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Oliver Stone's Alexander

Official info | Previews and sneak-peaks | Reviews | Robin Lane Fox, Official Historian | Is the movie anti-gay? | Fan sites and fan froth | Early development

"Oliver's Army: An inside report from the set of the year's most audacious epic, Alexander" by Fred Schruers, Premiere. Long, interesting article on the making of the film. Includes bits on Alexander's sexuality[2]. Top 5%

Official info

The preview on Apple iTunes.

Official movie site. If you're excited about Alexander and the movie, this is certainly a key place to visit. As of 10/30, the site is still developing—with no clear visual signals what works and what doesn't—but much is already up, including synopsis, cast, photos, posters, screen savers, AIM icons (O Brave New World), the "XTREME" desktop—interactive but PC only, and I have a Mac.

Web design rant: I was very put-off by the slow pace of everything—a deliberate slowing of effect not related to bandwidth or server load. I only looked at half the pictures because I got so bored waiting for them to shimmer glacially onto the screen. One can only hope the movie is faster paced. Top 5%


Rotten Tomatoes has a more complete list than found here. The "fresh" reviews are mostly backhanded compliments:

"Alexander is Oliver's most stupidly awesome (and awesomely stupid) movie since The Doors."
On 11/23 it rose from "8% Fresh" to a staggering 13%.

Mixed: My review. Stop me before I start quoting myself.

Negative: Kurt Loder, Savage review hits just about every target. The usual misunderstandings are there—Loder can't imagine why Olympias would have a foreign accent—but Loder also skewers many aspects elsewhere unskewered. I admire his description of the score:

"The soundtrack score of this movie, by the Greek synth virtuoso Vangelis, is an abomination in itself, an ugly mush of oozing string washes, pounding tympanis, swooning chorales and tiny tinkling chimes."

Positive: Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman, "Fire Bringer: Oliver Stone's 'Alexander'" Reames-Zimmerman, a scholar of the period, floored me with this positive review—3.5/5 stars. In sum, Reames-Zimmerman believes it "succeeds far more than it fails." She lists flaws, and concedes her intimate knowledge of and sympathy with the subject may hinder her ability to predict the sentiments of an "average film-goer," but this is among the most positive review online, and the only positive review I've seen from her demographic. The review also appeared on the popular "Megalexandros" Livejournal community, prompting some sharp, entertaining exchanges.

Mixed: "'Alexander' the less than great" by Liz Smith, Newsday (Nov. 19). Smith gives it a qualified thumbs-up, loving the battles particularly.

Audio: Negative: NPR, Morning Edition: "'Alexander' Not So Great" Kenneth Turan bemoans "an indifferent epic" with "nothing fresh."

Audio: Negative: NPR, Fresh Air: Review by David Edelstein. Lengthy review labels it "a mess, a botch, a non-event ... puny and fragmented." I like his description of Ptolemy "can't quite get a handle on how to tell Alexander's story. Neither can Stone and his co-screenwriters." Edelstein falls hard for Jolie's performance.

Mixed: New Yorker review by Anthony Lane (2004-11-29). Good criticism of Ptolemy's ceaseless "plugging" of Alexander.

"This plugging recurs at regular intervals; almost three hours after learning that Alexander was a �colossus� and a �force of nature,� we are informed that �his failures towered over other men's successes,� and so on. I'm afraid that I resent any movie that incorporates its own P.R. department, especially when there is no need; if recounted in style, the exploits of Alexander, of all people, should be relied upon to sell themselves."

Positive: Todd Gilchrist, Three stars. A wildly positive review, ending in a rather wild image:

"Stone, a Hollywood outsider with instincts that time and again have landed him in the proverbial lion's den, stands up against the seemingly indestructible forces conspiring against him, rears back his stallion, and charges headlong into the fray, forgetting everything but the fact that his vision, his ideal, must be achieved at any cost. And in the end, he, like Alexander, returns from the battlefield, bloodied, battered and resolutely victorious."

Negative: Matt at "The Keyhole": "... this movie will go down as one of the biggest disappointments of 2004."

Negative: "Shield yourself from this 'Alexander'" by David Elliott, San Diego Union-Tribune (Nov. 23, 2004). Stinging, flip critique.

Negative: USA Today"'Alexander' the Great: Barely even mediocre" by Mike Clark, USA Today. Clark mentions the failure of Burton's movie, and opines "It's tempting to wonder whether the subject is too elusive for screen treatment."

Positive: "Review: 'Alexander' strikingly filmed classic" by L. Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal Star. This is the most relentlessly positive review I've seen online.

