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Film

Darius Kadivar
October 27, 2004
iranian.com

"There is nothing impossible to him who will try." - Alexander the Great (356BC-323BC)

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Nearly 50 years after Robert Rossen's Epic "Alexander the Great" starring Richard Burton in the title role, Hollywood is once again taking interest in the Macedonian conqueror. A man of action who after defeating the mighty Persian Empire stretched his conquests to the extreme limits of the known world only to return to Babylon and die at the age of 33 in mysterious circumstances without ever naming his successor. A role model to many great conquerors such as Julius Caesar or Napoleon, strangely enough Hollywood has ignored the life of Alexander, less by lack of interest but most probably discouraged by the scale of any project that could encompass the complexities of such a larger than life character. Yet aspects of Alexander's life have mostly inspired television series in the 1950's with such various and often-unusual casts in the title role ranging from Sean Connery to William Shatner.

For historians also Alexander remains an enigmatic character. Was he a visionary or a madman? A liberator or a tyrant? What driving force led him to the extreme limits of human endurance only to leave an Empire without a throne? Even his sexuality has been a subject of debate amongst experts who have tried to shed a Freudian light on his love life.

Also In trying to unite East and West, Alexander adopted the customs and traditions of the vanquished. Was it not he who encouraged matrimony between the Greeks and Persians by taking as spouse the Bactrian princess Roxanne ? By punishing those who betrayed his foe King Darius III and by governing the conquered Persian Empire according to the same laws as his royal predecessor, French historian Pierre Briant ( Author of "Darius dans l'ombre d'Alexandre" aka "Darius in the shadow of Alexander") suggests that Alexander in many ways was the "Last Achaemenide".

So who else but an equally ambitious director could have took an interest in Alexander? Several Hollywood directors from Martin Scorcese to Mel Gibson have cherished the dream of bringing to the screen the life of the historical role model. Gibson hoped to direct and act in a 10 hour long mini series for HBO on the Macedonian hero but finally decided to focus on the controversial "The Passion of the Christ".

The competition that followed was to oppose Oliver Stone ( JFK, Nixon, Wallstreet)   and Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) each bidding respectively on young talent Colin Farrel (Phone Game, S.W.A.T) and confirmed Star Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role. In the meantime an obscure Egyptian, Greek and   British co-production directed by Lebanese director Jalal Mehri announced the soon to be released film "Young Alexander" with Sam Heugan which focuses on the boyhood of Alexander to his assumption as Regent of Greece after proving his worth to his father, the demanding King Phillip.

The two serious projects of Stone and Luhrmann have been the subject of a great deal of gossip and talk in Hollywood circles, which mounted, particularly with the Iraq War crisis.

Luhrmann had scouted locations in Jordan, and producer Dino De Laurentiis signed a deal with Morocco's King Mohammed VI to build three soundstages there in exchange for the king putting more than 4,000 soldiers and 8,000 horses at Luhrmann's disposal. But after a series of suicide bombings in Casablanca in May 2003, Luhrmann opted to shoot Down Under as a safeguard against terrorism. Shooting which was set to start at the beginning of February 2003 has since been delayed and production has moved to Australia the native country of Luhrmann.

So it now appears that Oliver Stone is the victor in the race. Principal photography on "Alexander" began Sept. 22, 2003 and wrapped Feb. 13 2004, lensing 36 days in Morocco, 18 days in Thailand and the rest of the time on a London soundstage. In all, production was completed on a brisk 93-day schedule that stands as a tribute to Stone's persistence of vision. Now in post-production in Paris Stone's $150 million historical epic "Alexander" is due for a Nov. 5 U.S. release through Warner Bros. Pictures.

That said, the shoot was not without complications. The crew had to put up with a sandstorm in Morocco, but that didn't stop shooting. Then, when in Thailand, there was a (film) stock problem: The stock coming into Thailand got X-rayed, and no one basically knew which of the reels were damaged. As for Stone he just kept shooting.

The production also was thrown for a loop when Farrell broke his foot while off-duty in Thailand -- reportedly by falling down a flight of stairs -- and had to be flown to a Bangkok hospital. Farrell insisted on returning to the set in a removable cast and shooting an action scene on horseback -- railing against an elephant -- while wearing the cast.

Further complicating the logistics, Stone opted in many cases to hire real extras for his cast-of-thousands battle scenes, instead of using computer generated imagery to transform a small or even moderate crowd of actors into the hordes of unstoppable mauraders that appear onscreen.

Another controversy appeared in August when Stone released the promo trailer for his film in which a picture of the Zoroastrian Farvahar is shown covered with the name of Alexander. This triggered the wrath of the Parsis community in India and has since raised concerns amongst the Zoroastrian Community of California (ZAC). Spearheading the protest is none other than music maestro Zubin Mehta, a Parsi himself. See article from the Times of India

Stone's production saga began 15 years ago when he conceived of making a film about Alexander the Great. Around 1990, Stone commissioned a writer to pen a novel about the enigmatic early master of the universe; many ideas were put to paper, but the book never saw the light of publication.

