As longtime followers of the high-def format war well know, this edition of 'Troy' isn't the first version of the film to hit high-def, but it is the first verison to hit Blu-ray. Released by Warner Home Video to HD DVD exclusively just over a year ago in its original theatrical cut, until now 'Troy' had been among a handful of high-profile titles from the format-agnostic studio to not be released on both high-def formats. Warner's reasoning at the time stemmed from its inability to replicate the HD DVD edition's "In Movie Experience" (IME) for Blu-ray. Rather than issue a "lesser" Blu-ray edition, the studio opted to not release one at all.
Although Warner has since reversed this policy for its more recent IME releases, this Blu-ray release of 'Troy' isn't a make-good -- instead, it's a brand new cut of the film, hitting all three home video formats (DVD, HD DVD and Blu-ray) concurrently. Will it be enough to satisfy Blu-ray fans who've waited over a year for their first high-def taste of 'Troy'? Read on...
I've got to hand it to Warner -- more than any other studio, they've really put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting the original artistic visions of filmmakers. In just the last couple years alone, the studio has announced new video releases of the unexpurgated, director-approved cuts of such disparate titles as 'Blade Runner,' 'Alexander: Revisited,' 'Cruising,' and the late Stanley Kubrick's much-maligned 'Eyes Wide Shut.' Regardless of whether these retools actually improve upon the original theatrical versions, it's a boon for film buffs to see the filmmakers’ original intentions hit the screen (albeit the small one).
Now we have the 'Troy: Director's Cut,' a new version of Wolfgang Petersen's 2004 big-budget sword 'n' sandals epic. Although few were crying out for a longer version of a film that didn't receive particularly strong notices in the first place (this is no 'Blade Runner,' or even an 'Eyes Wide Shut'), Petersen apparently felt that the theatrical cut could be improved, so he reinstated over 30 minutes of excised plot and character material. The result is a film that already ran 163 minutes now runs even longer, with this 'Director's Cut' clocking in at a butt-numbing 198 minutes.
Before I launch into my critique and a comparison of the film's two versions, first a quick plot recap. In this loose retelling of Homer's "The Iliad," it is the year 1250 B.C. and two emerging nations have begun to clash after the Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) convinces Helen, Queen of Sparta (Diane Kruger), to leave her husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and sail with him back to Troy. After Menelaus finds out that Helen was taken by the Trojans, he asks his brother Agamemnom (Brian Cox) to help him get her back. Agamemnon sees this as an opportunity for a power grab. The Greeks set off with 1,000 ships holding 50,000 Greeks to Troy. With the help of the great warrior Achilles (Brad Pitt), the Greeks are able to fight the never-defeated Trojans. However, their victory could prove to be short-lived when they confront Hector (Eric Bana), another Trojan prince, who is determined to win no matter the cost.
In the new introduction recorded for this 'Director's Cut,' Petersen states that with the film having made its theatrical debut long ago, the "pressure is now off" and he was free to allow his "characters to breathe" by expanding upon their stories and relationships. Of course, he has also added a good deal of visceral, gut-churning violence and gore -- which I'm sure makes this new release all the more marketable.
The new additions to 'Troy' are significant, yet they don't radically alter the basic structure and scope of the film. There is a rejiggered opening which moves a bit "slower" than the original, but I liked it better. Also greatly expanded are two key relationships in the film: the affair between Helen and Paris gets a bit more weight thanks to a couple of extra (and steamier) scenes, while Achilles and Agamemnon also get down to some serious head-butting, which does a nice job of upping the tension. The battle sequences are also torqued up, and far more swords make contact with flesh -- I counted at least ten new geysers of blood in the centerpiece "beach siege," including Pitt nearly slicking a guy's head in two like a melon. (Yes, it's overkill, but who am I to argue with the director's intentions?)
