Netflix and BBC’s Troy Falls Into Mediocrity

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Image Source: http://www.newonnetflix.info

I have a deep love of the classics, although my experience skews toward Latin and the Aeneid, which are about the Romans. However, Romans were big fans of copying everything the Greeks did. Virgil, who wrote the Aeneid, was heavily influenced by the Greek blind poet Homer, and his Iliad and its sequel, the Odyssey.

It’s arguable that these two epic poems are the foundation of Western literature. And I can tell you that like the Aeneid, the Iliad and the Odyssey are really, really good. So I saw there was a joint BBC-Netflix production of Troy and I was ready to dig into eight episodes of siege-worthy glory.

But, for the first time in a really long time, I’ve been sorely disappointed by a BBC production. (If you look at the IMdB reviews, you’ll see others are a lot more salty than I am.)

Here are my issues:

Factual errors

Everyone knows that the fall of Troy is about Paris, prince of Troy, and Helen, who abandoned her husband Menelaus and their daughter in Sparta to be with Paris, sparking an international incident that led to a 10-year-siege. The city eventually falls when Trojans, starving, encounter a wooden horse on the beach they think the Greeks have deserted. They determine the horse is an offering to the sea god, Poseidon, and contains grain and bring the horse into the city walls. The horse also served as a vehicle for a select group of Greeks, who were unknowingly and personally escorted into enemy territory by the enemy. The army returns to the beach and Troy is destroyed.

(That’s a simplistic overview, I know.)

Paris has several brothers and a sister, Cassandra. According to Greek myth, Cassandra is cursed with the gift of foresight–yet no one believes her and writes her off as a madwoman. Apollo, the sun god, cursed her after she refused to sleep with him. In the miniseries, Cassandra has visions of the future as a child. Her parents are indulgent and although she lives in isolation as a teen and young adult, her sisters-in-law and Paris eventually turn to her for advice when the war starts to go south. However, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, who portrays Cassandra, does an excellent job and is well cast.

Before the Greeks leave for war, they offer a sacrifice to the goddess of the hunt, because they were hunting Helen. The priest gets a visit from the goddess, who determines that the usual fare of doves and other small animals are not enough and demands the daughter of King Agamemnon. It’s easily the most striking plot development in the early episodes of the season, and Odysseus spells out why: By killing his own daughter, Agamemnon will be in such pain he will be utterly despondent to his enemy; it will make him that much more of a ruthless killer. The priest refers to the goddess as Diana, which is the ROMAN name for Artemis, who the Greeks would have been trying to appease. That’s just downright sloppy and there’s no way that should have made it into the first draft of the script, much less the broadcast.

The Amazons eventually join the Trojans in fighting the Greeks. The Amazons, fierce female warriors, were so dedicated to battle they all chopped off their left breasts in order to more accurately hold and fire a bow and arrow. All of the Amazons in the series have two boobs.

Agamemnon recruits his allies and their armies from different city-states across Greece. Every single one of them speaks with a British accent. So do the Trojans.

Casting

Paris, in the poem, is superficial and flighty. He’s visited by Zeus and three goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, and is forced to choose a favorite. Aphrodite promises him the most beautiful woman in the world and after about 30 seconds Paris chooses her. Although the Greeks treated their gods as mightier than them, they still had mortal characteristics. Hera is a jealous harpy; Athena is wise and shrewd; Aphrodite is seductive. But in the miniseries, the whole thing is played off like Paris meeting four strangers in the woods and settling a minor dispute instead of a showdown with catastrophic consequences. There’s really nothing to differentiate them from humans, except they randomly show up places and only certain people can see them. As battle begins, Aphrodite and Athena bless soldiers on their respective sides, but it’s nothing special.

When we meet Menelaus and his wife, I was confused as to how Paris could seduce Helen so quickly. She’s smothered in jewels and she and her friends throw sex parties. Her husband is a mite condescending but he’s young and handsome and clearly adores her. There was little to no chemistry between the actors who played Paris and Helen. He gives quite a speech at his death, telling Menelaus that although he has Helen back, he’ll never have her love like Paris did, but that was too little, too late. I can’t overemphasize how important it was to cast these two roles correctly. Their relationship destroyed a family, their city and its citizens. (For a master class in sexual chemistry between two actors, see Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino in the miniseries Zen.)

The Horse

I was so disappointed in the final episode, mainly because a lot of time in previous shows is devoted to showing how savvy and shrewd and manipulating Odysseus is. When Achilles refuses to fight because Agamemnon takes a slave he claimed for himself, Odysseus finds a way around it. After Achilles kills Hector (in retaliation for killing Achilles’ lover in battle) he grants Priam an audience and allows him 12 days of mourning. Odysseus has one of his men kill one of Achilles’ soldiers and made it look as though a Trojan did it, all but assuring Achilles’ return to war.

