BluRay/DVD Reviews

ALEXANDER REVISITED – FINAL CUT

By • Feb 27th, 2007 •

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Warner Bros

Far superior to the theatrical version. A dazzling epic. Stone should be praised for bringing Alexander to life and finally doing him justice.

I wrote a negative review of Oliver Stone’s 2004 film ALEXANDER. I am an unabashed admirer of Alexander the Great. In my review of ALEXANDER I quoted extensively from the works of two respected Alexander scholars: Peter Green (“Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C., A Historical Biography”) and Robin Lane Fox (“Alexander the Great”). Fox not only was a consultant and advisor on location for ALEXANDER, he skillfully made a deal with Stone. He specified a “non-negotiable reward” for his advice: “…a place on horseback in the front ten of every major cavalry charge by Alexander’s cavalrymen to be filmed by Oliver on location.”

ALEXANDER was a critical failure and according to BoxOfficeMojo.com did only $34,297,191 domestically. However, its foreign box office was $133,001,001. Worldwide that’s $167,298,192. for a film with a budget listed at $155M. When ALEXANDER was released on DVD (press notes report that nearly 3 and a half million units were sold to date) and shown on pay cable, cuts were said to be made, softening the homosexual content. Apparently, Americans cannot accept a homosexual conqueror, even if his name has come down through history as Alexander the Great.

ALEXANDER REVISTED, THE FINAL CUT (AR-TFC) is a rich, truthful, bold and a dynamic film. Thank goodness director Oliver Stone filmed everything. I would like to ask him: “Why did you soften ALEXANDER for its theatrical release? Were you under pressure from the studio to make Alexander more human, with foibles, fears, tears, loves, problems with his parents, and emotionally conflicted?”

Why not show the masculinity of Alexander’s sexuality? Stone could have used ALEXANDER to bury established caricatures of gay men as hairdressers, personal assistants, and interior decorators. Men who enjoy other men sexually can also be bloodthirsty warriors.

Alexander was not prissy.

Alexander at 16 was ready – no, eager – to fight in battle and kill or be killed. He was not a sullen teenager, sloppy, lazy, unorganized, or disinclined to follow military orders. He was prepared to lead men into battle. We have no modern context to understand young Alexander.

From reading about Alexander, I can say I never thought of him as a man who questioned himself, cried, asked for advice, or was a lovesick romantic. But, as the namesake of a $155M movie, Alexander needed a well-rounded personality the great unwashed could relate to.

The Alexander I envisioned was a charismatic and ruthless zealot, a fearless fighter and a brilliant leader adored by his army. He was also a bloodthirsty conqueror. Very conservative figures suggest that in the space of just eight years Alexander the Great had slain well over 200,000 men in pitched battle alone. When Alexander destroyed the city of Tyre, he sold 30,000 survivors into slavery and two thousand men of military age were crucified. Alexander was a cruel man who terrified the world.

“In Greece and Asia alike, during his lifetime and for several centuries after his death, he was regarded as a tyrannous aggressor, a foreign autocrat who had imposed his will by violence alone. When the news of his death in Babylon reached Athens, it was the orator Demades who crystallized public reaction. ‘Alexander dead?’ he exclaimed. ‘Impossible; the whole earth would stink of his corpse.’” (Page 477, Peter Green’s “Alexander of Macedon”.)

Where is the Alexander who was only interested in dominating, conquering, and subjugating everything and everyone around him? Was his sexual life weepy and sappy, or did he lustfully enjoy dominating men? Would any army walk 25,000 miles behind a crybaby who achingly longed for the lips and gentle touch of another man?

Stone did a superior job in AR-TFC (though Alexander is still too love-loopy for my liking). Gone is the linear story. It opens with a brief introduction by narrator Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) and then quickly moves to the vicious battle at Gaugamela. This is what Alexander was all about. He was a warrior. We see what Alexander loved about battle. We see the joy he felt to be with his men. He rapturously loved killing. Being covered in the enemy’s blood was exhilarating.

In AR-TFC, Stone spends more time on the Gaugamela battlefield. This is exciting, artistic filmmaking and Stone was justified in demanding this version – his true vision of Alexander needed to be seen.

