Troy - Press Archive - TNMC


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Troy Script Review

Today marks the return of our Pulitzer prize nominated friend, Fred. For today he
has written an interesting take on Wolfang Petersen's Summer 2004 opus Troy.
I never thought we would be reviewing screenplays for big blockbusters two years
before they come out. How can we EVER top that? Oh wait, I know...

Troy Script Review

Screenplay by David Benioff

Based on the epic by Homer

(early, undated draft)

Reviewed by Frederick J. Chiaventone
"Ah, where does this stuff come from? Hey, I for one will not complain as it’s a
nice break from academic tomes and a very nice break from the abysmal stuff
which makes it to some of the studios. It’s interesting that this work, an early
draft by David Benioff, comes on the heels (not the Achilles Heel) of the
adaptation of Stephen Pressfield’s marvelous work on the Pass at Thermopylae,
Gates of Fire. (Not to worry, a review of that script will be printed here in an
upcoming column.) It’s further interesting that this work parallels Homer’s
original in that it is constructed to appeal to a contemporary audience. The
viewer (well, in this case the reader) is pulled right in to the action and, while
there were some anachronisms which lend themselves more readily to 21st
Century sensibilities, they are surprisingly inoffensive. This is of the type
where the reader says; 'Hey, that’s a modern conceit in this case but what
the hell, it’s a good story so I’ll let it go.'

Before we get into the screenplay we should touch on a couple of interesting
points. First of all, the Trojan War (variously dated as having happened around
1184 BC and even that date is uncertain at best) is pretty much the beginning
of a sense of Greek nationality. Except for the writings of the poet Homer we
don’t have a lot of detailed information about the struggle, the reasons for
the war, the individuals involved and so forth. The first indications that Troy
was a real city reduced by siege came in the late 1800’s when German amateur
archeologist Heinrich Schliemann tramped around what he determined were the
ancient city’s ruins. Further archeology has been done on the site and, in fact,
at the University of Tuebingen (south of Stuttgart) a major controversy has
recently erupted between the findings of the Department of Archeology and
the stalwarts in the Department of History regarding the size and nature of
the city of Troy (nothing like a little academic infighting to get things roiled up,
eh?). Suffice it to say at the outset that little is known of the actual struggle
beyond that which was voiced by Homer about 300 years after the events, so
whether the siege lasted 10 years (as Homer suggests) or significantly less
is anyone’s guess. What this means is that the contemporary writer has
considerable leeway in how he presents the story.

This version opens with Hector and Paris, both Trojan princes, being hosted
by Spartan King Menelaus, having just sealed a treaty which will allow free
trade between the former enemies. A large, celebratory banquet is underway
during which the Trojan pretty boy Paris keeps stealing furtive glances at
Menelaus’ beautiful wife Helen. Hector observes Paris’ interest but says nothing.
Later that night Paris confronts Helen and asks her to run off with him. It’s not
until after the Trojan delegation is well out to sea that Paris reveals to his brother
that he has convinced Helen to run off with him. Hector is not pleased by this
development and sees the Paris-Helen match as an infatuation which will bring
ruin to both of their nations. But blood is thicker than water and Hector, while not
condoning Paris’ action, accepts it and the likely consequences.

Far behind them their former host, Spartan King Menelaus, is not a happy man.
Betrayed by his would-be allies and his wife he is looking for blood and sure to have
it. The only thing which modifies his desire for revenge is his brother Agamemnon.
Agememnon has bigger plans - the addition of Troy and its wealth to his already
large sphere of influence. He quickly sees how he can use Menelaus’ grievance to
forward his own political and mercantile objectives and sets out to call in markers
among fellow Greeks. Before long Agamemnon has gathered a formidable force which
includes such legendary figures as Ajax, Odysseus, and the recalcitrant Achilles.
We have met Achilles before in this screenplay when, ostensibly for Agamemnon,
he confronts and defeats the Thessalonian giant Boagrius in a contest of champions.
Thus we know that Achilles is quite the tough customer. Achilles, in fact, is rather
the odd duck. A masterful warrior, he’ll as soon kill a man as eat dinner. He has no
reverence for authority and despises not only Agamemnon but most other people
he comes in contact with. Two exceptions seem to be his young friend Patroclus and
the warrior king Odysseus -- for whom he has a grudging regard. In truth he has no
real interest in fighting Agamemnon’s wars for him but it is Odysseus, with
intimations of glory to be gained on the battlefield, who gently needles him into
joining the expedition against Troy. Now, I should say here, more for the benefit of
those who are familiar with Homer’s version of events, that the 'Gods' are not in
evidence throughout this script. The war between the Greeks and Troy is an affair
of men, not their Gods and, although a number of the characters defer to the
judgment of the Gods, others, such as Achilles and Hector, are contemptuous
and dismissive of these predilections. Achilles and Hector depend on their own
skill with weapons rather than the intercessions of Zeus or Apollo.

