast track at Warner,
I thought you might be interested in a review of the script. I've had it for a
couple of months now, and like it more each time I read it. I really hope
Petersen can pull this one off. Anyway, for purposes of this review, call me
Scamandrius. Here it is:

What hath Gladiator wrought? The huge commercial and critical success of
that film in 2000 seems to breathed new life into the once moribund historical
epic genre, which is potentially great news for those of us who have longed to
see the toolkit of CGI used to illuminate the past as well as the future. From
Michael Mann's long-delayed Spartans at Thermopylae drama Gates of Fire to
the Vin Diesel Hannibal project, every studio seems to have its own entry in
the Swords and Sandals sweepstakes. One of the most promising of these is
Warners' Troy, recently in the news when Wolfgang Petersen backburnered
Batman Vs. Superman to do it instead. Which is ironic, since at its core, the
legend of the Trojan War is itself about a battle between two superheroes.
In place of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel, we have swift-footed Achilles
versus Hector, breaker of horses - an epic contest of wills and fighting skill
that forms the basis of Western Civilization's first literary masterpiece, The
Iliad.

And while screenwriter David Benioff (A quick googling of "David Benioff"
reveals him to be a hip young New York novelist whose first book is currently
being adapted to film by Spike Lee) does bring in the rest of the Trojan War
into his 175 page script (from Helen's elopment with Paris to the final sack of
the titular city), he wisely kept the battle between these two heroes at the
heart of the story he tells.

On one side we have Achilles, a man literally born for battle. As depicted
here, he's the most skilled killer of men who ever lived, but not particularly
interested in any political causes - only in achieving glory on the battlefield
so his name will outlive his death. When Agamemnon sets out to raise an
army against Troy, Achilles couldn't care less about retrieving Helen or
advancing the Greeks' political agenda. But the chance to be a hero in a war
that will be remembered for thousands of years? That ís another matter
entirely.

But while Achilles' Bronze Age obsession with honor and glory makes him an
intriguing but rather remote figure (until events in the second act turn his
motivation to the more straightforward one of revenge), the script's other
protagonist, Hector, comes across as a much more modern and likeable hero.
A loving husband and father as well as a brave warrior and brilliant military
leader, Hector's only moment of weakness comes when he doesn't force his
brother Paris to send Helen back to Sparta after they elope. A besotted Paris
presents Hector with the choice of letting him keep Helen or send them back
together. And knowing it means his brother's certain death at the hands of
Helen's husband Menelaus, Hector relents - a fateful decision for himself and
his people.

And in one of Benioff's better touches, he actually constructs a plausible
motive for what always seemed like a giant hole in the original myth - why
the hell didn't the Trojans simply send Helen back? The answer here is that
Agamemnon and the Greeks are more interested in Troy's wealth and control
of shipping lanes than in getting Helen back.

Other characters are economically drawn but still vivid on the page, even if
they don't always track with their mythic counterparts (which is fair enough,
given how much the original stories themselves contradict each other. On the
Greek side, Odysseus is a cunning tactician and skilled orator, Ajax, a
gigantic, vicious brute, Meneleaus a drunken but essentially decent guy. And
as in the Iliad, the Mycenaean king Agamemnon comes closest to being the
villain of the story, with his lust for power and eagerness to rob his fellow
Greeks of their glory nearly leading his people to disaster (his claiming of the
captive Briseis sets off Achilles' disastrous withdrawl from the front lines.)

On the Trojan side, old king Priam is appropriately magisterial (and a plum
role for a 70ish actor - has anyone called Derek Jacobi or Ian Holm's agents?),
if a little too indulgent of his bad boy son. And Paris fulfills his role as
history's original lover, not a fighter, yet somehow manages to remain
sympathetic throughout the carnage he unwittingly unleashes. Refreshingly
enough, Benioff doesn't go the revisionist route of turning the female
characters into Xena-esque action heroines. Trojan women Andromache and
Briseis remain in supporting roles, while still staying active and interesting.
And while Helen's thoughtfulness and self-loathing over her own role in the
deaths of thousands may strike some as incongruously modern, it's actually
true to Homer's own original portrayal of her.

