The Trojan War has become an infamous part of our cultural history that has kept themes like war, love, and politics relevant in our generation and the future generations to come. The story itself has been told numerously throughout the ages in forms of literature, theater, and most currently cinema with adaptations being done constantly. The worldwide text known to share the story of the Trojan War is Homer’s Iliad which takes readers over the ten year battle focusing on the concepts of mortality, fate, and relationships as it weaves in and out of each characters struggle and battles both physically and internally during the war.
Homer’s other narrative the Odyssey also focuses on the after effects of war taking us through Odysseus’ struggle to make it home while revealing some of the character’s lives post-war on his journey. The concepts and ideals both narratives have been able to give readers for centuries has kept interest not only in the authenticity of the Trojan War itself, but further developments into the deeper themes and meanings Homer was trying to create when writing these stories. The issue with several of the portrayals of the Trojan War onscreen is the inaccuracies both historically and textually that sample not only from Homer’s Iliad, but are not true adaptations.
These have led to several on screen adaptations both in film, theater, and television shows that have evolved since the early 1900’s. Some of the most current films portraying the Trojan War and focus on central characters have been: The Fall of Troy (1911), Ulysses (1955), Helen of Troy (1956), Troy (2004), Helen of Troy on PBS (2005). The Fall of Troy (1911) was the first film to ever adapt Troy into film and is silent, Italian, black and white production. Due to its early turn of the century release it is not available to mainstream audiences, but is revered for bringing the classic story to audience at the turn of the century. Ulysses (1955) was another Italian adaptation that focused on Homer’s Odyssey and the struggles he encounters on his way home from war. Most famously recognized for actor Kirk Douglas’s portrayal of Ulysses, the film kept an accurate account in relation to Homer. Helen of Troy (1956) is reminiscent of old Hollywood with a very dramatic, theatrical portrayal of the Trojan War that focuses primarily on the relationship of Prince Paris and Helen of Troy. Troy (2004) is the most popular adaptation of the Trojan War on the big screen with big stars like Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Eric Bana that focuses more on the internal dramatization of the relationships of main characters Achilles, Paris, and Hector. Helen of Troy on PBS (2005) is a television special that takes a more historical and factual perspective analyzing who Helen was as an individual and what her real position was within this legendary war. Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy has generated the most profit and criticism since its 2004 release and can be analyzed thoroughly since it’s what most audiences of this generation correlate the Trojan War to, despite many obvious inaccuracies.
The large cinematic blockbuster that has famously became known as Troy has generated fans worldwide who have fallen in love and taken devout interest in the subject only to be thoroughly disappointed when they see how askew Hollywood’s adaptation is. Troy was filmed at the height of America’s War on Terror bringing back the concept and values of “hero” into a worldwide mindset and idealistic approach. With soldiers overseas fighting this movie seemed to come into our culture at just the right time, reminding us not only of the essence of war, but the individuals and sacrifice behind it. The movie itself keeps Homer’s wide cast of characters from “the face that launched a thousand ships” we’ve come to know as Helen, to the fighting machine we remember as the almighty Achilles. Everything was done very selectively in the movie from the casting, to the big budget war sequences and fights. While the movie contains several traditional cinematic elements needed for a heroic narrative like relationships, rise & fall, politics, war and morality, it is not Homer’s Iliad.
Troy deviates from many narrative pieces Homer establishes in the Iliad in terms of development of the characters and storylines and instead samples and rewrites its own twist on the story. For avid readers of the story or people who have studied the Trojan War it is obvious from the first scene of the film that this story is not a direct correlation to Homer’s. Several differences can be spotted between the film and text, most common are: The 10 day war in the film versus the 10 years of the Iliad, the references to the God’s in the movie in contrast to their essential roles played in almost every chapter of the Iliad, Briseis who is the cause of Achilles and Agamemnon’s quarrel in the Iliad and her main role as Achilles lover throughout the entirety of the film. The end of the film also in true Hollywood fashion dramatized the urban myth of the “Achilles heel” and places Paris, Achilles, and Briseis at the sack of Troy with Paris killing Achilles and Briseis and Achilles giving a lover’s goodbye before his untimely death. Hollywood’s need to change the story catered not only to the actor’s portrayed in the film, but their perspectives of what Homer’s true intentions were, in which they merely scratched the surface of what is a truly complex situation for each character. The movie focuses very heavily on the relationships of each hero, and aside from a few CGI’ed battle sequences gives little “war” to the Trojan War. At the heart of the movie remain the many conflicting relationships, and choices that Homer’s Iliad does create for us, but lacks the depth and complexity needed to truly correlate the book to the film.
At the time of it’s release and even now many of the themes stay relevant in which it serves as a reminder to audiences the never-ending cycle of war and its ability to touch individuals from all aspects. It brings back the “hero” motif to audiences which is relevant and needed not only for us as individuals but our culture who strives to seek for the good in people despite the many woes politically and economically we have had. The progression of these films throughout the decades remind audiences of our complexity’s as individuals as well as garnering appreciation for a classic story that is never without something to teach us.