Moving on to other projects Stone admits that the story continued to tug at him. Look closely at his 1991 film "The Doors," and one can see lead actor Val Kilmer, as rock god Jim Morrison, morphing into Alexander. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter Stone says "I have always been fascinated by the character, but he has always been very resistant to dramatization".

Stone attempted to revive the project in 1996, joining forces with independent film kingpins Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar; again, though, it floundered. Not until 2000, when Ridley Scott's best picture Oscar winner "Gladiator" proved that sword-and-sandal epics again were viable as blockbusters, did industry interest in the Alexander character reach a tipping point.

As for the script of "Alexander" Christopher Kyle (2002's "K-19: The Widowmaker") turned in several screenplay drafts during the next year after being hired by Intermedia, but Stone eventually would take scripting chores upon himself, writing and rewriting throughout 2002.

In a recent interview to French magazine "Le Figaro" Stone explains further his vision of Alexander's Life Conquests and Legend:

"I could not show all the battles, I had to make choices. Before the battle against King Poros' Elephants in India, the Battle of Gaugameles opposing Darius the Shah of Persia and Alexander appeared to me as essential and fascinating. With 40 000 Greeks, Alexander had to face a horde of 25 000 Persians. Many ancient historians such as Arrien described the battle as well as direct witnesses who participated such as one of Alexander's Generals Ptolemy. They all participated in creating a legend. Alexander loved Myths; he had a copy of the Iliad's on him and believed that he was walking in the footsteps of Achilles. On meeting Roxanne he probably thought he met an Amazon Queen. We do not know but I think he fell in love. He wanted to stick to the myth. However we can suppose that the Greek soldiers were shocked. How could their leader marry a Bactriane, when he could have married the daughter of Darius, or even a Macedonian? The relationship between Roxanne and Alexander is fundamental in understanding the personality of the conqueror. In addition I saw in Alexander not only a conqueror, but a man surrounded by strong personalities such as his Father Phillip, his mother Olympias, Roxanne and Hephaestion. The latter loved Alexander for what he was, that is a love according to Aristotle's definition: a strong bond of friendship. All the humanity of Alexander is revealed through this particular relationship. The great adventure of Alexander's life was set on the battlefields as well as inside his soul. Alexander was also a ruthless paranoiac. However one has to understand that before Alexander all Macedonian Kings including his own father were assassinated. When he decides to suppress his opponents within the ranks of his own army, it is because he was shocked to be disapproved. There were at least two conspiracies against Alexander, which I included in the film. I could not illustrate all the events. You know I had to reduce a film of 10 hours to 3 hours. I had to concentrate a maximum of things in a small box. It was a cruel dilemma."

Stones film includes an international cast with in the title roles: Colin Farrel {Alexander), Angelina Jolie (Olympias), Val Kilmer (Philip), Sir Anthony Hopkins (Old Ptolemy), Jared Leto (Hephaestion), Rosario Dawson (Roxanne) and Israeli actor Raz Degan (Darius Codoman III Shah of Persia).

It should be noted that Oliver Stone tried vainly to cast an Iranian actor David K.Zandi in the role of Darius, however Zandi   turned down the role preferring to cast in Baz Luhrmanns film. However by some ironic coincidence German-Turkish actor Erol Sander who portrayed the Former Shah of Iran Mohamed Reza Pahlavi in the European mini TV series "Soraya", is cast in the film as Indian Prince Pharnakes.

"Alexander" is the most expensive film made to date by the Academy Award-winning director, all that remains to be seen is if Stone's "Alexander" has equity among the world's moviegoers.

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Authors Notes:

- The Palace of Darius was entirely reconstructed in Pinewood Studios in London. It is not yet certain if Stone refers to Persepolis, Babylon or Susa, yet the sets look magnificent although there is a mixture of Babylonian and Persian architecture. Also the American director has not hinted whether or not the burning of Persepolis by Alexander will be mentioned in the film.

- Listen to the Musical Score of Alexander is composed by Greek Oscar Winning Composer Vangelis

- Oliver Stones comments on the computer game inspired by the film: Stones picture has also interested Ubisoft, one of the world's largest video game publishers, in cooperation with Intermedia Films who will release a real-time strategy video game based on the upcoming motion picture. The game will be available for the PC day-and-date with the US theatrical release in November 2004, and with the European release to follow. Interviewed by PCS (Pop Culture Shock) news Stone said "Alexander is probably the greatest single military strategist of all time. One variation of the game even has (Persian King) Darius emerging the victor over Alexander. Players will have serious possibilities for winning and losing empires. I'm looking forward to playing".

- Recommended reading:

An excellent compact and illustrated history on Alexander by French historian Pierre Briant:

Alexander the Great, by  Pierre Briant

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