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In ancient Greece, the illicit and untamed passion of Paris of Troy for Helen of Sparta ignited a 10 year war; it sounds romantic until you see the close ups of battle. Wolfgang Petersen, noted for his ability to bring the big picture into our hearts and minds, recreates a 3,000 year old epic poem as epic cinema.

“There is an old saying that war brings out the worst and the best in human beings,” says acclaimed producer/director Wolfgang Petersen, talking about his latest epic, Troy. “But war is a disaster for everyone involved. While our film shows the spectacle of battle between tens of thousands of soldiers in a way that audiences have never seen before, the focus of our story is the timeless human aspect of the victories and defeats that Homer recorded.” 

Troy is inspired by the Iliad, an epic work attributed to the ancient poet Homer, considered to be the Western world’s original literary master. 

The passion of Paris, Prince of Troy (Orlando Bloom) and Helen (Diane Kruger), Queen of Sparta, ignites a war that will devastate a civilisation. When Paris steals Helen away from her husband, King Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), it is an insult that cannot be suffered. Familial pride dictates that an affront to Menelaus is an affront to his brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox), powerful King of the Mycenaeans, who soon unites all the massive tribes of Greece to steal Helen back from Troy in defence of his brother’s honour. The walled city, under the leadership of King Priam (Peter O’Toole) and defended by mighty Prince Hector (Eric Bana), is a citadel that no army has been able to breach. One man alone stands as the key to victory or defeat over Troy – Achilles (Brad Pitt), believed to be the greatest warrior alive. 

The epic poems Homer is credited with writing appear to have been written down in the 8th Century BC, 300-400 years after the supposed fall of Troy. While it isn’t clear whether Homer transcribed existing oral chronicles or was the sole and original creator, his work has survived the centuries to provide literature’s most compelling glimpse into the past.
“I don’t think that any writer in the last 3,000 years has more graphically and accurately described the horrors of war than Homer,” says Petersen. 

“But in his epic works, the human drama was overshadowed by the brutality. A contemporary audience needs to come into the story through the lives and passions of the real people caught up in this terrifying experience.” 


In creating a world more than 3,000 years ago, Petersen’s cast had to bring the film’s iconic characters to life with authenticity, while conveying the timelessness of their human drama. The casting of the unconquerable hero Achilles was key, and the filmmakers turned to Brad Pitt, star of such diverse films as Fight Club and Ocean’s Eleven and Golden Globe winner for his arresting performance in 12 Monkeys, to bring the legend to life. “Brad has both the talent and the magnetism to make Achilles believable as a tremendous warrior and charismatic leader without sacrificing his humanity in the process,” says Petersen. 

The film’s outstanding cast boasts both rising talent and illustrious veterans. Prince Hector is played by Eric Bana, star of Ang Lee’s Hulk. Orlando Bloom, who first received widespread acclaim for his work in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, plays the recklessly charming Prince Paris. Diane Kruger is Helen, the queen whose beauty launched a thousand ships, and Brendan Gleeson plays Menelaus, the king she left behind. The avaricious King Agamemnon is played by distinguished actor Brian Cox. 

Achilles’ mother Thetis and King Priam of Troy are played by movie greats Julie Christie, winner of the Best Actress Oscar for her starring role in Darling, and Peter O’Toole, himself a seven-time Academy Award nominee and the recipient of an honorary Oscar for his contributions to cinema history. 

Petersen is grateful to have a cast of the highest calibre. “We’re fortunate to have a blend of very talented new actors who are on the verge of becoming major stars, in the company of widely renowned established actors,” says the director. 

He leads a creative behind-the-scenes team that is as impressive as his cast. The film is adapted by David Benioff, author of both screenplay and novel for Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed film 25th Hour. Peter Honess, Oscar nominee for L.A. Confidential, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is the editor. Cinematographer Roger Pratt was nominated for an Oscar for his work on End of the Affair, and production designer Nigel Phelps designed the hugely successful Pearl Harbor and served as art director on Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

"enormity of this undertaking"

The work of re-creating the ancient world began on the stages of Shepperton Studios in London, then moved to the main island of the tiny Mediterranean nation of Malta. In addition to several beaches, the sea, cliffsides and a remote island, the production filmed in a city of Troy that was constructed on a ten acre compound. A measure of the enormity of this undertaking was defined by construction manager Malcolm Roberts, who noted that there was “more plaster being used in construction for this movie than in Gladiator and Harry Potter put together;” – over 140 tons.

Filming in Mexico was on an even grander scale; kilometres of open beaches served as the landing spot and beachhead encampment of the Greek armies. The Temple of Apollo overlooks from a distant hilltop the battleground on which armies of 50,000 and 25,000 clash. To film these scenes, 1,000-2,000 armed and costumed extras engage in choreographed combat, multiplied digitally to fill the canvas. On another expanse of arid acreage the walls and gate of Troy loom, impenetrable to all assault – save the trickery of a monstrous wooden horse.

(Troy opens nationally in Australia on May 13, 2004.)

Published April 29, 2004

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