Positive: "'Alexander' flourishes as muscular epic with Stone's imprint" by Dan Bennett, North County Times (CA). Bennet gives it a B+.

Mixed: Jay at GayHeroes. On the sexual angle Jay's review is very positive ("I'm VERY HAPPY with the homo factor in this telling of the Alex tale.") But, as he says, "the prevailing opinion of my group is that Ollie Stone is not a writer."

Negative: MSNBC Gossip: "Early viewers stone Alexander" by Jeannette Walls.

Negative: "Ain't it Cool News" apparently had an early (negative) review, and some discussions about the review.

Negative: Jackie K. Cooper, Glendale Oregon News gives it a 2 out of 10. I include this review to show how most enthusiastic semi-amateurs also pan Alexander. This from a man who gave National Treasure a 7!

IMDb: Alexander. The forum's taken off, and is now officially full of sexual and national hatred. Yippee! apparently posts reviews before the movie has even come out, let alone is available on DVD. Sane evaluation:

"… the aim of this movie is not educational and it doesn't focus in the historical events that happened, it just mostly shows us sex scenes with Cleopathra [sic!], what do you expect from Collin Farrell."

Press coverage

"Alexander is Stone's passion" by Bruce Kirkland, (Nov. 23, 2004). Another interview with Stone, confirming my suspicion that Stone didn't do Alexander to make some contemporary or even general point; he did it because he is deeply interested in Alexander himself. So many historical movies are made where the history itself, and a passion for history, is simply road-kill. So it's particularly heart-breaking that Stone didn't manage to transform this passion into an excellent movie.

"Colin Farrell Talks Alexander" interview by Fred Topel,'s "Action-Adventure Movies" authority.

"For my money, it's a pretty sad story. It's not �Alexander the Great, Tada!� It's a pretty sad, heavy story."
I enjoyed his comments on the Burton film, in part:
"Yeah, I watched the Richard Burton one. Ours is not as stiffly classic. I mean, Burton is a f*cking genius. F*cking Richard Burton, oh my God. But the whole piece as an energy was for my money far too soupy. These men, even ours will probably be too f*cking gentle. But these were f*cking animals. They were animals, even the king. It wasn't sitting on the throne in a castle. He was on the battlefield with blood, sweat and tears. And society was rough. It was honest, but it was rough. They drank a lot. They cussed a lot."
He also reveals Stone kept Irish and Welsh accents. I'll bet that draws criticism.

BBC interview with Oliver Stone (September 30, 2003), conducted by Jen Foley. Mostly about his documentary on Castro—which lost its HBO showing when Castro used 9/11 to imprison and excute dissidents. At the close he describes Alexander as "the biggest challenge of my life." He describes DiCaprio as a "bigger star" than Farrel—yes, but DiCaprio's lazy and a twit.

"Armor from movie 'Alexander' featured at art museum's fair" by Stephen Greenwell, Newport [RI] Daily News (Nov. 22, 2004) / Thomas Leupp interview with Stone. There's a good deal about Stone's approach to Alexander, and his approach to history-as-movie. The various howlers—"Madea" for Medea, "Pluto" for Plutarch, etc.—should not be laid at Stone's door. The blogger gripes about how hard the interview was to transcribe, particularly if you're a dumb-ass. Whoops, I added that.

Audio: NPR, All Things Considered: "Plumbing the Accuracy of 'Alexander'" interview with Princeton Classics prof. Daniel Mendelsohn (November 23, 2004). Mendelsohn, rather harshly, gives it a C for accuracy and calls it a "stinker" of a movie.

"Behind the Scenes of "Alexander" — The Costumes and Sets" by's "Hollywood Movies" guru. Praises the movie's historical accuracy.

"Stone's 'Alexander' makes history with historians" by Jeff Strickler, Minneapolis Star Tribune (Nov. 26, 2004). Stone waxes on how a movie of this sort need a "strong script."

Robin Lane Fox, Official Historian

Amazon. The Making Of Alexander by Robin Lane Fox. The Oxford historian whose work inspired the film writes the history of the film. From the looks of it, this is no brainless, puff-job, but might (might) actually be worth reading. Fox's intelligent, irreverent, but fundamentally romantic voice shines through.

The first chapter of Robin Lane Fox's The Making of Alexander, courtesy the official site. Warning: 6.7 megs.

Audio: BBC: "Midweek" interview with Robin Lane Fox, David Sedaris and Dr. Susan Whitfield, a Silk Road researcher (May 5, 2004). Yes, all three are at the microphone. Unfortunately, after an intro, it's Fox pretty much alone. He's quite a riot, particularly on the decline of Greek and The Passion. Top 5%

"Into battle with Alexander" by Robin Lane Fox, London Times (May 08, 2004). Also here. This stuff is so great, I'm going in for some extensive quoting.

