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An epic effort

Filming Homer's `Iliad' is always a challenge for Hollywood. The latest is the Warner Brothers' version, "Troy," made on a $200-million budget. Will it make money, asks V. GANGADHAR.

ON MAY 14, nearly 3,500 theatres in the U.S. and the rest of the world celebrated the commercial release of the latest Hollywood film, "Troy," which was also shown at the Cannes film festival.

"Troy" is more than `mythology, war and beautiful people with no body hair' as described by Time magazine. The film recounts events, which supposedly took place nearly 3000 years ago, the invasion of Troy by the Greeks. The issue? A woman, Helen of Troy. No ordinary woman at that. In his `Dr Faustus,' Christopher Marlowe described Helen as the `face which launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium.' Acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women, Helen, like another beauty, Cleopatra, while being the cause of destruction of kingdoms, has been the inspiration of poets, writers and movie-makers. Though a1954 film, "Helen of Troy" with Rossena Podesta, flopped, the movie quest for Helen continues and this Warner Brothers' version cost a cool $200 million. Filming an epic is always a challenge. "Troy" has great heroes, battles and events. Based on Homer's `Iliad,' it has more drama and passion than the `Odyssey' which deals with the adventures of the Greek hero, Odysseus, after the Trojan war, which would not have happened but for the interaction of Gods with humans.

Paris, the lover-boy son of King Priam of Troy, chooses a beauty queen among the goddesses. The winner promises him Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world as the bride, despite the fact that she is married to King Menelaus. Helen and Paris elope, leading to a destructive war between the two nations where great warriors like Achilles, Hector, Ajax fight and are killed. Troy is finally overcome with the strategy of the Trojan Horse! Maverick director Wolfgang Petersen ("In the Line of One," "Air Force 1") who had reportedly turned down "Gladiator" did not repeat the mistake. He drops the gods from the script. His "Troy" is all about human beings ("great lovers and great battles") and is the biggest ever movie made since "Titanic." Petersen cast `beautiful' people for the major roles — Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector, Orlando Bloom as Paris besides persuading Hollywood immortals Peter O'Toole and Julie Christie to play King Priam and Thetis, mother of Achilles, respectively.

After a worldwide search, German newcomer, Diane Kruger, landed the plum part of Helen. Pitt spent months learning the proper dialect, polishing his fencing skills and putting on an extra 10 lbs for his role. ``I have not done any work for the past two years, so why not try out this role in an epic,'' he explains. In view of the Iraq war, location shooting was shifted from Morocco to Malta and then Mexico.

Mexico was furnace hot, but the long stretches of isolated beaches were ideal for the battle scenes, which featured 50,000 digital fighters and 1,500 extras as warriors including 250 bulky weight lifters from Bulgaria. Two hundred tonnes of heavy equipment arrived by sea and 200 tonnes of plastic were used to build a 40 feet by 500 feet wall. Steel wire was used to make the famous Trojan horse. As in any other big budget films, location shooting had its share of hazards. The towers of Troy were blown away during a hurricane and before the vital battle scenes, 4,000 specimens of rare cacti and hundreds of endangered turtles had to be shifted to safety.

A further month was lost while Pitt, ironically, injured his Achilles tendon! Will the 160-minute epic movie make money? No one is prepared to guess.

In 2003, another big movie, "Matrix Reloaded" collected $ 91.7 million during its initial two-week run. In the subsequent two weeks, the take slumped to around $17 million. Why then take such risks? ``Audacity!'' explains director Petersen. But the movie, besides magnificent fight scenes between Paris and Menelaus, Hector and Ajax, Hector and Achilles has other memorable moments. Landing on the shores of Troy, Achilles urges his men, ``Go and get your immortality.'' Pitt explains why he did the movie. ``There is a small scene where Priam asks for the body of his son. Says Achilles, `If I do this for you, you're still my enemy in the morning.' And Priam replies, `you're still my enemy tonight but even enemies can show respect.' It's possibly one of the best scenes I have done with one of the best actors of our time.''


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