And while some Homer fans might balk at Benioff's changes (a few of the
famous heroes die very differently than they do in myth), we still get most of
the highlights from the Iliad onscreen - the fight over the captured priestess
Briseis, Achilles sulking in his tent ("like some guy from Chile," to quote The
Tick's Handy), the duels between Paris and Menelaus and Hector and Ajax,
Hector's heartbreaking farewell to his wife and son, and finally, the duel to
end all duels itself, the fight between Hector and Achilles outside the walls of
Troy. And many of the best scenes and lines are pure Homer - Hector's
disavowal of bad omens with his declaration that "to fight for your country is
the best omen," Achilles' refusal of Hector's entreaties to fight fair, and
Priam's ransom of his son's mutilated body all come across as particularly
vivid.

But enough of the political background and character details. How are the
battles? At least in this draft of the script, they're amazing. If Warner
Brothers isn't afraid of a hard R rating and Petersen employs some decent
master shots instead of chopping everything up into indecipherable bits and
pieces a la Ridley Scott, this could set the new high water mark for
pre-modern combat in cinema that Gladiator narrowly missed. There are three
major setpiece battles between the Greek and Trojan armies, all tense and
bloody but each sufficiently unique to avoid repetition. Iliad readers might
miss the lovely little mini-biographies Homer composed for each hero as he
described their deaths in excruciating detail, but what we get in the script is
still an unflinching depiction of what happens when sharpened bronze meets
human flesh and bone.

If Petersen pulls this off, this has the potential to be one of the best duels in
the history of cinema, because unlike the tiresome hero/villain dichotomy of
so many Hollywood films, we care deeply about both men, even while we
know that one must die.

So what are the flaws with the current screenplay? While a certain amount of
compression of characters and events is necessary with an event as huge as
the Trojan War, the story sometimes suffers by trying to shoehorn in all the
major plot points (abduction of Helen, raising of the Greek Army, wrath of
Achilles, Trojan Horse). And after 50 pages of buildup, the Trojan War itself
seems to take place over a long weekend rather than the ten years of legend.
Other touches feel like early draft problems, such as a failure to foreshadow
the otherwise wimpy Paris' skill with a bow, so his Legolas-like feats of
archery in the third act feel out of the blue instead of set up. Hopefully these
will be addressed as the script is polished on its way to production next year.
 
Of more concern is the fact that the very nature of the myth means that the
story peaks and feels finished with the climactic Hector/Achilles duel, but the
screenplay goes on for another 25 pages to deal with the legendary Trojan
Horse and fall of the city. One almost wishes the author had covered them
with a brief epilogue instead. And the actual ending (with a clever borrowing
from Virgil's Aeneid) that Benioff's come up with here comes across as a bit
feel-good for what's Western literature's first and arguably greatest tragedy.

Finally, one wishes for a bolder touch in places, such as the depiction of the
Greeks' and Trojans' relationship to their gods, who were so active in the Iliad
but nowhere to be found in Benioff's screenplay.

While leaving Zeus and Apollo offscreen was probably a wise touch, it would
have been nice to see how the characters treated them as an active if unseen
presence in their lives. And it also might have been fun for Benioff to have
woven into the screenplay some of the recent archaeological discoveries
regarding Troy and late Bronze Age Greece (Troy's likely status as a vassal
state to the Hittite Empire and pawn in an ongoing struggle between the
Hittites and Mycenaean Greeks, for example).

But these are all pretty minor quibbles with what's by and large a confident,
hugely entertaining screenplay.

If Petersen's skill at executing the story matches his passion for the project,
and Warner Brothers can manage to not destroy what they loved about the
script in the first place during the development process (never a given in
Hollywood, unfortunately), this could be one for the ages. Which is only
appropriate.

After all, it was German adventurer and businessman Henrich Schliemann,
who with his excavations at Hissarlik on the Turkish coast near the end of the
19th Century revealed the physical reality of Troy to the world. Could it be
that another German at the dawn of the 21st is about to do the same for the
legend of Troy? Fingers crossed.

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