Warner Bros. released two films depicting two legends of a similar historical era in a similar geographical area in similar epic form on the same day. The first film was Oliver Stone's "Alexander: Revisited" that featured an additional thirty minutes of footage and was reorganized to better suit the story that the director intended to tell. Running at three and a half hours, "Alexander Revisited" was truly massive in scale. Not to be outdone, Wolfgang Petersen's "Director's Cut" of his epic film "Troy" featuring Brad Pitt weighed in at a hefty 196 minutes and allowed Petersen to finally allow audiences to see his epic Greek drama as he originally intended the film to be seen. Watching the stories of Alexander the Great and his predecessor Achilles in these two lengthy epics was a treat, a historical lesson and a test of one's ability to sit in front of a high definition television.
"Alexander" had Colin Farrell, but "Troy" ups the ante and puts Brad Pitt in a skirt and sandals. Having fared slightly better with critics and pulling in a heftier take at the box office, Petersen and Pitt was more successful, but neither film reached the lofty expectations set for the pricey films. Both films were released in 2004 and each has followed a similar path on home video. However, "Troy" was previously released on HD-DVD and now finds itself dipping into the well again and also appearing on Blu-ray. Comparing the two pictures, my personal preference has always been slightly on the side of "Troy." I find the film to be better paced, more exciting and slightly more adept at telling its story. Both are entertaining and epic, but Petersen's creation is the winner of the duel between the two historical heavyweights. Although I have a better opinion of "Troy" than many other critics, I still admit the film has its flaws and is far from perfect.
Brad Pitt is the Greek hero Achilles. He fights for the side of King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) as the Mycenae army moves through Greece and slowly incorporates competing armies into their own massive force. Achilles is considered a warlord whom is loved by the gods, but he is a man who enjoys pleasures of the flesh and the notoriety of his own conquests. Achilles is a warrior looking for personal glory and is not loyal to Agememnon or anybody else for whom he fights. As the war carries on, Agememnon approaches the Greek nation of Sparta and wages against the Trojan army. Agamemnon's brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) has lost his wife Helen (Diane Kruger) to the Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) and Menelaus wants revenge and blood of the Trojan royalty. Paris' older and wiser brother Hector (Eric Bana) is less than pleased with the actions of his brother and urges that King Priam (Peter O'Toole) force Paris into returning the woman to Sparta.
Agamemnon decides that defeating the Trojans and bringing Troy to its knees would allow him to rule the Aegean Sea and he amasses his army for a massive assault on the city. Traveling with Agamemnon is the eager and fame glory seeking Achilles and his younger cousin Patroclus (Garrett Hedlund). Achilles has been guided to battle by his mother Thetis (Julie Christie) who has foreseen a great victory by her son and notoriety and fame beyond Achilles' imagination. Achilles and the warriors of Agamemnon quickly defeat the Trojan army on the beaches of Troy. During the battle, Hector's cousin Brisesis (Rose Byrne) is captured and given to Achilles as a prisoner. Achilles finds amusement and an attraction for the young lady. When Achilles is reluctant to continue on with the war against Troy, Agamemnon takes Brisesis as his own prisoner and forces Achilles into action. This works against Agamemnon and Achilles refuses to fight.
As tensions escalate, Paris faces the war savvy veteran Menelaus, the man whose wife he stole. The prize of this duel is Helen and Menelaus accepts the challenge, but under false pretense. Although he states that he will end the conflict, Menelaus decides that he will continue on and destroy the city of Troy. The battle does not go well for the untested and outmatched Paris and he is nearly killed by Menelaus. Hector becomes involved in the personal struggle when his younger brother is nearly killed and Hector defeats Menelaus. This brings the battle between the sides to a furious fight and the city of Troy handedly defends themselves against the Greek army. When the Trojans gain a strong hand against the attacking Greeks, Agamemnon places his army in retreat and returns to the beach where he has kept Brisesis in captivity. There, Achilles discovers that Brisesis has been nearly raped by some of Agamemnon's men.
With Achilles falling for the lovely Brisesis and taking to her wishes of not engaging the Trojans, Patroclus decides to don Achilles' armor and wage a war against the Trojans. The Greek army believes him to be Achilles and the army follows him into battle. There, the formidable Hector also believes Patroclus to be Achilles and engages into a one-on-one battle with the young boy. Hector easily defeats the boy whom he believes to be Achilles and takes his life. When he removes the helmet of his victim, he discovers the body to not be Achilles, but the young boy Patroclus. This puts Achilles into a vengeful state and Achilles stops at nothing to fight Hector, including hurting those remaining that he cares for. Achilles marches towards the Trojan gates and challenges Hector to a fight. Hector agrees and moves out to battle the warlord. After a furious battle, Achilles defeats Hector and then drags his lifeless body behind a chariot in a show of victory against the Trojan onlookers. King Priam meets with Achilles and negotiates the return of Hector's body and for the return of Brisesis. A twelve day period of peace is also negotiated.
