Troy (2004)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Brian Cox, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger
Extras: Featurettes, In-Movie Experience, Gallery Of The Gods

For some reason a lot of people do not like Wolfgang Petersen's "Troy." I am not sure, why that is. Never really figured it out. While it is certainly not a masterpiece or landmark film, I've always enjoyed it for what it is and can't understand why it is takign that much flak. A 21st century historic spectacle made purely for entertainment purposes and a rush of adrenaline, it is not that much different from other action films Hollywood has served up for countless years, so why the animosities? For what it is, I think it succeeds quite well. And while it may not be an entirely accurate history lesson, at least it reminds us to a degree why names like Achilles, Hector, Helen of Troy or Agamemnon have never been lost to time. Warner Home Video has now prepared a HD-DVD version of the movie that I was more than happy to check out.

Agamemnon (Brian Cox) is driven by greed for power. He is the one king who defeated all the other independent kingdoms that made up Greece in 3200 BC and is now considered the sole ruler of Greece. A lot of this has been achieved by using his secret weapon, Achilles. Achilles (Brad Pitt) is the best warrior that ever graced the Earth and is seemingly invincible as he defeats even the most menacing foes with ease in the blink of an eye – as witnessed in the film's opening minutes.

But as it is with all too many people who thirst for power, there is never enough and so Agamemnon is looking across the Aegean Sea at the kingdom of Troy, wishing he could own it as well. When the two Trojan princes Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) visit Agamemnon's brother Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) where Paris falls in love with Menelaus' wife Helen (Diane Kruger). He ushers her away with him to Greece unbeknownst to Menelaus who is beside himself when he learns about it. This was the only reason Agamemnon needed to start war with Troy and he assembles a legion of 50,000 soldiers to sail for Troy. The rest, as they say, is history and has been extensively covered by writers and historians of the time.

The movie features a great cast and whether it is Brian Cox as Agamenmon, Brad Pitt as Achilles, Peter O'Toole as Priam or Eric Bana as Hector, the film is filled with great performances and actors that bring them to life. The movie also boasts great cinematography with great vista shots and nicely intimate interiors. The movie contains a lot of computer-generated effects shots, such as the Greek fleet sailing across the Aegean, the landing on the beach of Troy and, of course, the shots of the massive Greek and Trojan armies. These shots work pretty well within the context and don't reveal themselves too obviously.

There is one major quibble however that I have with the film in general – as well as countless similarly themed films before – and it's a matter of ethnicity. Troy was located in what is today's Turkey. However none of the people in Troy look even remotely Turkish. They are all perfectly tanned Americans. The same goes for the Greeks in the film, most of which are once again blonde or brunette tanned Americans or Scotsmen. Another slight problem for me is the look of the landscape surrounding Troy, which is not even close to what the coast along the Aegean looks like. But let's move on…

Warner Home Video has prepared a great-looking transfer of the movie for this HD-DVD release. In light that the DVD version looked pretty spectacular already, the high definition transfer may not be as dramatic an improvement as in some other cases, but still it revels in additional detail and texture the way no DVD can. The fine sandy texture of the landscapes and structures, the way clothing and skin is reproduced. Unfortunately the level of detail doesn't hold up too well in the movie's money shots where armies of men can be seen. Maybe the resolution of the computer generated effects was just not high enough during the production but there is a very noticeable softness and lack of detail in these shots that brings down the overall look of the film a notch. Color reproduction on the other hand is spectacular and the beautified shots of the turquoise ad deep blue ocean against the sandy beach with blue skies is remarkably vivid and contains subtle hues that were remiss in the DVD. Black levels are absolutely solid and deep giving the image good visual depth and helping to bring out fine details in the picture at all times. The compression of the transfer is without flaws or compression artifacts. Overall however, the HD-DVD version does not the kind of spectacular showcase presentation one might have expected from this film.

The disc contains a 5.1 channel Dolby TrueHD audio track which is truly a blast – in the truest sense of the word. Incredible aggressive and active, the disc treats you to a sonic experience you won't forget too easily. Considering that the entire film is created more around the action and spectacle than characters it is hardly surprising that the audio track follows suit and creates a sound field that is wide and extremely active in the surrounds. With a bass extension that can shake the foundation of your house and a dynamic range that can literally produce shockwaves, this is a track that will make you check out certain scenes again and again. The fact that we are treated to completely lossless audio helps tremendously as every little detail in the audio mix is coming through with a clarity that is very rare and exceeds any movie theater presentation.
Despite being so aggressive and active, however the track is very balanced and even quite dialogue is never drowned out or too low in volume to understand.

The HD-DVD version carries over the extras from the previous DVD version, which were a bit on the promotional side rather than the educational. In the featurettes a lot of hoopla is being made about the special effects and the battle scenes for example, but the way the material is laid out is neither really informative nor entertaining. Since it is all stuff that has been covered ad nauseam on countless other DVD releases a new approach might have helped here.

The "Gallery Of The Gods" is nice but bogged down by a crummy interface and the lack of real in-depth information about the characters it discusses. To me, television is simply not a good medium for text display, be that in standard definition or high definition.

As a new, exclusive supplement, this HD-DVD contains an in-movie experience track that runs alongside the feature film in a small video window in the screen's corner. Fortunately for viewers Warner is not simply rehashing footage and clips form the other featurettes but offers up a significant amount of new information, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. In terms of information this video commentary provides much better and deeper insight into the making of the movie and the filmmakers' intentions than the featurettes do and from that standpoint it is well worth checking out. On the other hand I am personally not a big fan of these video commentaries so your mileage may vary, depending on how much you like to have your attention divided between the feature film and the supplemental video stream that constantly goes along with it.

Some additional previz footage is also included on the disc that has not been part of the DVD version.

"Troy" is an entertaining movie if you take it at face value. Light on characters and heavy on the action, the film nonetheless brings to life some important and remarkable historic events. While it isn't perfect it is definitely fun to watch. The HD-DVD version leaves a good impression but fails to completely dazzle as a result of its average video presentation. Still, it's a solid disc and always a good buy – and the TrueHD audio track is definitely something to write home about!