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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 10:07 GMT
US questions Alexander's greatness
By Peter Bowes
BBC News correspondent in Los Angeles

Oliver Stone's much-anticipated epic, Alexander, starring Colin Farrell, opens in the US on Wednesday.

Colin Farrell as Alexander
Farrell plays the great leader Alexander
Not surprisingly, for a Stone film, it has been met with lively but largely negative reviews from critics and stirred up controversy.

It is the story of one of history's most celebrated leaders - a relentless and arrogant warrior who conquered much of the known world by the age of 25.

"For me it's an adventure ride such as has never been experienced before," says Stone.

"There's no story quite like it, it's Alexander of Macedon - he existed, so this is all based on fact. This is not Hollywood mythologizing or creating a scenario."

'Pure fiction'

But the facts are in dispute. A group of Greek lawyers has threatened to sue the makers of the film saying it is "pure fiction and not a true depiction of Alexander's life".

Oliver Stone
I hope it's received and appreciated, because it was done with love, ultimately
Oliver Stone
It is the portrayal of Alexander as bisexual that has so riled Stone's critics.

Much of the film dwells on Alexander's close relationship with his childhood friend and battle commander, Hephaistion, played by Jared Leto.

Using modern day society as a benchmark, the two men certainly appear to enjoy a furtive gay relationship. The eyeliner-wearing Hephaistion appears besotted with the dashing warrior king.

"It wasn't an issue back then," explains Farrell.

"It wasn't something that pertained to Alexander as an individual. Did he sleep with men? Did he sleep with women?

'No segregation'

"In that kind of society there was no segregation in respect of your sexual orientation - there were no verbal references as we have now - like homosexuality, heterosexuality, whatever."

Just to share the dance floor with Oliver for five months...was incredible
Colin Farrell
Leto adds: "I always thought of it that they were brothers of different mothers - they have a really complicated and specific relationship that's built around a deep love for each other."

The problem for the filmmakers seems to be the expectations of modern day audiences.

The "is he or isn't he?" mentality of moviegoers elevates the issue of sexuality beyond its relevance to the story. Early reviews have dubbed the film "Alexander the Gay" or "Queer Guy for the Macedonian Guy" - the ultimate trivialisation.

"People try to contextualise it in today's kind of standards and society," says Leto.

As a big screen experience Alexander is an awesome spectacle. Granted, Farrell's blond wig comes as a bit of a shock but the battle scenes are breathtaking.

'Nightmare'

"It's something that I'll never forget. It's an experience that will stay with me forever," says Farrell.

Battle scene in Alexander
The battle scenes were a 'logistical nightmare'
"The battle scenes, logistically, were a nightmare but a nightmare that had to be faced.

"We went to boot camp, all the boys for three weeks. There were 170 men camping out in the desert in Morocco.

"There was a very particular way that the Macedonians fought in battle so we trained and trained. It also brought all the lads together that created a unified memory - an experience that I think was taken into the filming."

For Oliver Stone, the film has been a lifelong ambition.

The Oscar-winning director was fascinated by Alexander as a child and inspired by Greek mythology.

"It's an amazing story. It's got so many levels to it, it should be seen twice to even begin to be understood in its entirety," says Stone.

'Idealism'

"I hope young people walk out with a sense of idealism, that there was a time when young people could be political leaders and at 26 a gang of young people could grab the world leadership."

The director's passion for the story clearly rubbed off on the film's stars.

Farrell, who admits to never having a "particular desire or passion" for playing Alexander, says working with Stone was an "incredible" experience.

"Just to share the dance floor with Oliver for five months and to be briefed by him and to have dialogue with him, conversations about this time in history and about Alexander as a character."

'Mad genius'

"He's a mad genius, he's at times seemingly bizarre and crazy and chaotic and mind-blowingly smart and beautifully gifted," adds Leto.

At just under three hours Alexander certainly feels long and there is a sense that somewhere there is a great movie struggling to see the light of day.

Stone acknowledges that he struggles with the duration.

"The truth of the matter is we cut 75 per cent of his life out so what can you do? The movie is a three act condensation of a five-act life," he explains.

"I hope it's received and appreciated, because it was done with love, ultimately," says Stone.

Alexander opens in the UK on 7 January.


Have you seen the film? Do you think it will be an Oscar contender? What do you make of Colin Farrell's performance? Send us your views.

Oliver stone was handed one of the best stories in history. He messed it up. The epic that could have been... The greatest General in history and Stone made a love story. There is so much more that could have been done and he let it slip away. Too bad.
Charles Carter, Charleston, USA

Epic battles in movies took on a new look with Lord of the Rings, if you're going to put one in your film it had better be as good or better than that, and this wasn't. I waited a year for this movie. I love everything about the Alexander history, but this did not cut it at all. Wrong editing, wrong accents, poor make-up for such an expensive movie, too much dialogue, not enough action, two battles in a three hour movie. Sorry Oliver, all the hard work for nothing.
K McVann, USA

If you want to take a chance and go on an incredible journey, go see Alexander. It's not great, it's awesome. Blood, battle, passion, fire, all splashed on the big screen by the skill of a master film maker. Beautiful scenery both real and fake. Excellent performances by the cast. The critics are wimps, and wimps have never liked Oliver Stone or his films. They are either confused by his attention to detail, or frightened by his message. That explains the trivial criticism. They can never fit him into their thin dictionary of movie catchphrases. If you don't want to take a chance, play it safe and go see SpongeBob.
Perry Cervera, Los Angeles, USA

Fantastic adaptation. A warning though - this is not the sort of heavily derivative dumbed-down rubbish that "historical" films like Gladiator represent. There are also no shield-surfing hottie teenage Elves with long flowing golden tresses. After Alexander, I have almost (but not quite) forgiven Stone for the execrably pretentious Natural Born Killers.
Dan, Hampton, UK

People have to remember that the Ancient Greeks considered there was 'no greater love than that of between two men' and that they didn't even consider women to be human! Hence the word misogyny (hatred of women), so in this context, the bond/love between Alexander and Hephaistion would probably have seemed normal at the time.
A S, London

I saw the movie in Miami. It was major rubbish. It did have some major battles, one with Persians and one with Indians but although they both looked very bloody, at the end you couldn't make out the entire picture of the conflict.

