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26th-Jun-2004 06:54 pm
Oddly enough, I liked this movie. Maybe it was a case of lowered expectations. Or maybe it was that I could tell from the various references scattered throughout the script that, rather than the writers being the usual Hollywood-ignorant and screwing with things because they didn't know any better, I got a strong sense of, "Yes, we did read the Iliad, thank you very much. We're doing it differently. If you don't like it, TFB." Thus we get the various non-canonical outcomes for many of the major characters --- though I'll have to admit I rather liked the suspense of it ("wait, are they really going to kill Menelaus in this scene? nooo..." ... "Wait, are they really going to have Andromache and the kid escape the city? noooo...").

And sorry, but I liked Brad Pitt's Achilles. His arrogant asshole who wins his fights by being smarter and quicker than the other guy was spot on.

Peter O'Toole's Priam begging for the return of his son's body is worth the $9.

Nor can you call it ahistorical, because, really, Homer was messing around with the story, too, seeing as he composed his tale some 400 years after the fact (so far as we know). Never mind the 300-or-so years worth of transmitting stuff via oral tradition before the classical/Dorian Greeks finally figured out writing again (in a completely different language from what the Mycenaean Greeks were speaking). The time gap is rather similar to that between Geoffrey of Monmouth (1148 AD) and King Arthur (~500-600 AD, i.e., assuming he was historical at all) so you can figure the reliability is probably similar as well.

- - -

One thing that is bugging the crap out of me and is probably going to continue to bug the crap out of me as CGI gets better and better --- this all going under the general theme of "Just Because You Can Do Something Doesn't Mean You Should...":

I mean, yes, it's really cool that you can depict an army with quite literally a million men onscreen without actually having to hire that many extras; you just do the cut-and-paste photoshop-or-whatever thing and, before long, you've got this black wave of bodies sweeping across the desert. And for "Return of the King", at least, it made a fair amount of sense to be depicting a battle on which would turn the entire future of the human race as having some sizeable fraction thereof participating. It's all fantasy; Tolkien and Peter Jackson get to make the rules; la la la ...

But for Troy and Mycenaean Greece, I have to call bullshit. I'll grant I'm not the most avid student of military history, but I'm pretty sure you need a modern nation-state and mass conscription to be able to field armies that large (i.e., just forget about seeing that many people onscreen at a time running with weapons unless you're doing something Napoleonic or thereafter)

And even for Peter Jackson, you've still got the rather nasty question of what the supply train for that orc army looks like; I'm betting it'd be about ten times as impressive as the army itself.

Just for comparison, the entire Roman Army under Augustus was at most 125K men (and that's assuming all 28 legions were at full strength, which they hardly ever were). This is counting every last legionnaire bozo stationed in outposts across the entire Mediterranean, and they never, ever all gathered in one place --- not only was there no need, it would have been a Really Bad Idea for any number of reasons.

- - -

It's true that in book two of the Iliad, Homer gives a rather detailed listing of ships, 1164 in all, each supposedly carrying something on the order of 50-100 men. Taking that at face value, you've just maybe got 100,000 if all of those ships were stuffed to capacity.

But then you think about why that list is there. Figure you're a troubador going around reciting this poem; every time you visit Crapathus, you're gonna get to the stanza
And those that held Nisyrus, Crapathus, and Casus,
with Cos, the city of Eurypylus, and the Calydnian islands,
these were commanded by Pheidippus and Antiphus,
two sons of King Thessalus the son of Hercules.
And with them there came thirty ships.
they're gonna cheer; rooting for the home team, as it were. I figure somebody was doing lots of trips to Crapathus (I love that name) and eventually snuck that stanza in so he could collect a few more coins in the hat.

Repeat for every last diddlyshit town in Greece; you'll get to a thousand ships pretty quickly.

- - -

And those scenes of Priam looking out over the city with with temples, columns, and streets receding off into the distance, with big monstrous stone walls miles away, barely visible? Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Schliemann's site, or at least the layer thereof that best fits the bill --- a walled town that was destroyed by fire somewhere around 1200 BC, and that's pretty much all we really know about it --- is ... (drumroll) ... 750 feet across; figure maybe 10 acres or so within the "city" walls.

Figure maybe two or three times the size of The Alamo complex. Even without gunpowder, you're not going to need a hundred thousand guys to knock that over. Sorry.

- - -

It's all so annoying because all of the battle scenes in the Iliad are quite small. An intimate, little war where everybody knows your name. Hector kills Patroklos and everything just stops ("uh ok, I guess we call it a day, then?"). Just doesn't/can't work that way when you have a million guys slashing at each other in the background.

- - -

Of course, now I get to wondering what a vaguely authentic version would actually look like. I figure you take Achilles and his band of warriors, give them a ship. Mulitply by about 50 at the most. Maybe have 1E3 people inside the walls. Oh, and Anatolia back then was largely forest, not a desert, so there'd be all of these trees, too.

... in short it would look really low budget. Just a bunch of ragged savages going at each other. And really boring, too, because siege basically means you're just sitting outside the walls waiting for the folks inside to starve to death. Much easier than having to beat on them with swords.

Maybe the Mycenaeans really were that low budget, but no modern audience would believe it because of course the armor has to be shiny, and the (bronze) swords need to be Samurai-quality and go ZING! when they clash, and everybody knows what Greece looks like --- having it look like upstate New York would just lose --- and you just have to have the million guys charging across the screen, and well, ... bleah.

- - -

Oh, and just in case you wondering what happens "in the book" (it's not actually in the Iliad itself, but anyway): Remember that scene where Hector is showing Andromache the way out and describes what'll happen to her and the baby if they're still in the city when it falls? That's what happens.
26th-Jun-2004 11:04 pm (UTC)
I assume you've seen 'Troy' in 15 minutes. If not, read for much amusement.
26th-Jun-2004 11:30 pm (UTC)
well, I have now :)

she missed a couple 'PEOPLE WHO READ THE ILIAD: WTF?' opportunities. oh well.
27th-Jun-2004 08:02 am (UTC)
For ragged savages going at one another, you're going to have to wait for the upcoming King Arthur. lilituc says it looks like they really stuck to source material, not the later frenchified Malory.
27th-Jun-2004 02:06 pm (UTC)
like there's a whole lot of source material for King Arthur. Good trailer, though.
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