Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Movies I Love: Alexander

Has any recent movie polarised audiences as much as Oliver Stone's labour of love ALEXANDER in 2004? You would have to know your Alexander to undertake this mammoth enterprise, but Stone had renowned Alexander expert and biographer Robin Lane Fox as his historial advisor, so what could have gone wrong? When the movie finally opened here it was as if everyone was conspiring to make it a failure, the reviews were dreadful, it was not on many screens so it seemed like a self-fulfilling prophesy that it would limp away very soon - I therefore took an afternoon off work to see it on as large a screen as possible while I had the chance, and have to say that I was blown away. I am an Alexander person myself, having read lots of books from Plutarch to Mary Renault and Lane Fox, so at least I knew the background.

Colin Farrell seems quite adequate as our warrior prince, with Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie perhaps lightweight as his warring parents Philip and Olympias [Frederic March and Danielle Darrieux had more gravitas in Robert Rossen's rather turgid 1956 ALEXANDER THE GREAT, which did have a good cast (apart from a blond Burton ranting as usual) and some great images - I saw it as a kid and loved that shot of Darrieux on the battlements]. Stone's version covers similar ground - Alexander's boyhood, his tutor Aristotle, his lifelong friend/lover Hephaistion, his marriage to Roxane, the flight and murder of the Persian king Darius, Alexander's men finally rebelling as they travel on and on through the known world to the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan .... then hubris is reached as Alexander dies and it all falls into disarray. We have the older Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) narrating the story from Alexandria (with that lovely panning shot over the harbour, surely a homage to the similar one in CLEOPATRA) as the likes of Christopher Plummer and Brian Blessed hone our hero for greatness. Jared Leto is the adult Hephaistion, Jonathan Rhys Meyers Cassander, and it all just looks marvellous, for me as good as EL CID, CLEOPATRA, SPARTACUS, BEN HUR or FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

Stone gives us just two battle scenes but they are both astounding - from the eagle eye view of the first battle (Gaugamela) to that final charge in the jungles of India with those elephants, it is truly spectacular stuff, as scored by Vangelis. I am not one for CGI effects which is why the recent TROY cut no ice with me, but here the recreation of Babylon is simply marvellous and really conjures up the mystery of it all. There are startling omissions though as a lot of the Alexander story is glossed over and we do not see enough of Persepolis or Bagoas, and Hephaistion was a brilliant warrior too, not just a mascara-wearing companion. Where the film fascinates is in being a new take on the classic epic and in sharing Stone's vision of Alexander. There have been several editions of the film since, with the gay element removed, and also heightened, so one can take one's choice. It seemed Stone's biggest task was making his epic palatable to Middle America and those students wilfully ignorant of history and what the ancient world was really like, and who could not get to grips (as it were) with a at least bisexual, if not mainly gay, hero. Even now the debate goes on - there are over 1,350 reviews on it on IMDB, too much even for me to wade through, so one either likes it or not. I certainly do. Below: the 1956 version.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm... I liked Alexander, too, Mike. I think many of us "critics" have it in for Mr. Stone and thus fail to see some of his strengths as a director -- which are in good evidence in this film. Also -- thanks for following my blog!