Saturday, November 26, 2005

Myth and Legend On the Silver Screen

Back in 1981 I went to see Clash of the Titans at the local (now defunct) movie theater. I had been a Greek Mythology enthusiast since the third grade, so I was excited at the prospect of seeing the familiar characters from familiar tales on big screen settings. The movie was a little disappointing: Medusa was too scaly; the big ugly horned guy wasn't in any of the stories I had read; Perseus rides Pegasus, who in the myth wasn't created until Medusa was dead; and worst of all, the mechanical owl that served Perseus in much the same way that K-9 served Doctor Who or that R2-D2 served the Skywalker family. It was an awakening of sorts, for me. Clash of the Titans made me aware of the concept of "artistic license".

Last evening my wife popped in a tape of the movie, which was a pleasant surprise. Despite the traumatizing changes, the movie wasn't bad. As long as I don't go into a movie expecting to see THE GREATEST MOTION PICTURE OF ALL TIME, I don't come out disappointed. Heroes battled monsters, and the Gods of Olympus had a hand in it all. That pretty much sums up the more thrilling Greeks myths: Perseus, Heracles, Theseus, Odysseus. The movie was fun and aided the leftover turkey in putting me to sleep early.

After a four hour nap, I woke up and decided to pop in another movie. Ah good -- my wife borrowed Troy from the local library. That'll kill three hours easy.

In all honesty, I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would. The Homeric legend was completely stripped of its mythic elements. No Gods appeared as spectators or as participants. Religion, however, was ever-present; the characters made frequent references to Gods, and temples figured prominently in two scenes. Troy is basically a war movie and earns its R rating mostly for bloodshed. There are a couple of naked butts on screen (just as there were in Clash of the Titans) but nothing raunchy. Most of the performances are dead-on. I didn't think of King Priam as Peter O'Toole; I thought of him as King Priam. The same goes for most of the Greek leaders: Menelaus, Agamemnon, Ajax. It was like being there. Achilles, the main character, was another matter. "That's Brad Pitt", I told myself at the start. Every time I saw him, I reiterated: "That's Brad Pitt. He was with JA, but now he's with AJ." His celebrity overshadows his performances, and that's not good.

Eric Bana was surprisingly good as Hector. Bana's performance as Bruce Banner in HULK lacked personality. I really had trouble telling the difference between man and monster in that film, but he makes up for it here. Bana's Hector, a loyal husband, father, son, brother and Trojan, has cares and concerns that all of us can relate to. I seriously need to reevaluate my estimation of him as an actor.

Orlando Bloom...okay, here's another one I have a problem with. He will always be Legolas. Never mind the fact that he doesn't really have long straight blond hair and pointy ears; his role in Lord of the Rings has marked him for life. Not even his role as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean and its two forthcoming sequels can erase that image. Nevertheless, he does a passable job portraying Paris, since I always envisioned Paris as a sort of soft boyish twit and that is exactly how Orlando Bloom plays him because he is, after all, Orlando Bloom. He must be the first actor that casting directors go to when they need to find someone who can play a soft, boyish, almost effeminate character who appeals to girls. Not women, but girls.

Speaking of women, girls, and casting for this movie, it couldn't have been hard to cast Helen of Troy. Anyone familiar with the Greek legend knows that Helen is simply eye candy. Diane Kruger fills that requirement quite well, yet manages to inject the character with a hint of personality. Helen's attraction to Paris makes little sense, though. Maybe she's a pedophile, and she's going to drop him the moment hair starts to grow out of his face.

One character who mostly hangs around in the background is Odysseus, played well by Sean Bean. He wields influence at the highest levels, yet knows his place and doesn't try to steal the glory from Agamemnon. Ironic, then, when Odysseus's wooden horse leads to the sack of Troy, during which Paris kills Agamemnon. And Achilles.

Wait. That didn't sound right. Agamemnon survived Troy long enough to go home and be killed by his wife. Paris mortally wounded Achilles in the heel before the wooden horse entered the city. And Menelaus collected Helen and took her back to Sparta; he wasn't killed by Hector. Forget what I said about artistic license; this isn't right.

The movie tries very hard to make Paris its hero. I could not accept that. The longer it went on, the more I hated Paris and wanted to see him die. As long as you're going to rewrite the classic story, why not let Odysseus kill Paris and abscond with Helen? My verdict: Decent movie, unsatisfying ending.

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