Monday, May 17, 2004

Notes on Troy 

I went into this screening absolutely horrified, for moments before, as we stood in line in front of the auditorium, I saw something gross. There were a couple of guys in line right behind us, and after taking a quick look around (apparently the fact that people were watching didn't deter him), one of the guys proceeded to reach a hand deep into the other's pants and fiddle around with something in there for a moment. This was very clearly inside the pants and inside the boxer shorts as well. My group realized that I was staring at something agape, and I told them I'd have to tell them in a second. Claire had seen it as well, and as we entered the theater, I told her that I thought you were supposed to wait for the movie to start for that kind of thing. As she said, that's just not acceptable public behavior.

Also, for some reason, I looked back at the projection room before the movie started, and noticed a large orange LED display over the projector window which said, backwards, "Welcome to Rear Window. Please adjust your reflectors." We were kinda baffled by this, until I looked back during the movie and noticed that the dialog was being displayed backwards on it. I figured it was an accessibility feature.

Troy is very good at being what it is. That is, given that it's an almost three hour long action film, it's very polite about giving you what you want, and only what you want. Instead of promising for hours and hours before finally delivering a battle that can't possibly live up to expectations, the movie delivers plenty of action from the beginning to the end.

For example, one thing I thanked the heavens for was when Achilles was talking with his mother about whether he should go fight in Troy. The mother prophesizes that if he does, he'll be famous for all eternity, but she'll never see him again. I braced myself for a boring five minutes of agonizing and goodbyes, with a possible last-second change of mind. Instead, I was delighted when after about 6 seconds of Brad Pitt looking as thoughtful as he can, it cut immediately to Achilles standing on a ship, one of thousands, crossing the ocean.

To understand the movie's pacing, let me give you an example of how the action progresses. The movie opens with a brief but spectacular battle sequence in which Achilles single-handedly wins a war. Then it skips to the celebration dinner (just as it's ending), at which point Paris asks Helen to come back to Troy with him. Then it cuts to Paris, on a boat bound for Troy, revealing what he's done to his brother Hector. It's pretty brisk, and by keeping it that way, the movie probably amplifies the emotional impact of the later scenes that require it (Though Peter O'Toole really helped out here, and did most of the heavy lifting). This isn't to say that it doesn't make you groan, it just knows what it's good at and tries to focus on that, and that makes it harder to hate the movie. It also ends very politely. After the Trojan horse sequence, when Achilles dies, the movie doesn't outstay its welcome, telling you what happened to everyone. It just ends gracefully a few moments later. Sure, you don't know for sure what happened to the less important characters you don't really care about, but their fates were sufficiently hinted at earlier. The movie definitely does not feel three hours long. I remember looking at my watch and being surprised that there was only 40 minutes left. Where did all the time go?

Especially since what it's good at, it's really good at. The most suspensful scene I've seen in a while is the battle between Achilles and Hector. Now, I knew enough about The Illiad to know that Achilles kills Hector. Yet during this battle, I felt a rush of adrenaline, and was on the edge of my seat. Not so much because I believed that Hector would win (although I considered this possibility due to critics mentioning major changes in the story), but because the battle sequence is so well choreographed. One of the things that I hated about Gladiator was that for all the cool action you should be watching, it's so poorly edited together that you can't get a sense of the space of the fight. You can't get a coherent idea about who is standing where and what they are doing. The sequences were like visual gibberish, and it was very frustrating. In contrast, the battle between Hector and Achilles doesn't feel choreographed, with swords magically moved to parry blows before the blow has begun, or anything like that. Hector is pressed to the edge of his fighting ability, and you feel the danger he's in. Achilles, as he dodges easily and moves aggressively like some sort of fast animal, feels like a highly dangerous, incredibly angry killing machine, and you feel bad for Hector for having to do something so terrifying.