As the story progresses the Greeks flood onto Trojan shores and into battle with
the desperate and hopelessly outnumbered defenders. But, good as they are,
the Greeks are stymied by the fierce Trojans under the able leadership of Hector.
Unlike in Homer’s version of events, both Menelaus and Ajax fall before the
onslaught of the implacable Hector. When a quarrel between Achilles and
Agamemnon results in the former removing himself from the action to sulk in
his tent, the Greeks quickly find themselves in difficult straits. Achilles’ young
friend Patroclus, unable to get his mentor to rejoin the fray, secretly filches
Achilles’ armor and appears to rally the stricken Greeks. Hector hopes to take
all of the fight out of the Greeks by taking Achilles out of the fight and quickly
engages him in single combat. Hector wins his fight but discovers that the
dying man is not Achilles but Patroclus. When Achilles discovers that his young
friend has been slain his grief and rage are terrible and he plunges back into the
fray to slake his thirst for revenge.

Rather than give away the entire plot of the film at this stage I will merely
point out that again the screenwriter takes a few liberties with the story as told
by Homer. Odysseus does indeed come up with the idea for the wooden horse
but Achilles remains alive through this development (in Homer’s version he is
long dead at Paris’ hand) and the wooden or 'Trojan Horse' is drawn through
the gates to the ultimate discomfort of the Trojans. The plot is telescoped
significantly in that the war, which according to Homer lasts some 10 years,
here appears to last no more than a few weeks at most. Now, who knows, maybe
that’s about how long the real siege lasted for, beyond Homer’s account of 300
years after the fact, there is no evidence to the contrary. So when the Classics
Professors get their knickers in a twist over any modifications to the story, well,
stuff a sock in it, folks. It was a tale to the ancient Greeks and it remains a
tale to this day. What Benioff has done is simply to modify the tale in such a
way that it will capture and hold the interest of the modern audience and in
that he has done his job well.

It is interesting to note that the last screenplay I read was Gates of Fire about
the Spartan’s selfless sacrifice at Thermopylae in an effort to preserve Greece
from the invading Persians (yes, a review of that piece is coming) and yet that
screenplay, as good as it was, did not elicit the visceral reaction that does this
tale. Granted the story of the Trojan War as recounted here is not at base about
higher human values - here we see greed, lust, pride, envy, and hatred in their
purest forms. There are few things demonstrably worth fighting for in this effort.
Paris wants a woman so badly that he will risk his home, his country, and his
family to obtain her. Agamemnon wants power so badly he will risk the lives of
thousands of men to achieve his ends. Achilles is wrapped up in himself and will
risk all to further his fame and immortality. These are not nice folks. And yet,
the story here is more compelling, the action faster and more engaging than
one might expect. So now we come down to my judgement on the project.
This will be one heck of an interesting and I suspect successful picture.
Wolfgang Peterson will direct and Brad Pitt will square off against Eric Bana.
They’ve got a good early draft of a script from which to work so the omens are
good. In the meantime, for those who would like a deeper grounding in the subject
matter have a go at 'The Iliad' by, there are any number of arguments
as to which translation to read but for my money, I’d go for the Robert Fagles
translation (available through Penguin Classics). It’ll help to pass the time while
waiting for Peterson to get this version on film - good reading!"

Frederick J. Chiaventone, an award-winning novelist and screenwriter, is a retired
Army officer and Professor Emeritus of International Security Affairs at the U.S.
Army’s Command and General Staff College. His most recent book, Moon of
Bitter Cold, a novel of Red Cloud’s war, has just been nominated for the
Pulitzer. His most recent piece for American Heritage magazine (October 2002)
is on Native American leadership.


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