"So, is Brad Pitt a good guy or a bad guy?" I hear a man behind me ask as I sit at a screening for "Troy," the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Pitt plays Achilles, the not-so-good Greek hero of Homer's "Iliad."
So it's clear the audience hasn't read Homer or doesn't know that Hollywood took his epic and whittled it down to a pic.
Too bad. The makers of the movie did a number of things right. Pitt is the perfect Achilles -- bronzed, muscular, ruthless and entirely absorbed in amassing personal fame. He's "a temperamental superstar," UC Berkeley Classics Professor Stephen Miller said of Achilles (or could have said of Pitt).
It is well cast. Peter O'Toole steals the show as Troy's King Priam; Sean Bean works as Odysseus. Julie Christie has the star-power to play Achilles' mother Thetis.
The Trojan horse manages to inspire awe without looking like a special effect, even if the producers shorted the heartbreaking scenes of the Trojans welcoming the lethal gift.
Why does Hollywood feel a need to take an exceptional tale but then twist it into the same old story? Unlikable guy becomes likable -- again and again. Or as the press kit explains: Achilles' "insatiable hunger for eternal renown" leads him to Troy, "but it will be love that ultimately decides his fate."
It is as if the writer didn't even bother with the CliffsNotes or to read the first line of the epic poem. Hint: "The Iliad" is about "The Wrath of Achilles." It's not about Achilles turning into Mr. Sensitivity.
"The Iliad'' is about an old code of honor and conquest. The characters in "Troy" are New Age apostles who regurgitate the same sound bites and psycho-babble you can hear any night on TV.
It's ironic that this politically correct version of "The Iliad" dispenses with Achilles' most intimate attachment, fellow warrior Patroclus. They're too close for a buddy movie.
Enter the Beautiful-Yet-Spunky Young Woman, Briseis, who in Homer's story is a piece of chattel, won in battle after Achilles slaughters her husband and family.
In celluloid "Troy," she's a virgin who is "seemingly the only person alive who isn't awed by Achilles' personal power." (That's from the press kit, and not remotely true in the movie. Briseis, after all, saw Pitt without his loincloth.) Rose Byrne, who plays the part, explains that her character "becomes the emotional core of Achilles."
Emotional core? In Achilles' world, that's the solar plexus.