The time of no hostility passes and the Greeks put into action a plan to infiltrate Troy. Their plan is to present to the Trojans a gift. The gift is a large wooden horse and within the horse is a small force of Greek soldiers who will open the city to invasion after nightfall. The Troy citizens celebrate and accept their present from the Greek invaders. After they have been exhausted from their long day of celebration, those housed inside the horse quickly open the city gates and allow the Greeks to completely pillage and destroy the city. Nearly every citizen is killed and the Greeks burn the majority of buildings in Troy. While the fighting goes on, Achilles sets of to find his love, Brisesis. He eventually does find the Troy woman, once again under the capture of Agamemnon. Achilles frees Brisesis from the tyrant king, but comes under the attack of Paris and is left mortally wounded.
"Troy" is an engaging story that brings to life the Greek legend of Achilles. The epic sets and lavish depiction of Sparta and Troy are breathtaking. The battle scenes are immense, bloody and thrilling. The cast includes Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Peter O'Toole and other familiar faces. It is a solid cast and I was especially pleased to see Eric Bana in the film. In fact, I believe that Bana would have been a more formidable Achilles and perhaps allowed the film to reach loftier heights as I consider the casting of Brad Pitt as Achilles the film's primary weak point. Pitt is not bad as the glory seeking Achilles, but he never once gives the impression that he is Greek and serves as more of a distraction than anything. Sometimes, big name actors do not benefit a film and "Troy" is one of those films that is hindered by having a larger-than-life actor try to slip into somebody else's skin.
Wolfang Petersen has crafted another masterful film with "Troy," although it cannot compare to his other noteworthy epic, "Das Boot." That early film from the renown director was easily his best work and "Troy" is his second most ambitious creation, but lacks the humanity or edge-of-seat tension that heavily populates "Das Boot." "Troy" looks and feels massive and a good depiction of the legendary fight for Troy. Until this film, the only memorable sequence involving a Trojan invader was "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." It was about time for Hollywood to bring the legend of Achilles and the story of Troy to the big screen and Petersen made his case that he was the right man for the job. Pitt's involvement does hurt the overall appeal of the film and the decisions to base so much of the story on romance and broken hearts takes away from the tremendous battles that could have been more of a focal point.
The "Director's Cut" feels a little too long. Part of the reason may have been the long night I previously spent with "Alexander Revisited," but a film that is over three hours in length can never be called short. The added sequences seem to center more on the romantic relationships held during the film and a little more character development between the primary characters. A few additional scenes were added to the massive battles that included a little more blood and gore than what was seen in the theatrical release, but these did not add anything overly important to the film's large scale fights. The film more-than-likely would have trouble securing an R-Rating with this new cut, and although nothing major is added to the story, it is a harsher telling of the tale. I'm not sure of which version of the film is superior. The trimmer theatrical version tells the same story, but the added sex and violence does flesh out the film a little bit and allows Petersen to tell the story he intended to tell.
Not surprisingly, "Troy" continues to look very strong on high definition video. My HD-DVD copy of the theatrical release was a visual feast and the new Blu-ray release of the "Director's Cut" is an identical twin. What is nice in relation to this new longer version of the film is the fact that the spliced scenes are of the same strong quality as the remainder of the film. Back in the days, before digital was big, jump cuts and other anomalies plagued alternate versions of films and oftentimes, the quality was not nearly as strong as the theatrical footage. This is not the case with "Troy" and the film is even and consistent throughout its three hours and fifteen minutes of length. Warner Bros. has mastered this release with VC-1 encoding and the 2.35:1 picture is definitely a crowd pleasure, which is quite fitting this epic film.
The level of detail is extremely strong and the color is striking with this release of "Troy." I was equally impressed with "Alexander Revisited" and I must commend Warner Bros. for pushing these two epic films out with such stunning video and skillful mastering. The sandstone buildings show their imperfect textures. The battle weary and blood splattered armor shows each bit of gore and each scratch and the adjoining leather skirts are equally strongly textured. Brad Pitt's tan skin is also highly detailed and shows the strength of this high definition release. The colors are impressive and perfectly saturated. The skies are rich and blue and the sand is a warm tan hue. The transfer never becomes overblown in the harsh lighting of ancient Greece and the metallic colors that are commonplace in the film looks exquisite.