"Did Alexander's men ever eat melons? What did Aristotle really think about the ancient myths? What did the main god of Babylon look like? Alexander's Macedonia was Greek, but what would his Greek language sound like to other educated ears further south in Athens? Should his star, Colin Farrell, have blond highlights in his hair? Alexander had a sexual nature, but as the film, correctly, was not going to turn him in to a �gay� from a counter-culture, how should his passionate life be handled? My colleagues told me that for historians, Stone was supposed to be like Satan, perhaps because they had seen his film of Nixon and I had not. Like the poet John Milton, I have to say I quickly became very fond of Satan. Anyway, the claim that Stone has no historical sense is completely untrue."
This description make me hopeful the movie will, in fact, turn out to be good:
"I have to say that I would have died for Colin Farrell by the end, a loyalty which was widely shared. In Bangkok, in a darkened hotel room, we sat watching uncut dailies of the final emotional scenes of Stone's film-to-be; the company were all male and muscular, but I could not stop myself from sobbing in the closing moments. Fortunately, another man could be seen in combat trousers sitting on the floor and doing the same and when the lights came on I saw that it was Farrell, equally transported by the evocation of the great Alexander whom he had had to bring to life."

Attack on the article from a Macedonian nationalist angle. Reading Fox's Alexander the Great he perceives (falsely) support for his position. Therefore, Fox has "gone Greek," and was probably paid off. Top 5%

Riding with Alexander, a long, entertaining interview with Robin Latin Fox, Oxford historian and consultant to the movie Alexander, from Archaeology magazine (September 14, 2004). Fox is proud of his role, which also gave him a prime place among the extras.

"I do not believe any other historical adviser has ever had such a role in a film."
More generally, he defends Stone's many departures from history:
"The film is not a documentary. It uses historical references and detail as its springboards. These references are frequent, and clever. Obviously, the props, costumes, and décor were designed, from scratch, in an amazing four months. Materials forced compromises--and nothing but known, absolutely certain "authenticity" would have left huge gaps anyway (so we often have to guess) or required impossible materials (bronze, marble, etc.). Critics hunting for "historical errors" are hunting for the wrong category. Total "historicity" was impossible, and would leave big gaps besides. The right approach is to look for the density of historical allusion, and reference--and ask whether if gives a powerful "feel" to the drama. I think it does. I remain amazed by the quick researches and commitment to the known details by every department under Oliver's direction.

Blog discussion by Chip Gibbons, hostile to Fox's characterization of Alexander as not a "one-way" homosexual.

Interview with Robin Lane Fox, in aid of movie tie-in BBC documentary "Charging for Alexander."

"Films have to be compromises. Everything has to be told rapidly and you can't go into extreme detail. But we had teams of armourers and textile makers all around the world. Unbelievably they were doing it from 1 June to 1 September. If any university in Britain or America had been asked to coordinate the making of historically-based replicas for over 2,000 people in four months they would have got as far as the initial paperwork empowering the health and safety officers to come and see it. Given that, I now understand the speed and commitment and love with which everybody works and it is tremendous."

"History Was Just the Half of It" by Bob Baker, New York Times (November 14, 2004). The New York times takes up the Fox story.

Hearsay. Fox thinks Farrel is "an extraordinarily dull man." Blogger is apparently being tutored by Fox at Oxford. On one of the radio interviews he says something the opposite.

Politics and nationalism

ITV: Greeks upset over Alexander film. Greek lawyers file lawsuit to force Stone to include disclaimer. First, they are wrong that there is no ancient evidence. More importantly, they had no standing in the matter and no legal case. Stone could never be forced to adopt such a note, even for J.F.K.—and he has living family members!

Reuters: Angry Greeks Deny Alexander the Great Was Bisexual by Karolos Grohmann. Oddly one of the lawyers mentions J.F.K.[3]

BBC: "Lawyers shelve Alexander action" (Nov. 30, 2004). Duh.

AP: "The links between 'Alexander' and Bush" on MSNBC. Includes extensive quotes from Stone, who see a "coincidence that's far beyond my understanding, but I would certainly not limit this to the current situation."

Sexuality controversies

"Breaking Ground With a Gay Movie Hero" by Sharon Waxman, New York Times (November 20, 2004). I hate these sorts of issues. Everyone pushes their shtick and talks past each other. I rather like Medved's concluding quote:

"The key question for cultural conservatives, and I'm one of them, is context ... It seems to me if you can ever make the case, and I think you can, that gay sex scenes are appropriate, it would be in this kind of movie. I've read enough about Alexander to know that it is not out of the mainstream to assume Alexander is bisexual."
Unfortuately, he's wrong that cultural conservatives are "all about" context. Some are, some aren't.