Unfortunately this was only perhaps 30 minutes of the movie. The rest was focusing on Alexander's homosexual relationships (which didn't excite the Americans here at all) and some hideous orgies between Alexander and his "boyfriends". Oliver delivered a failure nothing more, nothing less. Hope to see the next one with Leonardo DiCaprio if there is going to be one. Colin Farrell tried his best, by all means he was very good but the flow of the story was disastrous.
George Bethanis., Athens, Greece

My respect for Oliver Stone is totally obliterated
Ahmed K. Ashour, Cairo, Egypt

This is a very disappointing movie. There is no historical record of his sexual preference except that he was married to a woman; which indicates heterosexuality. Furthermore, the film is a bore. It is three hours long; but to be fair, I did not see all three hours as I fell asleep halfway through. And Anglina Jolie does not age in this film. She is thirty-something at the beginning of the film, and thirty-something with a touch of grey twenty years later. What the heck was that about? Don't waste your time or money on this film.
John D. Morgan, Chicago, Illinois

My respect for Oliver Stone is totally obliterated. Technically speaking, there's no story, no editing, no speech, bad make-up & nothing to admire. It's a total waste of viewers time & movie production investment. Mr Stone - it's high time for your emininent retirement... & may God help save the actors' collective careers.
Ahmed K. Ashour, Cairo, Egypt

Saw it yesterday, it was hard to follow, it dragged on in to many parts, wished I stayed home and watched Lord of the Rings for the 30th time.
Caroline Maly, Edmonton, Canada

A great movie with plenty of wonderful dialogue, sceneries and war strategies
Ernie M, Las Vegas
I have seen the film and I loved it. Oliver Stone is a genius who unfortunately has too many critics. Colin Farrell is a terrific actor and did a superb job playing Alexander. Critics need to open their minds to the world of ideas and approaches to film-making.
Nadia E. Joseph, Chicago, IL, USA

Oscar? No, it's dreadful! Gore Vidal can defend it for it's openness about homosexuality all he likes, but that doesn't alter the fact that it's a very dull film - the storytelling is shockingly poor. I didn't realise how long The Green Mile was, until I left the cinema and looked at my watch - with Alexander I was watching my watch all the way through the movie.
Phil, Eastbourne

A great movie with plenty of wonderful dialogue, sceneries and war strategies. Persian and Indian wars were well fought. There was compassion, friendship, alliances, some disloyalty, inspirational and understanding of cultures.

Excellent acting by Farrell. The movie definitely will be a Oscar contender, particularly for best director, movie, and best actor and support actor.
Ernie, M, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

The film is great but I don't think it will be an Oscar contender - Colin Farrell's performance was great, it must have taken great courage to play the part of a bisexual man knowing that people worldwide would have to say about it.
Massimo Grasso, Bedford, England

Alexander lasts too long past the threshold of human patience for such a poorly executed film. Though every single frame screams expensively careful and detailed planning, its stiff acting, its disjointed story, and its distracting score strip away any of the slight praise one may be able to conjure up. Alexander is a truly terribly tedious epic-want-to-be film.
Ploy, Virginia, USA

I think that the movie is very well made. My greatest concern for its financial success is the puritanical shift that my country has taken in the last decade. The fluid sexuality that was natural in Ancient Greece will most likely be rejected by my more conservative neighbours and I am afraid that they will reject this wonderful movie. I commend the cast for an excellent job.
John, Lakewood, USA

Boring and dreadful movie. For an "epic" movie it fails miserably.
Larry Abbott, North Bay, Ontario, Canada

Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great does not impress me. I think a "carrot" could have done a better job than him. Angelina Jolie has got a strange accent in the film. What for?
Paula, Florida, USA

Impressive battle scenes, but the dialogue was slow. I also had trouble with Ancient Greeks speaking with Irish accents.
Glyn Lewis, Manila, Philippines

The film is a mess, the script weak and it left me confused. Which is saying something as I love ancient history and in particular the story of Alexander the Great.

The principal performers are good, especially Angelina Jolie. She perfectly captures what was true of all ancient women, whose lives depended on the will of the men around them.

As for the supposedly controversial homosexual sex scenes - I would love someone to point them out to me.

And as much as I loved watching Colin and Rosario leap around naked (she was, he wasn't), the scene was completely gratuitous as it had no bearing on the over all story being told. I felt as if the director really wanted, deep down inside, to tell the story of Alexander's love of Hephaistion but was afraid to do it and instead teased us with unrequited love scenes and shoved in this raunchy heterosexual sex scene just to ensure us of Alexander's manliness. After all, we could never have a gay man concur the world now could we?
Mandy, USA (UK ExPat)

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SEE ALSO:
Farrell leads out Alexander cast
17 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
Bisexual Alexander angers Greeks
22 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
The return of swords and sandals epics
14 May 04 |  Entertainment


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