The remaining aspects of the transfer are equally strong. Black levels are deep and true and even in the darkest moments, the level of detail holds up. This is easily apparent when Hector and Achilles meet in the forsaken temple of Apollo and Achilles had slaughtered priests. It is also apparent when the Greek soldiers leave the Trojan horse to destroy Troy. The picture is strong and unwavering. There is never a blemish, no film grain is present and nary can a scratch be found on the source materials. Although I found the lush Babylon landscapes of "Alexander Revisited" to be more visually pleasing, this was another stellar release from Warner Bros. "Troy" is an epic film and looks absolutely amazing on Blu-ray.
The HD-DVD release featured a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, but the Blu-ray version of the film contains and equally impressive Uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack that shows the strength and character of Wolfgang Petersen's creation. The battle scenes ring out with amazing clarity and aggressiveness. When war is not waged, the epic score by James Horner rings loudly and powerfully. "Troy" is a film that benefits greatly from its sound design. It would not be nearly as impressive and entertaining without the Horner score and the battle scenes and ambient sounds of Ancient Greece help deliver a film that is just as sonically impressive as it is visually stunning. The disc comes packaged with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and comparable French and Spanish 5.1 mixes.
The aggressive film fully utilizes all six channels contained in the PCM mix. The front speakers powerfully emanate sound during the film's battle sequences and other important moments, yet it is gracefully quiet during the more romantic and tender moments. The rear surrounds erupt during the fight scenes and their usage is not just reserved for the heavy battle scenes. Environmental effects can be heard throughout the film. From the bustling streets of Troy to the sound of crashing waves and goats, "Troy" has a lot of sound to be heard. The .1 LFE channel is heavily used by both the sound effects and the theatrical score. Horner's score is one of the more powerful scores I've yet paid witness to on the high definition formats and adds a point to the Audio review score on its own merit. This is an enveloping mix that has sound moving smoothly and transparently between speakers and its PCM soundtrack is pretty close to being reference material.
While yesterday's review of "Alexander Revisited" required two discs to sit through the film and all of its supplements, "Troy" is somehow contained on a single platter. Part of this may very well be because of the omitted video commentary track from the original HD-DVD release or the lack of a commentary track. There is still a decent array of bonus materials to allow the audience to dive into the details of the making of this film. And although I would have loved a commentary track to extend my review period of this film for another couple of hours, I was pleased with the number of features that accompanied the film.
The first bonus feature is the Introduction by Wolfgang Peterson (2:30), which can be selected to play at the beginning of the film. Oddly, the film automatically plays and you must select this feature and restart the film. For those quick on the trigger, it takes a whole five seconds to do so. The introduction was nicely done and echoes that done by Oliver Stone for "Alexander Revisited."
Troy in Focus (23:06) is a long documentary that is broken into eleven chapters. The documentary may be played individually or collectively with the "Play All" menu option. Adapting Homer (2:44) is a short vignette that finds Wolfgang Petersen describing how he read Homer's Iliad in its original Greek text and he talks about bringing the story to film. On Set With Brad Pitt (2:01) has Petersen talking about the difficulties of making a film with a star as popular and paparazzi targeted as Brad Pitt. Casting Helen (1:25) has Petersen talking about the journey to find the most beautiful woman in literature and talks about landing Diane Kruger and her various screen tests. Agamemnon vs. Achilles (3:37) briefly talks about the fiery relationship between the two characters. From Malta to Mexico (3:07) talks about the problems in filming in Mexico and a run in with a hurricane. The last feature in the left column, Troy: Battles and Weapons (1:56) has Petersen quickly talking about bringing Homer's epic battles to the big screen and the weapons used in the film.
The documentary continues on the second column of the first menu page. Hector and Ajax (1:03) talks about the massive Ajax and shows additional footage with the fierce warrior and his fight with Hector. Ajax was one big dude. Brisesis and Achilles: A Love Story (2:12) has Petersen talking about the need to balance the film with a love story. I disagree. Two Great Warriors: Hector and Achilles (0:56) is an incredibly short look at the two male leads in the film. Second to last is A King's Request: Priam and Achilles (1:53) looks at the scene between Peter O'Toole and Brad Pitt and discusses its historical accuracy to the Iliad. The final vignette, Troy: The Trojan Horse (2:08) has Wolfgang Petersen finalizing his little chat by talking about the iconic horse used in the film. This widescreen feature is best played as one collective twenty three minute feature. It is better as a whole and its parts are too short. It isn't a bad look at the film and was a nice sit-down with Wolfgang Petersen.
