In Match Cuts, we examine every available version of a film, and decide once and for all which is the one, definitive cut worth watching. This week, in honor of Brad Pitt’s role in the recently released baseball drama “Moneyball” we’re taking a look at the epic war film “Troy.”
Theatrical Cut (2004): 163 minutes
Director’s Cut (2007): 196 minutes
After years of fighting, the kingdoms of Sparta and Troy reach a peace accord. But the morning after the alliance is formed, Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) leaves Sparta with the Spartan queen, Helen (Diane Kruger). The king of Sparta, Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), is none too pleased; he convinces his power-hungry brother Agamemnon (Brian Cox), ruler of all of Greece, to join him in an invasion of Troy. Though the war between Greece and Troy is an epic affair with thousands of combatants, its outcome will ultimately rest on the fate and fighting skills of two men: Paris’ older, wiser brother Hector (Eric Bana) and Achilles (Brad Pitt), the world’s greatest warrior and an extremely reluctant soldier for Agamemnon.
REASON FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS:
In an 2007 interview with IGN, Wolfgang Petersen blamed the necessity of a “Troy” Director’s Cut on “the pressure of a timed release.” He added, “It’s all about previews and studio notes. Short attention spans. Too sexy; too violent. We need a PG-13… and all of a sudden, you don’t realize that you are working exactly against the spirit of the original material.” That counterproductive spirit apparently produced the two hour and forty-five minute version of “Troy” that was released in theaters (it was rated R, though, not PG-13). The film’s successful run at the box office — almost $500 million worldwide — ensured that Petersen got the opportunity to rectify the mistakes he felt he made in the original cut.
KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MULTIPLE VERSIONS (SPOILERS AHEAD):
The key difference between the two “Troy”‘s can be summed up in one word: “more.” There’s more graphic violence in the battle scenes and more graphic nudity in the sex scenes. There are more scenes in total, and there’s more dialogue in the existing scenes. The Director’s Cut clocks in at a whopping three hours and fifteen minutes: a full half-hour longer than the Theatrical Cut. If I listed every difference between the cuts we’d be here for a week — there are literally hundreds of them (if you’re curious, this site has a pretty thorough accounting, spread across two ginormous pages). So let’s stick to the big’uns
The Director’s Cut is different right from the opening frames. After a few identical expository title cards, it inserts a totally new introduction: a scruffy dog wandering a battlefield littered with dead soldiers. The dog finds what must be its master as crows are picking at its flesh. After the dog scares off the crows and licks the dead man’s face, it turns and sees the armies of Agamemnon approaching, which is where the Theatrical Cut begins. Petersen immediately sets the tone for what the Director’s Cut will offer: more emotional heft and more gory details about the brutality of war.
That’s definitely true of the end of the Director’s Cut, which is also wildly different than the Theatrical Cut. The changes really begin after the Greek forces — SPOILER ALERT FOR ANCIENT HISTORY!!! — sneak inside the Trojan city in a giant wooden horse. The Director’s Cut extends the invasion and radically changes the tone and tenor of the scene. The sacking of Troy in the Theatrical Cut plays as a grand tragedy, with melancholic choral music and elliptical editing. In the Director’s Cut, the sequence is like something out of a horror movie: the music is aggressive and the content is much more disturbing, with plenty of images of rape, hangings, gory sword slashes, and even a couple baby murders. Baby murders! Petersen ain’t messing around.
Some of the new material enriches our understanding of the characters, but other added scenes feel repetitive or even contradictory. The one below is a good example. It comes after Hector and Menelaus have reached their peace agreement, and Paris has shagged Menelaus’ wife Helen. Hector spots Paris returning from an evening spent playing a game of Hide the Trojan Horse.
Stripped of its context in the film, the scene is fine. But within the body of “Troy,” that exchange is followed immediately by Paris coming to Hector the next morning as they’re sailing for Troy and asking if he loves him and would protect him against any enemy. Hector jokes that he hasn’t seen Paris this nervous since he was ten years old and had just stolen their father’s horse. Paris says he has something to show Hector, then brings him below decks and reveals Helen.
In the Theatrical Cut, without the above embedded scene, that series of events works fine. Hector is curious of Paris’ activities but not necessarily sure of what he’s done. And Paris knows what he’s doing is wrong, but he’s young and innocent and flush with love. In the Director’s Cut, that extra scene makes Hector look like a moron (as soon as Paris comes to him, he should know what he’s talking about) and it makes Paris look like an even more selfish asshole than he already did (because his brother specifically warns him not to meddle with the peace accord their father spent years building). Perhaps that was Petersen’s goal; heroes of Greek myth often have tragic flaws. In the Director’s Cut, Hector and Paris have them in spades.
While there are some nice extensions of existing scenes, including an early moment ironic foreshadowing between Hector and Menelaus, a lot of the wholly new material was probably better left on the cutting room floor, like this goofy introduction of Odysseus (Sean Bean), who’ll later take part in the Trojan invasion, with the rape and the baby murder and the Jell-O pudding and the so on:
IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VERSION OF “TROY,” WATCH:
The Theatrical Cut. “Troy” got tepid reviews when it opened in theaters in 2004, and much stronger notices in Director’s Cut form in 2007. But watching them back-to-back, I found myself preferring the theatrical experience. The Theatrical Cut is already pretty epic at a shade under three hours; the behemoth Director’s Cut is a wee bit too epic for my taste. In the final accounting, I didn’t feel like the marginally improved character dynamics of the second version were worth the sacrifice of the original cut’s superior pacing. I mean, if you really feel like watching Sean Bean have a lovefest with a dog enhances the picture, then by all means, go for the Director’s Cut. If you want to see Brad Pitt’s ass — and I’m not judging you if you do, it’s a pretty impressive ass — you’ll want the Director’s Cut. If you need to see more decapitations and gore because “that’s the way things really were back then,” again, the Director’s Cut is for you as well. But to me, this is pretty obviously not the way things were back then. Brad Pitt and Eric Bana’s wandering accents and the impossibly convenient way enormous battles of thousands of men stop on a dime to watch two dudes duel pretty much convinced me that this was a movie, not a historical document. And as a movie, I liked it shorter.
The Director’s Cut of “Troy” is available on DVD or Blu-ray; the Theatrical Cut is only available on DVD. Which is your favorite cut of the film? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.