Speaker by Various Artists

Troy and Troy again

by Mark Broatch

At least now we know what all the Greeks supposed to be building the Olympic village were doing. They were suffering the indignity of loincloths and lugging spears and shields around in the seething Maltese sun. Hopefully the pay is better.

Troy was a city, or rather nine or so cities, the scholars say, built one on top of the other, layer upon layer upon layer, like a huge Sara Lee Danish made of stone. It was probably built in north-western Turkey, suggests Wikipedia.

Because it was big and beautiful, it was attacked 3200 years ago by warriors from a thousand Greek ships. They were also incensed that the young prince Paris, looking a lot like a very pretty Orlando Bloom, had stolen away Helen, the wife of King Menelaus, looking like the splendid Irishman Brendan Gleeson (the king, that is, not Helen, who is some tasty German). His brother, Brian Cox, pardon, King Agamemnon, wanted to invade Troy anyway, so he got Brad Pitt to be superman Achilles and lead the battle. Troy's King Priam, aka Peter O'Toole, is still a feisty old bugger with an eloquent growl. But dad is getting old ... (anyone remember Inky Pinky the Elephant?). His first son Hector, or Eric Bana, or The Hulk, or Chopper, has long since taken over the family business.

Or so they'd have you believe ... Apparently the seige took maybe nine years and Hector had help from other great warriors. Etc. If Homer's Illiad has any basis in truth at all.

Anyway, the thousand ships land at a Mexican beach (this and E Tu Mama Tambien are better than any brochure to make you want to visit) because they couldn't find the right one at Malta. Bit of a detour but well worth the air miles and pina coladas. The tricky Trojans have put up tall wooden spikes to slow progress, reminding you freakily of Saving Private Ryan and Matt Damon's gloriously white teeth, and that war hasn't changed much in 3140 years and is still a Really Dumb Thing.

So seige and seige. Achilles has already proven what a man he is by bedding two women at once and killing some huge brute of a man -- with one blow (anyone remember Mickey Mouse in The Brave Little Tailor?). This anonymous extra is no usual Hollywood big-at-heart person, say, like Tom ... I mean Peter Dinklage. He must be seven foot, and built like a Greek dunny.

But Achilles is a complicated man, a caring, sharing kind of buff Venice Beach surfer-killer dude. He takes the captured cousin of Hector under his protection because she's, er, nice looking and feisty (spoiler: yes, he does bed her too; he's an Iron Age ladies' man, get over it).

Women are passive initiators of events. Hence the cliche about Helen, "The face that launched a thousand ships", and those others: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" (a dodgy one, that), Trojan horse and Achilles' heel.

Troy's Achilles' heel was the Trojan Horse, which lets in the generous Greeks. Hence the gore. As usual you don't actually see much of it on screen, but the crunch and squelch of bodies giving way to sharp hard things is quite sickening to some tender folk. The sound guys should get Oscars, or be locked away. It will be a very interesting day when the chief censor slaps an R18 rating on one of these bloodlusters.

Anyway, so the women get little to do apart from gape and gasp and whimper, while blokes fight and glower and stare into the middle distance. All very traditional in sandal epics. Peace is for women and the weak, after all. Empires are forged by war, we're told in that kind of heroic language made cool and respectable by Peter Jackson's writers ("It's too early in the day for killing princes"). Battlefield supremo Wolfgang Peterson, who helmed Das Boot and The (imperfect) Perfect Storm, lets everyone be Greek and Turkish in their own accents, which are mostly Brit and Aussie. This is just as well, given that no one remotely looks Greek or Turkish. Perhaps Brad's wife should have made a guest appearance for a touch more ethnic veracity.

The hot, barren locations, grand sets and CGI spectacle are suitably spectacular, and the wooden horse looks thrown together, which is appropriate. Everyone tries hard, especially Pitt and Bana and Sean Bean as another king, as well as O'Toole, though it just shows you how much physicality counts toward a convincing performance when you're a bit frail and rheumy-eyed. The arrow expertise Orlando gained in Lord of the Rings gets put to good use, which is good 'cos he's not up to much in the close-in stuff. Still, it gives the ladies a clear choice of hunk.

In truth the real heroes are those who threw themselves manfully in front of the chariots and horses and the rolling balls of fire (whoops!). I can just imagine the smoko chatter around the Olympic village, echoing the unnamed hordes from Lord of Rings now drifted quietly back into society. "That's me, third corpse from the left. They reckon I'll get another half-second on the DVD."