The second menu page contains a screenfull of features. In the Thick of Battle (17:12) is broken down into five chapters that can again be viewed collectively or separately. Featuring Brad Pitt, 2nd Unit Director Simon Crane and others, this is another view at material presented by Wolfgang Petersen in the first documentary. This feature contains The Weapons of Troy (4:39) and looks at the construction of the film's replica weapons. Creating an Army (3:13) briefly talks about using eight hundred soldiers and training them in three weeks. Beach Battle (3:32) looks at the battle sequences and locations and in particular, the beach battle in the film. The Achilles Heel (:34) is a very quick moment with Brad Pitt and how he actually tweaked his Achilles tendon during production. Finally, Achilles vs. Hector (5:12) talked about how Eric Bana and Brad Pitt performed their own stunts.
The third documentary is broken down into six chapters. From Ruins to Reality (14:00) looks more at the actual production of the film and less at the characters and story. The Real Troy (3:09) is a not-so-lengthy look at how the filmmakers dug into the actual history of the city of Troy to recreate the legendary city. From History to Film (2:45) talked about how the filmmakers used their knowledge of Troy and built a reproduction of the city in Malta. They had to create every prop and set for the film and this helps explain the massive budget of the movie. Battle of the Baja (2:38) looks at how Baja California was used to film the beach battle sequences. The legendary Trojan Horse is detailed in Making a Decoy (1:40) and it is claimed to be the heaviest prop in movie history. Hurricane Marty (:52) is a quick discussion of how a Hurricane demolished the Baja California beach set. This further added to the cost of the film. Finally, Burning a Kingdom (2:54) is a quick look at how the filmmakers burned their recreated Troy to the ground.
A fourth documentary also exists on the packed Blu-ray disc. Troy: An Effects Odyssey (10:52) looks more at the visual effects created for the film. It is broken into seven chapters and is the final feature on the second page of extra content. Creating an Armada (2:30) discussed the thousand ship armada and how there were only two physical ships created for the film. View From Above (1:28) was a quick look at how camera shots allowed for a more epic looking picture. Filling the Gaps: CG Soldiers (3:20) discussed how the eight hundred extras could look like 50,000 soldiers. Sound design was looked into during Sounds of Destruction (1:35). Sounds of Battle (:38), Sounds of Force (:27) and Sounds of Fire (:51) were quick looks at certain sounds used during the film and how arrows, swords and fire were created.
The value of the Blu-ray disc is further increased with a third page of supplemental materials. Although not nearly as meaty as the first two pages in length, it was nice to see that so much material was packed onto the Blu-ray platter. Attacking Troy (15:13) was the final documentary broken into chapters and featured only three, which of course could be played separately or collectively. The first chapter, Homer: A Story for the Ages (7:26) looked closely at bringing the classic piece of literature to the big screen. Designing a Fighting Style (6:03) talked about how the filmmakers had to create a fighting style for the warriors to recreate the ancient Greek warriors. The third and final chapter, Flipping the Chariot (1:43) was a quick look at one particular sequence in the film where a chariot was flipped. Interesting, but curious how it had its own chapter. Greek Ship Towing (1:25) was listed under "Fun and Games" and is a minute and a half of showing a CGI Greek Ship pulling a water skier and some more funny CGI moments created during the filming. CGI outtakes can be funny. I'll give them that. I've never seen pre-visualizations urinate in a urinal on an ancient Greek ship before. There was also a rubber ducky armada. Finally, the Theatrical Trailer ends the features.
"Troy: Director's Cut" is the second massive and epic extended cut of a 2004 tale of ancient warriors that I watched in back-to-back nights. The first was "Alexander: Revisited" and Oliver Stone's lengthy look at Alexander the Great. The Director's Cut of "Troy" found Wolfgang Petersen adding a half hour to his already long epic and rivaling Stone's humongous production nearly in length, but equally in scope. This epic picture looks at Achilles and has Brad Pitt trying to shed his California Surfer boy tan as the Greek Hero. The film features amazing battle sequences and an epic scale that has only recently been rivaled by its studio sibling. I would have rather seen somebody else in the leading role, but Brad Pitt showed the ego and attitude of Achilles. It was just distracting to watch him portray Achilles with no accent or other quality that helped me forget it was Brad Pitt. The Blu-ray release features a couple of hours of bonus materials and top notch sight and sound. Out of the two films, I would probably recommend this one over "Alexander: Revisited," but collectively they make for an epic weekend.