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The Iliad According to Hollywood

By HENRY P. RALEIGH
ART TIMES June, 2005

LUCKILY THE TITLES prefacing last summer's blockbuster film "Troy" includes a statement that it was 'inspired' by Homer's Iliad implying therefore that it certainly wasn't based on this classic story — otherwise you might come away thinking the writers had only gotten part way through the Iliad before throwing up their hands in hopeless confusion over all those old Greek names. I mean some are real tongue twisters all right and who could keep them straight? Why it's as bad as trying to read a Russian novel. Hector, Ajax and Paris are easy enough but how about Agamemnon, Chryseis, Tyndareus, Briseus, or Astyanax? Try saying these while storming the wall of Troy and see how far you get. Common sense tells you its just best to forget about some of these name-burdened characters and while you're at it throw out all that celestial bickering, jealousies, double-dealing, lying, manipulating and general interference that Zeus and his gang were up to no matter how important Homer seemed to think this was.

You see, the real trick in jiggering around with the Iliad is what to do with Brad Pit who is getting $17.5 million for playing Achilles and you don't want him absent from too many scenes which might hurt his feelings and probably those of his thousands of adoring fans. It's risky enough to have Brad shot full of arrows at the film's finale but there's no way you can let him miss the big Trojan Horse episode. After all, the Trojan Horse is just about as close as the average film goer can get to Homer and the Iliad. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is one thing but a squabble that took place 3,200 years ago is something else. So who cares that Achilles was knocked off long before the famous wooden horse was trucked through the gates of Troy? Homer could have gotten it wrong just as he may have about who really was the first one off the Greek's boats to charge up the beach. OK, so maybe it was Proteselaus and maybe he did get quickly skewered by a Trojan spear but its pretty clear you can't have a  bit player upstage Brad that way so its Brad, practically a one-man Normandy invasion, slashing and stabbing and single-handedly and untouched capturing the Temple of Apollo. I think you'll agree that's a lot better than Homer's version.

Now there's always someone around who will surely make little, carping remarks about a film. Is it important, I ask you, to question why a war that went on for nearly ten years age the actors not in the slightest? Look, be reasonable; you have to hasten the Trojan War along before that splendid beach where all the battles are shot fills up with luxury hotels and cabanas and ice-cream sellers. And don't ask where the Greeks got the lumber to throw up those enormous funeral pyres when Troy appears to have been built somewhere on the Sahara desert — they just did, that's all there is to it. And didn't the duel between Paris and Menelaus go very much as Homer scripted it? Why point to the missing goddess Aphrodite for whom Homer had the incredulous notion that she bore off Paris in a cloud before Menelaus could chop him up. That certainly would have looked silly in a film that abounds in manly gore, wouldn't it? And so what if Brad looks exactly the same as he did in the 1997 "Seven Years in Tibet" even to the long, scraggly blond hair. It's not Brad's fault Hollywood no longer has any Kirk Douglas's or Charlton Hestons to take those roles of heroically proportioned, fully grown, adult males. If sometimes Brad looked like a nice high school senior suiting up for the championship county football game just keep in mind that pulling in $17.5 mil is damn good for a high school senior or anyone else for that matter.

Oh, by the way, Orlando Bloom made a terrific Paris, a cowardly wimp just as Homer described him and curiously, for you older folks, he bears a remarkable resemblance to John Derek who never made the millions Brad does but did marry Ursula Andress and Bo Derek to make up for it. All in all, I'd say if Homer was alive today I'd bet he would be gratified to see how Hollywood cleaned up his old Iliad and turned it into a good, fast-paced action story — especially if he could have gotten a piece of the box-office to say nothing of maybe having his name up there in the credits alongside of Brad's.

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