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Your High School Teacher’s New Babysitter

Troyblog_2 Up until the release of Troy (2004), many a high school’s go-to Greco-Roman epic was probably Clash of the Titans (1981). Despite performances just as corny as its stop-action special effects, Titans could masquerade as educational because it reflected a traditional take on The Classics (without forsaking Hollywood’s happy ending).  As Perseus, Harry Hamlin was serious, studied, and certainly convincing enough for my own high school English teacher to let him take over the lesson plans at the end of a long semester. After weeks of spoon-feeding Homer’s Odyssey and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology to a bunch of gum-snapping teens, my beleaguered teacher collapsed at the back of her dark classroom while we watched the slaying of Medusa, the defeat of the Kraken, and the courting of Andromeda. Nowadays, Ms. Myers would have a better choice.

Like Titans, Troy casts a strong-but-silent type as its demigod hero then packs in a pantheon of brawny co-stars to flesh out the warrior-angst. Thank Zeus, Brad Pitt’s Achilles is more psychologically complex than Hamlin’s Perseus. There’s a fascinating mix of ambition and brotherhood at work here that make his character’s bloodlust totally believable. And unlike Titans, Troy leaves its divinity at the door. David Benioff’s script is unafraid to steal characters and storylines outside Homer’s Iliad as it aims for historical accuracy and motivational truth. What we lose in mythology, we gain in logic. Instead of a farcical sword fight pitting good against evil, Troy portrays war as a political act with very human repercussions. Such a viewpoint may disappoint the classic scholars in the audience (and perhaps even a few high school English teachers), but in its favor Troy resonates with a subtext more profound than Play-Doh sea monsters on a blue-screen background. There are no magic shields, no invisible cloaks, no godly assurances of protection in battle. These are soldiers with little more than their own virtue to protect them. The rest is left to fate.

Troy, AMC’s premiere event, plays tonight (and Sunday, January 6) at 8 p.m.

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