Paris kills Achilles, and immediately the Greeks’ chance of winning the war plummet. Paris convinces his brothers to attack their enemy’s encampment and comes across an empty beach with a horse.

  1. We know nothing of how Odysseus comes up with this idea.
  2. How does he convince Agamemnon to sign on and the others to stay hidden inside?
  3. How do they build it without the Trojans noticing it?
  4. HOW DO THEY DECIDE ON THIS DESIGN?

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Image source: Press Reader

I give the series 5 out of 10 stars (Benjen Stark is a good Odysseus) but 0 out of 10 stars for that horse.

 

 

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Netflix and BBC’s Troy Falls Into Mediocrity

A Book A Day: Snow by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman

Image source: vegbooks.org, via Google image search

  • This is the only legitimate snowfall of the season even though this is the kids’ fourth snow day, which means more days are added to the end of the year. (Weather people had a huge miscalculation for a storm two weeks ago. Schools closed the night before and we got nothing.)
  • Kids are bored by 10:30.
  • No one is allowed to even ask about sledding until they help shovel.
  • Helping shovel does not mean taking a break every three minutes.
  • Snow is not an acceptable breakfast. It is not acceptable inside the house. I don’t care what the kids in the book do.
  • I am not in the mood for Risk or Monopoly.
  • Be quiet about Minecraft.
  • I still don’t know how to fix the Wii. Read a book.
  • Regular book posts will resume tomorrow.
A Book A Day: Snow by Roy McKie and P.D. Eastman

A Book A Day: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

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Southern Baptist and evangelical Nathan Price brings his wife and four daughters to the Congo for a year of missionary work, with the hopes of converting Northern Congolese men to Christianity. Together, the family faces culture shock, corruption, and tragedy during their year in Africa. Narrated by all the Price women, the novel explores the importance of language—”Tata Jesus is bangala!” simultaneously means “Father Jesus is precious and dear” and “Jesus is Poisonwood”— and independence in post-colonial Africa. By all accounts, Nathan Price fails as a missionary, although their year there is transformational. 

I’m one of four daughters myself, and Kingsolver hits all the right notes in terms of their relationships with each other. I’m deeply distrustful of religion in general and missionaries in particular, and this book reinforces my beliefs.

A Book A Day: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A Book A Day: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


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My book club read this novel for our more-or-less monthly selection and it’s my most favorite book I’ve read in that setting. I hosted our discussion and because I’m rather ridiculous, I dressed in black and white with a red scarf, the uniform of the people who attend the Night Circus, which is only open from sunset to sunrise. (No one understood the significance of my outfit until the night was nearly over and THAT’S FINE, REALLY IT IS. I got the last laugh because I printed out nearly two dozen discussion questions and we went OVER. THEM. ALL. Come to think of it, attendance steeply declined for awhile after that meeting.)

Anyway, the Night Circus is a fantasy novel loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Night Circus randomly appears throughout Europe with no set schedule. Besides truly magical and elaborate exhibits, the circus serves as a setting for a competition of magicians orchestrated by rivals Prospero (his entrant is his daughter Celia) and Mr. AH, whose protege, Marco, is a competitor. No one understands the rules or how the game is won. Marco, who works as an assitant to the producer of the circus, eventually figures out Celia, one of the acts, is his opponent. They eventually fall in love because no one understands their world but them.

Celia learns from the circus’ contortionist, a former contestant, that the game ends when one magician cannot go on; the contortionist won because the other person committed suicide. The strain of her competition and her love of Marco result in the circus slowly falling apart and endangering its members and participants. She and Marco make the ultimate sacrifice to save themselves and the circus.

The novel is gorgeously written and even though it’s characterized as Young Adult, it’s one great read and it’s the first book I recommend to anyone starting a book club.

A Book A Day: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A Book A Day: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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In honor of International Women’s Day, let’s journey a couple decades into the future to visit lovely Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship.

Gilead was established in the United States after a religious revolution, and afterward the rights of women were severely curtailed and their actions monitored. We meet one woman, Offred, who survived the revolution and was indoctrinated as a Handmaid, a young woman with a healthy reproductive system who is forcibly submitted to sexual intercourse with high-ranking members of government, whose wives are too old to become pregnant. In a highly choreographed, ritualistic “ceremony,” the Handmaid lies in front of the older wife while the husband is having sex with her. Offred’s life is reduced, quite literally, to her ability to conceive.

