Alexander is a 2004 epic historical drama film based on the life of the Ancient Macedonian general and king Alexander the Great. It was directed by Oliver Stone and starred Colin Farrell. The film's original screenplay derived in part from the book Alexander the Great, published in 1973 by the University of Oxford historian Robin Lane Fox. After release, while it performed well in Europe, the American critical reaction was negative. It grossed over $167 million worldwide against a $155 million budget, becoming a box-office bomb.
Four versions of the film exist, the initial theatrical cut and three home video director's cuts: the "Director's Cut" in 2005, the "Final Cut" in 2007 and the "Ultimate Cut" in 2013. The two earlier DVD versions of Alexander ("director's cut" version and the theatrical version) sold over 3.5 million copies in the United States. Oliver Stone's third version, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2007), sold nearly a million copies as of 2012.
The story begins around 283 BC, with Ptolemy I Soter, who narrates throughout the film. Alexander grows up with his mother Olympias and his tutor Aristotle, where he finds interest in love, honor, music, exploration, poetry and military combat. His relationship with his father is destroyed when Philip marries Attalus's niece, Eurydice. Alexander insults Philip after disowning Attalus as his kinsman, which results in Alexander's banishment from Philip's palace.
After Philip is assassinated, Alexander becomes King of Macedonia. Ptolemy mentions Alexander's punitive campaign in which he razes Thebes, also referring to the later burning of Persepolis, then gives an overview of Alexander's west-Persian campaign, including his declaration as the son of Zeus by the Oracle of Amun at Siwa Oasis, his great battle against the Persian Emperor Darius III in the Battle of Gaugamela, and his eight-year campaign across Asia.
Also seen are Alexander's private relationships with his childhood friend Hephaistion, Bagoas, and later his wife, Roxana. Hephaistion compares Alexander to Achilles, to which Alexander replies that Hephaistion must be his Patroclus (Achilles' lover) when Hephaistion mentions that Patroclus died first, Alexander pledges that, if Hephaistion should die first, he will follow him into the afterlife (as Achilles had done for Patroclus). Hephaistion shows extensive jealousy when he sees Alexander with Roxana and deep sadness when he marries her, going so far as to attempt to keep her away from him after Alexander murders Cleitus the Black in India.
After initial objection from his soldiers, Alexander convinces them to join him in his final and bloodiest battle, the Battle of Hydaspes. He is severely injured with an arrow but survives and is celebrated. Later on, Hephaistion succumbs to an unknown illness either by chance or perhaps poison, speculated in the movie to be typhus carried with him from India. Alexander, full of grief and anger, distances himself from his wife, despite her pregnancy, believing that she has killed Hephaistion. He dies less than three months after Hephaistion, in the same manner, keeping his promise that he would follow him. On his deathbed, Bagoas grieves as Alexander's generals begin to split up his kingdom and fight over the ownership of his body.
The story then returns to 283 BC, where Ptolemy admits to his scribe that he, along with all the other officers, had indeed poisoned Alexander just to spare themselves from any future conquests or consequences. However, he has it recorded that Alexander died due to illness compounding his overall weakened condition. He then goes on to end his memoirs with praise to Alexander.
The story then ends with the note that Ptolemy's memoirs of Alexander were eventually burned, lost forever with the Library of Alexandria.
- Colin Farrell as Alexander
- Jessie Kamm as child Alexander
- Connor Paolo as young Alexander
- Angelina Jolie as Queen Olympias
- Val Kilmer as King Philip II
- Anthony Hopkins as old Ptolemy
- Elliot Cowan as adult Ptolemy
- Robert Earley as young Ptolemy
- Jared Leto as Hephaistion
- Patrick Carroll as young Hephaistion
- Rosario Dawson as Roxana
- Christopher Plummer as Aristotle
- David Bedella as scribe Cadmus
- Fiona O'Shaughnessy as nurse
- Brian Blessed as wrestling trainer
- Gary Stretch as Cleitus the Black
- John Kavanagh as Parmenion
- Nick Dunning as Attalus
- Marie Meyer as Eurydice
- Mick Lally as horse seller
- Joseph Morgan as Philotas
- Ian Beattie as Antigonus
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Cassander
- Morgan Christopher Ferris as young Cassander
- Denis Conway as Nearchus
- Peter Williamson as young Nearchus
- Neil Jackson as Perdiccas
- Aleczander Gordon as young Perdiccas
- Garrett Lombard as Leonnatus
- Chris Aberdein as Polyperchon
- Rory McCann as Craterus
- Tim Pigott-Smith as omen reader
- Raz Degan as Darius
- Erol Sander as Persian prince
- Stéphane Ferrara as Bessus, Bactrian commander
- Tadhg Murphy as dying soldier
- Francisco Bosch as Bagoas
- Annelise Hesme as Stateira
- Toby Kebbell as Pausanias of Orestis
- Laird Macintosh as Greek officer
- Féodor Atkine as Roxana's father
- Bin Bunluerit as King Porus of India
- Jaran Ngramdee as Indian prince
- Brian McGrath as doctor
- Oliver Stone (uncredited) as Macedonian soldier at Zeus Statue
The first mention of the film was in October 2001 by Initial Entertainment Group.