"An Open Letter to the Media (on Stone, Alexander, and sex" Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman, something of the world expert on Hephaestion, highlights the "fixation" and tells the media to "shut up already!"

Reuters: Stone hits Alexander's Achilles' Heel (Nov. 20, 2004). On anger (and praise) for a "bisexual" Alexander.

"Question hovers over 'Alexander': Is he or isn't he?" by Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times (Nov. 23, 2004). Pre-review article by Roeper states:

"Having seen the film, I can categorically state that Stone does not in any way suggest Alexander was bisexual. He suggests Alexander was absolutely, fabulously gay."
I think he overstates things, trapped in the notion that Alexander must either be gay or not. I'm with him when he fingers Angelina Jolie's performace as "one of the great so-awful-it's-wonderful performances in recent film history."

"Hey, censors – don't shroud sexuality in �Alexander'" by Steve Penhollow, Fort Wayne's Journal Gazette (Oct. 24, 2004).

"Please, for the sake of avoiding another three hours of cookie-cutter crapola, let him be bisexual!"

By way of a sample: "Stone's Excuse to Promote Gay Marriage" by "kerry_sucks_dik." Yahoo review allegedly of the movie gives a nice taste of what Yahoo, IMDb and others' user reviews really have in store.

"The new de-gaying of Hollywood" by Michael Giltz, The Advocate (September 28, 2004). The upcoming Alexander movie rates a few mentions: Colin Farrel defending the movie, and Laura Foreman (Alexander the Conqueror) questioning it.

Fan sites and fan froth "fan site." Has a good gallery of promotional shots, but most of the information is a straight post from the press pack, and there are various "tells" that the main motive is commerce, not interest. The discussion boards are sub-worthless—Phoenicians in America, nationalistic posturing, etc. etc. has a very capable Alexander fan site.

Wikipedia: Alexander (movie).

Movie City News . Somewhat random but randomly excellent collection of pictures and news.

Rotten Tomatoes Forum on "New Alexander Pics" with a lot of pics.

The Discovery Channel: "Becoming Alexander." Due to air November 24, "captures Colin Farrell's journey of transformation into the conqueror of the ancient world."

Unofficial Christopher Plummer (Aristotle) site. Keeps up with Alexander news.

"" (German fansite) has a number of scans from German magazine articles.

Early development

Swiped from Salon's Quote of the Day:

"I'd never work for you. You distorted Kennedy, you distorted Nixon, and you lack the one quality a director needs most -- talent."
-- Gore Vidal to Oliver Stone, after the latter asked for the writer's input on a movie the director is preparing on Alexander the Great. (From Liz Smith's syndicated gossip column).

Will Tom Cruise or Matthew McConaughey play Alexander in Oliver Stone's movie. Best part: Quote by Charlton Heston about Burton movie "It's the easiest kind of picture to make badly."


  1. Editorial note: I've decided to limit this section somewhat. Hollywood films create a comet tail of web pages. An item in Variety will ripple though dozens of sites, none saying anything new. Eager fans excitedly trade and discuss tiny morsels—an image here, a plot detail there—of little value at the time and worthless once the movie is out for all to see. More generally, I'm not very interested in Oliver Stone, good-looking actors or movie-making per se, nor am I an authority on finding the choicest bits of trivia on these subjects. The focus here, therefore, must on how the movie relates both to history and to the ever-contentious "image" of Alexander. Standing athwart this division, I've made a special section on Robin Lane Fox, the Oxford historian (Alexander the Great, Pagans and Christians) who served as Stone's historical consultant. (back)
  2. "Although Borman sought to assure Warners that none of the male-on-male sexuality was rougher than what they'd probably seen on television's Will & Grace, there was abiding concern (Cynic philosophers said well after Alexander's death that 'he was defeated only once, and that was by the thighs of Hephaistion,' played by Jared Leto). Such worries prompt Stone to wax indignant about the contrast between the Greeks, who practiced bisexuality matter-of-factly, and later cultures. 'Why suddenly did it become an issue?' he says. 'Who were the Puritans who raised their broomsticks in the air? Listen, we're honest about sexuality and try to show it without offending people. It's not done with the intention of arousing the lechers, it's done with the intention of arousing your heart.'" (back)
  3. "We cannot come out and say that (former U.S.) President John F. Kennedy was a shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and so Warner cannot come out and say Alexander was gay." (back)
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