Offred is in service to someone we only know as the Commander. Although their relationship by law is restricted to monthly couplings, he begins a relationship with her, inviting her to his office where they play Scrabble and he gives her books to read. His wife, a former televangelist named Serena Joy, sets her up with Nick, the family chauffeur, in order to boost her chances of becoming pregnant.

Offred’s life outside the Commander’s house is just as restrictive. Women are separated into classes–Wives, Handmaids, Marthas (cooks), Econowives (for lower-ranking men) and Virgins–and interaction among the different classes is heavily regulated.

We learn of Offred’s life before the revolution, when she, her husband and child tried (and failed) to escape to Canada. After she was captured, she was sent to a training camp, overseen by militaristic Aunts–where she met one woman, Moira, who would eventually escape. Between her relationship with Nick and her meeting Moira again in a club while on an errand, Offred learns of a group called the Mayday Resistance who are planning to overthrow Gilead.

Offred becomes pregnant right around the time Serena Joy learns of her relationship with the Commander. Serena reports her to the secret police, called The Eyes, who come for Offred in a black van. Nick, who knows about the pregnancy, assures Offred The Eyes are part of the Resistance. The novel ends when Offred steps into the van.

Obviously, there’s a lot going on here, from a country being run like it exists in The Old Testament (the relationship between the Wives and Handmaids is said to be analogous to the Biblical story of Rachel and her maid Bilhah), the subjugation of an entire gender, and a healthy dose of paranoia to boot.

The miniseries based on the book is on Hulu, but I’m so terrified by the book–WOMEN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO READ IN GILEAD–that I have no interest in watching it. It makes a strong case for religious freedom and against evangelicalism in government, and although I still think this country has a long way to go toward equality, I’m thankful Gilead doesn’t exist.

 

 

A Book A Day: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Happy International Women’s Day!

I’m not an expert in many things, but I’ve spent more than 41 years being female.

I tend to think about nearly every issue or event in terms of being a woman, but I’ve compiled five tips below that are easy, simple actions you can do (or not do) every day to make the world a little easier for a woman in your life. Human rights are not like pie; there’s not a finite amount of them. We move forward and become a better society as a whole when everyone is treated fairly.

  1. When disagreeing with a woman, don’t (a) interrupt her or (b) immediately call her a name that denigrates an entire gender (i.e., bitch, c*nt, etc.) or (c) dismiss her as mentally imbalanced. I assure you, multiple people disagree with me every day, including my husband, children, relatives, neighbors and other people in the world. On the whole, they disagree with what I’m saying, not me personally.
  2. Refrain from catcalling or wolf-whistling. Despite your intent, it’s not complimentary and reduces us to sexual beings. I read online that a good rule of thumb is never shout at a woman what you wouldn’t want a man shouting at you in prison. (Among other times, I’ve been catcalled at a train station, during the day, in 30-degree weather, wearing three layers of clothes.)
  3. Don’t tell a woman what she wants, or what she’s thinking, unless you’re repeating what she just told you to make sure you’re on the same page. You’re not a mind reader.
  4. When a woman tells you to stop touching her or you’re in her space, please step back. Women’s bodies are not inclusive. And again, see number 3.
  5. Don’t tell women to smile, unless you’re a photographer and you’re suggesting she say cheese.
Happy International Women’s Day!

A Book A Day: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

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Image source: Wikipedia

I first read this book during the summer before my senior year of high school because it was on the assigned reading list. The only other book I remember from any other assigned reading list was The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, which I had to read before I started freshman year. I thought it was boring and it took me weeks to read.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, a straightforward story about a very ordinary dysfunctional family, seemed out of place on a high school assigned reading list. It wasn’t a classic (The Yearling had been a best-seller in its heyday, 1938), or particularly literary. Instead, the novel was extremely relatable and accsessible.

The story is about three siblings and how they cope with their mother, who in turn had to deal with her husband suddenly leaving her. Pearl Tull is a difficult, lonely and slightly anxious mother. Her oldest son, Cody, becomes a typical rebel with a fierce jealous streak; the unassuming middle child, Ezra, tries his best to keep the family together and literally buys a restaurant so there is always a place to which they will have to return; Jenny, the youngest, ends up becoming financially successful but she ends up marrying three times before she finds personal happiness.

The book ends with Pearl’s death and, finally, everyone gathers at the Homesick Restaurant for a meal together.

Tyler strings together vignettes that literally happened to me, my siblings or to my friends: getting caught kissing a boy; resenting the obvious favorite child; wanting nothing but to get the hell out of Dodge.

After this book I set out and tried to read every other book Anne Tyler wrote and let me tell you, there are lots but not one is as good as this book. I thought I finally found it in her latest work, A Spool of Blue Thread, but nope. All the ingredients are there, but the best meal, truly, is Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

A Book A Day: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler