Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Diane Kruger, Brian Cox, Sean Bean, Brendan Gleeson, Peter O'Toole, Saffron Burrows, Rose Byrne and Julie Christie.

It's a depressing fact that the only film to be released this week is an overblown, big-budget blockbuster that is incapable of holding its audience's attention over two-and-three-quarter hours. Wolfgang Petersen's 'Troy', "inspired by" Homer's ancient Greek epic 'The Iliad', has several things in common with 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy: an epic and complex storyline, prolonged running time, pitched battles involving large amounts of CGI and Orlando Bloom. What is missing, however, is the depth of characterisation that made 'The Lord of the Rings' such a satisfying event, making audiences forget about the lengthy running times rather than, as in 'Troy's case, focusing on the bum-numbing effects of cinema seats.

After a prequel involving the legendary warrior Achilles (Pitt), 'Troy' moves to Sparta where King Menelaus (played with delicious relish by Gleeson) is celebrating the new peace between his lands and those of King Priam of Troy (O'Toole). King Priam is represented in Sparta by his sons, Hector (Bana), the valiant defender of Troy, and his younger playboy brother Paris (Bloom). The peace treaty is destroyed in a moment of selfish passion when Paris takes Menelaus' wife, the beautiful Helen of Sparta (Kruger) home to Troy. Agamemnon (Cox), King of the Greeks and brother to Menelaus, seizes the opportunity to attack Troy under the cloak of revenging his sibling's humiliation. He sets sail with his army of Greeks and a reluctant Achilles to besiege the walled city.

It's not a straightforward situation - Menelaus wants revenge on Paris for cuckolding him, Agamemnon is hungry for more power and the arrogant Achilles only fights because he hopes to achieve immortality. Achilles, like his Trojan adversary, Hector, is a fearless fighter, capable of rallying whole armies, but he and Agamemnon distrust each other and every so often Achilles decides to sit out a battle rather than fight under the king's banner.

While 'Troy' starts off strongly, it soon descends into a series of spectacular battles and one-on-one fights strung together by risible dialogue and one-dimensional characters. Scriptwriter David Benioff has difficulty putting flesh on the bones of these ancient warriors and he never delves deeply enough into 'The Iliad' to bring their motivations to life. The women - selfish Helen, Hector's devoted wife Andromache (Burrows) and the plucky Briseis (Byrne) - are portrayed as near-saintly characters whose only function is to tearfully plead with their men not to go to war. Julie Christie is cast in the pivotal role of Achilles' mother Thetis but gets less than 30 seconds screen time.

The buffed, golden-haired Brad Pitt certainly looks the part of Achilles and Petersen plays to the (female) gallery with plenty of facial close-ups, lingering shots of his muscles and a few lusty semi-nude scenes. But, for all his beauty, Pitt just doesn't have enough charisma to underpin this epic - and a script which makes him constantly harp on about his own immortality doesn't help either. Brian Cox seems to thoroughly enjoy his scenery-chewing turn as the King of Kings (he's the only character in this somewhat dour film with some humorous lines) and Peter O'Toole makes memorable the role of noble Priam. Eric Bana succeeds in wiping out bad memories of 'Hulk' with his strong performance as a man in an impossible situation but Orlando Bloom does not fare as well. His romance with Diane Kruger - one of the central parts of the story of 'Troy' - is never believable and prettiness alone does not a convincing Paris make.

Although 'Troy' brings Ancient Greece dramatically to life in all its proud glory (captured by Roger Pratt's skilful cinematography) it is unfortunate that James Horner distracts from the stunning visuals with a bombastic and ponderous score. The striking look of 'Troy' aside, there's not enough to sustain an audience for the full running time. It's truly an epic - but not in a good way.

Caroline Hennessy