- Library of Alexandria: Shepperton Studios, London, England
- Pella/Babylon/Indian palaces and myths cave: Pinewood Studios, London, England
- Alexandria (effect back plate): Malta
- Temple of Pallas Athena, Mieza and Macedonian horse market: Essaouira, Morocco
- Gaugamela: desert near Marrakech, Morocco
- Babylon gates: Marrakech, Morocco
- Bactrian fortress: Lower Atlas Mountains, Morocco
- Hindu Kush (effect back plate): Ouarzazate, Morocco
- Macedonian amphitheater: Morocco
- Hyphasis: Mekong, northeastern Ubon Ratchathani Province, Thailand
- Hydaspes: Central Botanical Garden, Amphoe Mueang, Saraburi Province, Thailand
A group of 25 Greek lawyers initially threatened to file a lawsuit against both Stone and the Warner Bros film studio for what they claimed was an inaccurate portrayal of history. "We are not saying that we are against gays," said Yannis Varnakos, "but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander". After an advance screening of the film, the lawyers announced that they would not pursue such a course of action.
At the British premiere of the film, Stone blamed "raging fundamentalism in morality" for the film's US box-office failure. He argued that American critics and audiences had blown the issue of Alexander's sexuality out of proportion. The criticism prompted him to make significant changes to the film for its DVD release, whose cover characterizes them as making it "faster paced, more action-packed".
Criticism by historians
Alexander attracted critical scrutiny from historians with regard to historical accuracy.
Persian history aficionado Kaveh Farrokh questioned the omission of the burning of Persepolis by Alexander and observed that, in the film, "Greek forces are typically shown as very organised, disciplined, and so on, and what's very disturbing is, when the so-called Persians are shown confronting the Macedonians, you see them turbaned. Turbans are not even a Persian item [...] Their armies are totally disorganized. What is not known is that the Persians actually had uniforms. They marched in discipline, and music was actually used..."
Oliver Stone has, in his various commentaries in the film's DVD, defended many of the most glaring historical issues in regard to Persian and Indian history by claiming that he had no time or resources to portray accurately a multitude of battles at the expense of storytelling. He goes into great detail explaining how he merged all the major aspects of the Battle of the Granicus and the Battle of Issus into the Battle of Gaugamela, as well as heavily simplifying the Battle of Hydaspes into a straightforward clash, while merging the near-death of Alexander with the siege of Malli.
However, early-Greek-history ethnographer/analyst Angelos Chaniotis, of Princeton's noted Institute for Advanced Study—in summarizing the first three versions of the film as "as a dramatisation, [rather than] a documentary"—nevertheless insists that, despite its imperfections, historians and history students "have a lot to learn" by "studying and reflecting upon" Stone's film. He concludes that, as a motion picture that "captures the Zeitgeist" (spirit of the times) of the "ancient Greek" era, "no film... can rival Oliver Stone's Alexander."
Alexander was released in 2,445 venues on 24 November 2004 and earned $13.7 million in its opening weekend, ranking sixth in the North American box office and second among the week's new releases. Upon closing on 1 February 2005, the film grossed $34.3 million domestically and $133 million overseas for a worldwide total of $167.3 million. Based on a $155 million production budget, as well as additional marketing costs, the film was a box office bomb, with projected losses of as much as $71 million
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 16% based on 204 reviews, with an average rating of 3.94/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Even at nearly three hours long, this ponderous, talky, and emotionally distant biopic fails to illuminate Alexander's life." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 39 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".
