Posted in: Disc Reviews by Archive Authors on September 24th, 2007
2004 brought moviegoers two big-budget historical epics in Oliver Stone’s Alexander and Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy. One bombed. The other performed well, but was by no means heralded as a critical success. No, Troy was praised for slick production values and exciting battles, but derided for a lack of emotional depth.
Can it all be blamed on running-time constraints and compromises made for the ratings board? The answer is here, with the unrated Troy: Director’s Cut, Petersen’s second shot at eternal glory, this time with more than 30 minutes of additional footage.
Based on Homer’s The Illiad and a few other sources, Troy tells the story of the siege of Troy, and the clash of two larger-than-life heroes: Hector, Prince of Troy (Eric Bana, The Hulk) and Achilles of Greece (Brad Pitt, Babel). It opens with Hector’s younger brother, Paris (Orlando Bloom, Kingdom of Heaven), stealing the wife of Greek king Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson, Braveheart). Her name, of course, is Helen, possesor of the face that launched a thousand ships. When Menelaus learns of her desertion, he cancels any plans for peace with Troy, and runs to his own big brother, King Agamemnon (Brian Cox, The Bourne Identity.
Agamemnon is happy to go to war under the pretext of restoring his brother’s honour, but what he really wants is to conquer Troy and extend his own empire. Unfortunately, he’ll need Achilles fighting alonside his army if he wants to succeed against the Trojans and their own hero, Hector. Thing is, Achilles really doesn’t like Agamemnon, and since Achilles is the only guy Agamemnon can’t push around, the feeling is mutual. But while Achilles hates the king, he loves the prospect of everlasting glory even more. When his friend, King Odysseus (Sean Bean, North Country) reminds him of this desire, Achilles agrees to fight.
In Troy, Helen is welcomed by King Priam, despite the fact that her presence puts his beloved city and its people in danger. Hector, a pragmatic strategist, prepares to face the armies of Greece, knowing better than the king or any his advisors the magnitude of the incoming threat.
When 50,000 soldiers — from those thousand ships — storm the beach near Troy, an epic conflict begins. Before it is finished, more than one king will fall, and their heroes will become the stuff of legends.
There’s a lot more to the story, but let’s move on to what’s changed in this director’s cut. Thankfully, the additional footage does not add any new elements to the plot. Instead, it fleshes out the existing characters and their relationships, giving them more room to breathe, and allowing viewers to really connect with their stories. For the main conflict, the film now takes more time with both sides before the battles, in turn giving each stab of a spear more impact. It helps that the violence also has new emphasis, with a level of carnage not seen in theatres. It’s not blood just for blood’s sake, though. It’s just a more realistic portrayal of the brutal warfare of the age, no punches pulled. The result of all these changes is a film that makes you care, and that makes all the difference.
But has Petersen raised Troy from flawed spectacle to epic masterpiece? For me, the answer is a resounding “yes.” With a catch. There’s no question the film is vastly more entertaining, and that with 30 extra minutes it honestly feels shorter than its theatrical cut. However, what Petersen could not do was rid Troy of Orlando Bloom. The kid blew it with his whimpering performance, undermining the foundational romance between Paris and the beautiful Helen. No amount of additional character development can fix that problem. Thankfully, the director’s cut puts much more emphasis on the other romantic relationships, relegating Bloom’s floundering to the back seat.
So Troy: Director’s Cut is in every way superior to its theatrical version. How’s this two-disc DVD set?
As with the previous DVD releases, Troy is presented here in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The level of quality is also quite similar to those earlier transfers, and that’s a good thing. What’s different is the film is now split across two discs, and it appears richer, with vibrant colours that practically leap off the screen. There are so many moments in this film that made me pause and just enjoy the aesthetics. Some might say Troy is too pretty for such brutal subject matter, but I’m happy to see impossibly blue ocean views juxtaposed with spittle-flecked mouths emitting terrible war cries. Any way you cut it, the film is gorgeous.
Main audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, and it sounds like 50,000 bloodthirsty warriors just stormed your living room. My ears aren’t sophisticated enough to pick up any differences from previous discs, but when the sound was already this great, who cares? From moments of beauty to the frenetic battles, this is an aural experience that’ll put your system through its paces, and envelope you in the story unfolding on your screen.
5.1 audio is also offered in French and Spanish, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Troy – Director’s Cut (Special Edition) doesn’t offer much in the way of new bonus material. It has most of the features from the non-director’s cut 2-disc release, along with an introduction from Wolfgang Petersen and an all-new featurette. All told, there isn’t much you can’t see in better form on other DVD releases, such as the Lord of the Rings extended edtions. Here’s the full rundown:
- NEW: Troy Revisited — An Introduction by Wolfgang Petersen: the director takes a few minutes to explain his goals for the new cut. I didn’t want any specific expectations, so I watched this one only after I’d viewed the film.
- NEW: Troy in Focus: at about 30 minutes, this set of featurettes can be viewed in pieces or via the usual ‘play all.’ It covers some interesting ground, but lacks depth. Also, even when you choose to play all, short credits roll after each of the segments. That gets annoying fast.
- In The Thick of the Battle: discover how the film’s epic battle sequences were created, from thousands of warrior-extras training in the scorching heat of Mexico, to fierce one-on-one duels to the death.
- From Ruins to Reality: explore how the ruins of ancient Troy were unearthed and how Troy’s production design magicians created their own version of this breathtaking, legendary city.
- Troy — An Effects Odyssey: secrets of Troy’s stunning visual effects are revealed, from conjuring a staggering 1,000 ship armada on the open seas, to producing the bone-crunching sound effects of ancient warfare.
- Attacking Troy: a 14-minute look at the film’s battle scenes, this featurette brings both technical and historical perspectives to the action. Good stuff, but again, not enough.
- Greek Ship Towing: this is a bizarre, 1-minute sequence of bad CGI gags, including replacing the ships of the Greek armada with giant rubber duckies. What gives?
- Theatrical trailer: your usual fare.
I enjoyed Troy in theatres, but could see it was missing a lot of somethings. Petersen’s new cut raises the film to a whole new level, improving it all around. This is an epic masterpiece, presented with with gorgeous video and spectacular audio. The extras are quantity over quality, but this 2-Disc Special Edition is still a must-buy.
- High-Def Digest gives high marks to Troy: Director’s Cut on Blu-ray.