Unfortunately, all of this doesn't really solve the key problems of the original cut. As I first wrote in my HD DVD review of the theatrical cut, if you're a history buff or a fan of "The Illiad," then you'd be well-advised to throw all of your prior knowledge out of the window before sitting down to watch this. Even with an extra 30-odd minutes of additional character-building material, Petersen and screenwriter David Benioff apparently labeled "accuracy" the enemy, and turned 'Troy' into a mega-budgeted soap opera on the grand order of such notorious boondoggles as Elizabeth Taylor's 'Cleopatra.' With so much sturm und drang on display, Homer's complex, interwoven narrative and multifaceted characters have been minced into a clunky patchwork of its three or four mini-stories.
To be fair, this 'Director's Cut' does improve upon the stop-start pacing that often deflated the momentum between the disparate narrative threads in the original version. Still, the intended epic feel of the film remains minimized -- 'Troy' feels small and narratively insignificant, not grand and weighty. Erase the CGI armies, clashing swords and flexing biceps (really, Pitt should have won an Oscar here for best pectoral muscles), and Petersen and company have managed to turn an epic myth of war, honor, betrayal and power into something as petty as the average CW teen drama.
Also, let it be said that even with expanded screentime, Bloom and particularly Pitt are pretty awful. The latter's line readings and West Coast accent are seriously about as believable as Jeff Spicoli as a gladiator. Though Bana acquits himself a bit better than the other two leads (at least he brings a certain heft and gravity to Hector), this is still the equivalent of watching a bunch of bratty, spoiled kids destroy their families and decimate whole nations.
Both versions of 'Troy' do have some highlights. The second act battle where the Greeks get clobbered until Achilles and his soldiers storm the beach is as visually spectacular as anything Petersen has put on screen (even if it is just the Bronze Age version of 'Saving Private Ryan'). And again, in this director's cut it is even more gruesome and bone-rattling. There are also a few welcome casting choices that don't kowtow to teen sensibilities. Petersen wisely nabbed Cox, Gleeson and most notably Peter O'Toole for key roles, and all imbue their characters with a wisdom and depth sorely lacking elsewhere.
All in all, this director's cut isn't likely to change anyone's opinion of the film itself. Even in his own introduction, Petersen makes no claims that his vision was compromised by the original version. This is simply a different look at the same film, and as such, it's longer but not really all that richer. Still, I applaud Warner for continuing to churn out these extended director's versions, and fans of 'Troy' will certainly want to revisit the film again in its newly expanded form.
Warner has created a new master for this retooled 198-minute 'Director's Cut,' and happily the integration of the additional material is seamless -- I never noticed a single jump or inconsistent quality from scene to scene. Even better, this 1080p/VC-1 encode (identical on both the Blu-ray and new HD DVD) is slightly superior to the old HD DVD version of the theatrical cut -- it's a bit more natural, better balanced and a tad more three dimensional.
As I wrote in my original HD DVD review of 'Troy,' I found that earlier transfer to be a bit too blown out in the whites, which left the many ultra-bright exteriors looking somewhat washed-out. I also thought that sharpness was a bit lacking at times, with darker scenes looking rather soft. This version doesn't completely eradicate those issues, but it does lessen them somewhat. I still feel the sun-drenched panoramas are too brightly lit -- the visual style veers towards television banality -- but contrast is kept slightly more in check, making fine details a bit more visible. Blacks are also spot-on, although as before, darker scenes still feel rather flat and soft.
All other aspects of the transfer are first-rate. Colors are excellent, with the rich palette perfectly saturated with no noise, smearing, or fuzziness. Fleshtones are an absolutely lovely shade of orange throughout. The presentation also boasts a wonderful sense of three-dimensionality that often rivals the best high-def -- even the widest shots have excellent clarity and fine detail. Compression artifacts are also not an issue, with no banding, pixelization or macroblocking evident.
Things divurge slightly in the audio department, with the Blu-ray and HD DVD editions of 'Troy: Director's Cut' getting slightly different audio tracks -- this Blu-ray edition gets an uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround (48kHz/16-bit), while the HD DVD gets Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround (48kHz/16-bit). Although I generally tend to enjoy PCM tracks slightly more than Dolby TrueHD, after doing a back-and-forth compare of a quintet of scenes, in this case I found the differences to be negligible at best. Both tracks are excellent, and I'd be completely happy with either mix. (Note that both editions also include optional 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes.)
