Credit to The Cimarron Group
As I’ve mentioned before, I have an obsession with the film music of James Horner. One score of his in particular that I really love is his score for the epic Troy (2005), starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, Eric Bana as Hector, and Orlando Bloom as Paris. At the time this film came out, I was deeply interested in ancient Greek and Roman culture, to the point where I was considering archaeology as a career. My high school Latin teacher put this film on while we were discussing the Iliad (which is Greek, not Roman but that’s beside the point) and I was in love. Horner’s score grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for the entire story.
Horner crafted distinct themes for this film: The Greeks have their theme, as do the Trojans, and Achilles is gifted his own unique theme as well. But one moment in particular, musically as well as visually, has always stood out to me. And that is the scene involving the Trojan Horse.
As the Trojans walk into view on the now-abandoned beach, the music begins low and alread ominous (with the faintest echo of the Greek theme dying away) before the camera begins to pan to the right and up to reveal….a giant horse. The music builds as the camera moves, climaxing in that reveal (because if you know the story of Troy, you know perfectly well what’s about to happen).
As they debate what to do with this “gift,” Paris (sensibly, for once) suggests that they burn the horse, while the others say it’s a gift to the gods and should be brought inside. The music, though low at this point, contains a haunting up and down motif, a brief foreshadow of the musical proclamation to shortly come. Paris urges his father one more time to “burn it.” While Priam (Peter O’Toole) gives no answer, the following scene (and its music), shows what his answer must have been, as we next see the great horse being dragged into the streets of Troy.
Horner was in his element with this moment. Though the music is framed as a fanfare, something of a triumphal march, the melody is keyed between major and minor: the major representing the Trojans happiness, the minor because they’ve just doomed themselves to total destruction. This is the epitome of musical irony, and I get chills down my spine every time I hear it.
After everyone’s gone to sleep, the Greeks break out of the horse and the music changes note entirely. During the procession and celebration, the music was bittersweet, now the tone is altogether “sneaky.” It’s the Greeks theme, but much faster (and softer) than usual (they have to be stealthy or the plan won’t work). Of course, with Odysseus (Sean Bean in a rare film where he doesn’t die) in charge, the plan goes off perfectly and the gates are opened with the enormous Greek army waiting outside. The Trojans don’t stand a chance. Two themes develop here: one is the theme of the sacking of Troy, which is very dark and action-filled. The other tracks Achilles’ progress as he frantically searches for Briseis (Rose Byrne) before the Greek army reaches the palace. All is chaos visually and occasionally musically. But the spot during the Fall scene that hits me the hardest is when Priam staggers out onto his balcony to see the city in flames. The music says it all: he’s failed his people, he knows it, and he knows there’s nothing he can do about it.
I’ve attached links for the corresponding scenes in the film and the soundtrack version of the music. Watch, listen, and please enjoy!
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