One of the principal complaints among American film critics was that Alexander resembled less an action-drama film than a history documentary. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in his review, "We welcome the scenes of battle, pomp and circumstance because at least for a time we are free of the endless narration of Ptolemy the historian."
Faint praise came from Todd McCarthy of Variety who wrote, "Oliver Stone's Alexander is at best an honorable failure, an intelligent and ambitious picture that crucially lacks dramatic flair and emotional involvement. Dry and academic where Troy (2004) was vulgar and willfully ahistorical".
Keith Uhlich of The A.V. Club named Alexander: The Ultimate Cut the tenth-best film of 2014.
The film was nominated in six categories at the Golden Raspberry Awards in 2005: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Colin Farrell), Worst Actress (Angelina Jolie) and Worst Director (Oliver Stone), Worst Supporting Actor (Val Kilmer) and Worst Screenplay, thereby becoming the second-most-nominated potential "Razzie" film of 2004; however, it won no awards. At the 2004 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, it received nine nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Director (Stone), Worst Actor (Farrell), Worst Supporting Actress (both Jolie and Dawson), Worst Screenplay, Most Intrusive Musical Score, Worst Female Fake Accent (Dawson and Jolie, lumped into one nomination), and Least "Special" Special Effects. Its only wins were for Most Intrusive Musical Score and Worst Female Fake Accent.
Several versions of the film have been released, and these have generally been seen as improvements on the initial release version. Critic Peter Sobczynski said "The various expansions and rejiggerings have improved it immeasurably, and what was once a head-scratching mess has reformed into an undeniably fascinating example of epic cinema."
2004: This is the film as it was originally released in theaters, with a running time of 175 minutes. It was released on DVD and is also available on Blu-ray in some territories.
2005: Stone's director's cut was re-edited before the DVD release later in 2005. Stone removed seventeen minutes of footage and added nine back. This shortened the running time from 175 minutes to 167.
Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut
2007: Stone also made an extended version of Alexander. "I'm doing a third version on DVD, not theatrical", he said, in an interview with Rope of Silicon. "I'm going to do a Cecil B. DeMille three-hour-45-minute thing; I'm going to go all out, put everything I like in the movie. He [Alexander] was a complicated man, it was a complicated story, and it doesn't hurt to make it longer and let people who loved the film [...] see it more and understand it more."
The extended version was released under the title of Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut on 27 February 2007. The two-disc set featured a new introduction by Stone. "Over the last two years," he said, "I have been able to sort out some of the unanswered questions about this highly complicated and passionate monarch – questions I failed to answer dramatically enough. This film represents my complete and last version, as it will contain all the essential footage we shot. I don't know how many film-makers have managed to make three versions of the same film, but I have been fortunate to have the opportunity because of the success of video and DVD sales in the world, and I felt, if I didn't do it now, with the energy and memory I still have for the subject, it would never quite be the same again. For me, this is the complete Alexander, the clearest interpretation I can offer."
The film is restructured into two acts with an intermission. Alexander: Revisited takes a more in-depth look at Alexander's life and his relationships with Olympias, Philip, Hephaestion, Roxana, and Ptolemy. The film has a running time of three hours and 34 minutes (214 minutes, about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut and almost 50 minutes longer than the first director's cut) and is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. Beyond the new introduction with Stone, there are no other extras on the DVD except for a free coupon to the movie 300. The Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases both feature a variety of special features however, including two audio commentaries and a new featurette.
For seven years, it was the only version of the film available on Blu-ray, until the release of the Ultimate Cut, which also includes the Theatrical Cut.
2014: In November 2012, Stone revealed that he was working on a fourth cut of the film, at Warner's request and that this time around he would remove material, as he felt he had added in too much in the "Final Cut" The version, which is 206 minutes long, premiered on 3 July 2013 at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and Stone swears that no more versions will follow. In February 2014, Oliver Stone announced on Twitter that 'Alexander the Ultimate Cut (Tenth Anniversary Edition)' would be released in the United States on 3 June 2014. According to Amazon.com, some of its features include:
- "40-Page Art Book with Concept Drawings, Storyboards and Behind-the-Scenes Photos
- Collectible packaging
- Correspondence memos between Oliver Stone and the Cast and Crew
- New documentary: The Real Alexander and the World He Made
- The Ultimate Cut commentary by Oliver Stone
- Original theatrical cut version and commentary
- Oliver's son Sean Stone's feature-length documentary Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's Alexander And much more!