The movie’s sound design is maximized to clobber you over the head. If any scene features a clanking sword or Eric Bana screaming, "For Troy!", then you're going to hear it in your surrounds. Fine sonic shadings are easily discernible in the rears, and the overall "wall of sound" effect during the battle scenes is quite impressive. The accuracy of localized effects is excellent throughout, and imaging is transparent -- the "360-degree effect" is palpable. Dynamics also border on the stunning, with the subwoofer delivering a wallop, and James Horner's score sounding particularly rich and soaring. Dialogue is also expertly balanced, which is especially welcome on a big-budget, bombastic action spectacle like this.
As was the case with the previous HD DVD, however, I still found non-action scenes lacking in sustained atmosphere. Disappointingly, the sound design for the newly-added scenes seems to be a slight cut below the rest, as if not quite as much attention was paid to maintaining a consistency in terms of aggressiveness. Still, where it counts most, both the PCM and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks deliver in spades.
As mentioned earlier, this cross-format release of 'Troy: Director's Cut' follows an earlier HD DVD edition, which was arguably most notable for its inclusion of one of Warner's "In Movie Experience" (IME) picture-in picture video commentaries. Although that track is nowhere to be found on either of the new next-gen editions, most of the additional making-of content it contained has been repurposed here in featurette form. Still, it's a bit of a disappointment -- the extras now feel like the mere ports that they are. Warner hasn't even upgraded the video beyond its mediocre 480p/i/MPEG-2 origins.
The heart of the original extras were three featurettes totaling 42 minutes, and all are retained here. "In the Thick of Battle" offers an analysis of the film's battle scenes. "From Ruins to Reality" cover the film's production design and the filmmakers' self-proclaimed devotion to historical accuracy. "Troy: An Effects Odyssey" gives a rudimentary look at the basics of CGI filmmaking. Unfortunately, most of this stuff is pretty pat by today's standards -- we've seen it all before (and better) in such epic DVD sets as 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy.
Thankfully, the two new featurettes dig beyond the effects and action to explore the film's story, themes, characters and source material. (However, this is all culled from the same batch of EPK interviews and behind-the-scenes material as the earlier IME track, so if you own the previous HD DVD, this will look awfully familiar.) "Troy in Focus" runs 23 minutes and gives a pretty good overview of the film, from gestation through production to editing. After all the endless technical coverage in the older featurettes, it's refreshing to hear Wolfgang Petersen and screenwriter David Benioff discuss adapting Homer and the changes/compressions that needed to be made for a reasonable theatrical length.
"Attacking Troy" runs 14 minutes and dissects the film's battle scenes, both from a technical and an historical perspective. The centerpiece beach siege occupies a huge chunk of this material, as does the filmmakers' quest to retain at least some sense of verisimilitude to the period. As mentioned earlier, the battle scenes in this new director's cut are particularly bloody, and this one isn't for the squeamish, either.
The last featurette tacked onto this Blu-ray is titled "Greek Ship Towing," but it's a truly inexplicable 1-minute montage of crude CGI graphics featuring a Greek warship being chased by (wait for it) giant rubber duckies. Seriously, if any readers out there have any insight into just what in the heck this vignette is supposed to mean, please email me... I'm utterly lost.
Rounding out the extras is the film's original Theatrical Trailer, presented here in 480p/MPEG-2 video only.
Note also that the original HD DVD version included an additional extra called "Gallery of the Gods," which was an animated map to Greek history. It's not included here, but I personally found it to be a pretty useless feature.
The additions to 'Troy: Director's Cut' are substantial enough to make this new release a net gain over the theatrical edition. But whatever its form, 'Troy' is still not a great film, and the problems with the original cut remain despite the copious amount of new footage. Likewise, overall this Blu-ray release is on par with both of the HD DVD editions. The video and audio are equally terrific, and the re-jiggered supplements are more or less equivalent -- although this one lacks the whiz-bang technology of the first HD DVD edition's In-Movie Experience track, some new featurettes pick up the slack. A nice companion piece to the original, this Blu-ray edition of 'Troy: Director's Cut' is well worth a look.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.