Then, after the bloody, chaotic battle, Stone takes us back to Alexander as a child. We have already seen what the child will become. All my complaints about ALEXANDER are addressed and fixed in AT-TFC. Importantly, Alexander’s father, King Philip (Val Kilmer), is a central character, not a footnote to his becoming king. However, Stone still spends too much time explaining that male-male love was not only respected in their culture, but upheld as pure and noble.

Stone also explores the relationship between Alexander and his mother, Queen Olympias (Angelina Jolie). Their relationship is more intense and sexual here. While their love-hate is highly dramatic, Stone prefers to imagine that Alexander rejected his evil mother’s plans for him instead of being in collusion with her. I like this statement from Peter Green’s book: “It was said Alexander idolized Olympias and that ‘he never cared for any woman except his terrible mother.’”

Other major flaws I noted in ALEXANDER are also corrected, though even a bit more could have been done in the case of Hephaistion (Jared Leto), formerly an “extra,” now a more watchful but silent presence, but still underwritten.

Peter Green writes of Hephaistion: “The king’s alter ego has not gone down to posterity as a very sympathetic figure. Tall, handsome, spoilt, spiteful, overbearing and fundamentally stupid, he was a competent enough regimental officer, but quite incapable of supporting great authority. His most redeeming quality was his constant personal devotion to Alexander.”

If only Stone had shown Hesphaiston as a scheming, spoilt, spiteful insider instead of a meek enabler.

In 2004, I griped “Was Macedonia too gay for Oliver Stone?” Stone indicated, but never showed, the homosexuality of Alexander. It was suggested, and that was its laughable weakness. All those stolen glances looked silly.

And now on to the restored homosexual scenes in AR-TFC. In AR-TFC, Stone shows us virile King Philip – at his wedding feast surrounded by his court – grabbing his discarded young lover, Pausanias, and raping him. This scene brings into undiluted focus the culture’s attitude toward what we would term homosexual behavior. No one was shocked by Philip. According to the historical record, Pausanias had denounced Philip’s new homosexual lover as, “among other things, a hermaphrodite and a promiscuous little tart.” In AR-TFC, Philip summarily throws Pausanias to his men to sexually abuse.

In ALEXANDER, King Philip’s relationship to the man who kills him was never made clear. Yes, when Pausanias publicly stabs Philip to death, they intensely kiss on the lips, but now we know why.

In 2004, I quoted a historical source: “King Nabarzanes brought a number of costly offerings on an official visit to Alexander. Among these were “a eunuch of remarkable beauty and in the very flower of boyhood, who had been loved by Alexander’s enemy, [the Persian king] Darius III (him too?) and was afterwards to be loved by Alexander. The name of this sinister youth was Bagoas.”

Alexander’s soldiers never showed contempt for his sexual interest in other men. It did not demean him. More fully shown in AR-TFC is Alexander’s relationship with the eunuch Bagoas (Francisco Bosch). There are several scenes that illustrate the extent of their sexual and emotional relationship. This is historical fact: Bagoas may have been a slave, but he eventually gained power. Stone gives Bagoas the role of nursemaid-girlfriend. He is not a sexual manipulator but a slave to love. He was certainly not a sinister figure.

Farrell is fearless and does convey a masculine lust for Bagoas. What still is troubling to me is that Stone was unable, or unwilling, to show the masculinity of homosexuality. I would have liked to see Alexander take a man with passion instead of wimpy tenderness. Alexander had no doubts about himself and this is what made him the great seducer of men.

While Farrell’s portrayal in ALEXANDER was criticized, here he is able to show a joyful love of war, battle, and, most significantly, a cunning understanding of men and how to be a leader. Farrell terrifically exposes the rage and excess responsible for Alexander’s decline.

I intend to watch AR-TFC again. Stone has given us an epic worthy of being the definitive cinematic biography of Alexander the Great.


Two disc DVD.
220 mins.
A short introduction by Oliver Stone.
Chapters 1-27 are on the first disc and chapters 28-47 are on the second disc.
16×9 Widescreen.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround.
Includes a coupon good for one free admission to Warner Bros. “300,” based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C

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