Similarly, I really loved the scene where Paris is fighting the gigantic Menelaus, and you see it through his point of view. With his helmet blocking any peripheral vision, and his breath echoing in the helmet, all you see is the gigantic king pounding on you from various directions, and you realize how scary such a battle would actually be.

I thought the special effects were pretty damn good too. In the beginning fight scene, I detected something really obviously fake with Brad Pitt, but it all happened so fast, I couldn't really tell exactly what it was they did. The ships looked pretty fake too. But the thousands of soldiers looked really good, I thought. If you really focused on one soldier, and watched his legs, you'd probably think they looked mechanical. But overall, if you don't do that, it looked quite convincing. Instead of looking like an entirely computer-generated world, like in the last battle of The Return of the King, say, where the lighting doesn't look quite right, and everything is too dark and cartoony, this all looked like it actually was in bright daylight.

Other thoughts:

One thing I couldn't help but think about during the movie was the major logistical problems that wars pose. Even today, the largest problems in our military are largely logistical. We're having a hard enough time moving 200,000 of our troops and their equipment, and the replacement parts for that equipment, across the sea and keeping them there (and fed and oiled) for a year. Just imagine trying to move 50,000 soldiers across the sea and keeping them fed for 10 years on a hostile shore, as in The Iliad, in 1200 BC no less. This in itself makes the whole thing very unlikely. Where did they get food? How did they repair their weapons and armor? Clothes? It's not like they were on friendly territory, or could move very far inland.

The whole thing reminded me of the Siege of Antioch during the First Crusade, in 1097. Antioch was a walled city, like Troy, and so the crusaders basically pulled up to the gates and hung out there (of course, in those days, the state of the art in long-distance military planning and logistics was basically having everyone agree on where they were going to, and then finding their own way there, stealing whatever they could on the way). Both sides proceeded to starve in this stalemate. As the situation got more and more desperate, the crusaders learned that a gigantic Turkish army was marching to Antioch's relief, and only days away. The crusaders managed to get themselves inside the city (this was either, depending on whose account you believe, due to trickery, bribery, or divine intervention). Of course, those inside the city had been starving just as much, so now the crusaders found themselves besieged inside the city they just conquered (and ravaged and cannibalized), and there was still no food. Obviously, this didn't last anywhere near 10 years, but this real-life version of The Illiad is still fascinating.

Another thing I thought was cool to see was the soldiers of Achilles creating a wall of their shields, as the Spartan army was known to do. Some informal searching suggests this may have been an anachronism, as the Greek army doesn't seem to have been very organized at the time Troy is supposed to take place.

However, while searching for that, I found an interesting page. After the movie, Mary pointed out that it would have been really hard to coordinate a battle in all that chaos (another logistics problem, of course). It's a great question; how did they coordinate and distribute orders in the middle of a battle in those times? Apparently the commander of each phalanx would always stand in the right-most position of the front line, so each soldier would know where to look to get orders. I don't think they did that in the movie, though. Instead, the commanders appear to be on horseback, which would be another good method to know where your commander is, if it weren't for the fact that I think it's also an anachronism.
agape? The Greek word for love? I don't get it. How could they tell by the look on your face that you were looking at something related to that?
seeing two guys fooling around in public is no big deal around here. you kinda expect to see it.

now, watching two straight people go at it in the middle of a 200+ rave on the main floor while supremely wasted on e... that's funny.
Oh please, people. Both of you. Stop acting like it's the fact that it was two guys that grossed me out. Any sort of two people sticking hands deep down the front of the other's pants is not becoming.

In fact, the two of them sat down in the row behind us, and Mr. Grabbyhands gripped the back of a friend of mine's seat as he sat down. Would you have wanted to rest your head on that seat back if you'd known that someone had just done that? Male or female, gay or straight?
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no, i wasn't implying that david. sorry if it seemed like it was.

i just think it's funny when two grown adults forget that there are people around and start getting sexually freaky in public.

people in general are so stupid anyways, i might as well get some entertainment out of them if i *hafta* deal with them.
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