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ALEXANDER

The Life of the Legend

Oliver Stone’s Alexander is based on the true story of Alexander the Great, one of history’s most luminous and influential leaders – a man who had conquered 90% of the known world by the age of 25. Alexander led his virtually invincible Greek and Macedonian armies through 22,000 miles
of sieges and conquests in just eight years, and by the time of his death at the age of 32 had forged an empire unlike any the world had ever seen.

His extraordinary journey began when Alexander launched his invasion from Macedonia, first leading his armies to wrest Western Asia from Persian control, then driving his vastly outnumbered troops to an impossible victory over the mighty Persian army itself. Alexander expanded his empire into the unknown lands of modern day Central Asia before venturing across the Himalayan foothills, further than any Westerner had ever gone, continuing his conquests all the
way to the exotic world of India.

Incredibly, and possibly unique in the annals of military history, Alexander was never defeated in battle. He relentlessly pushed his army across the sands, mountains and jungles of strange and mysterious lands, conquering every enemy who dared oppose him. The film chronicles Alexander’s path to becoming a living legend, from a youth fueled by dreams of myth, glory, and
adventure, to his intense bonds with his closest companions, to his lonely death as a ruler of a vast
Empire.

“The beauty of Alexander is that he won,” says Alexander director/screenwriter Oliver Stone. “So many great people of history had bitter lives, but Alexander will always be known for at least two reasons – that he conquered the world and never suffered military defeat, and as a visionary and a man of a remarkable and generous spirit. He was perhaps the greatest warrior of all time, greater than Achilles and Heracles. He grew up under the influence of these mythological Greek figures, he believed in them as no other child, and out of that belief and faith grew this monumental drive and destiny, which he achieved.”

Alexander’s accomplishments were astonishing by any standards. His empire included – either partially or in their entirety – lands that now comprise the countries of Greece, Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Egypt, Libya, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India. In 323 BC, the year of his death, his territory comprised two million square miles.

Alexander has been the subject of an enormous body of written works, historical, fictional, psychological and even practical, as evidenced by a recently published book that translates his military strategy into a guide for modern businessmen.

“There are a number of modern historians who have decided to take a dark view of Alexander,” says noted Alexander the Great historian Robin Lane Fox, who served as historical consultant on the film. “Thousands of people were killed in the course of Alexander’s campaigns. These were not gentle times. But Oliver has powerfully dramatized the roots of Alexander’s own ambitions, so that modern audiences can engage with the fascinating question of his personality, what it meant to follow him, to have risked their lives with him. Alexander had so many talents. Historians have sometimes found it hard to confront them, but unquestionably, he had a fantastic
ability to lead men and to attract and retain more and more into his army – including, significantly, from peoples who surrendered to him.”

Born in late July of 356 BC, Alexander grew up in the royal palace of Pella, Macedonia’s capital. His father was King Philip II, a powerful and skilled military leader with an ambitious expansionist vision for his homeland. His mother was the Epirote princess Olympias, a vivid and passionate character who ardently worshiped Dionysus and was known to keep scores of snakes in her bedchambers. His parents had an extremely hostile and antagonistic relationship, and Alexander was often torn between them. Olympias fervently believed that her son had not actually been fathered by Philip, but by Zeus, king of the Greek Gods – a story that Alexander himself often
espoused throughout his lifetime. Alexander received an outstanding education, tutored by the great Greek philosopher and biologist Aristotle.

In 336 B.C. Alexander ascended to the throne of Macedonia at the age of 19, with factions in Macedonia, barbarians in the north and east and Greek cities to the south in open revolt. Within two years, Alexander had crushed all insurrection in the region. He next turned his sights outward to his father’s thwarted ambition – invading the vast and powerful Persian Empire, led by King Darius III.

In 334 BC, Alexander set off with his Macedonian army on what would prove to be a lifetime of victorious military campaigns, beginning with his defeat of an army led by a group of Persian nobles in the Battle of Granicus. His victory freed Greek city-states under Persian control and set the stage for the occupation of Asia Minor.

The Macedonians next met the Persian army, led by King Darius, in the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. Outmaneuvered on the battlefield, Darius fled, debilitating his army and abandoning his family. Alexander subsequently led his troops down the Mediterranean coast, taking Tyre and Gaza in successful sieges. After conquering Egypt, having met no resistance, Alexander moved into Mesopotamia, the heart of the Persian Empire. It was there that he met Darius III on the battlefield for the final time, in the legendary Battle of Gaugamela – a conflict that ended with Darius’ defeat, breaking the spirit of his army and the backbone of his empire.

Alexander vividly captures this astonishing encounter, in which the Macedonian forces of just 7,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry soldiers were pitted against the Persians’ 40,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry and 6,000 Greek mercenaries. Incredibly, the vastly outnumbered Macedonians were able to defeat the Persians, largely due to Alexander’s strategic employment of the “phalanx,” a military formation developed by King Philip and later perfected by his son. A phalanx consists of 256 men formed 16 by 16 squared, carrying 18-foot-long sarissas (lances), assembled into a nearly impenetrable formation. King Philip’s creation of the indomitable phalanx and his idea of maintaining a standing army of paid soldiers ensured that when Alexander rose to power, he had the
tools in place to conquer the world.

Swirling dust, the sounds of men in desperate hand-to-hand combat and the thunder of pounding hooves permeated the filming of the Battle of Gaugamela. The first time Robin Lane Fox caught a glimpse of an extra mounted on horseback in the full regalia of a Macedonian Companion Cavalrymen, he was deeply moved. But the historian wouldn’t only be a witness to this recreation – he would be a participant. Part of his arrangement with Stone was that he would play a part in Alexander’s immortal charge at the Persian center.

“I saw my mind’s-eye of the battlefield coming alive,” says Lane Fox. “What I wrote in Alexander’s biography 30 years before was being realized as I watched. Oliver and his crew took great care to get people armored with due reference to history from the ancient sources and to show the main maneuvers. The result is a really terrifying battle that has an exceptional degree of authenticity.”

Lane Fox was impressed with the scope of Stone’s staging of the seminal battle. “The Gaugamela battle is based on the surviving ancient evidence, with a few inevitable compromises,” he says. “In my view, these battle scenes could be circulated to schools, historians and universities for fruitful discussion. They give a splendid impression of the units in action, the blood, the chaos – above all, they give a stunning sense of scale. No historian, certainly not I, has ever truly imagined the enormity of these battles, so the film shows us this scale for the first time. The size of these armies was never matched again in Europe until the 17th century. We unmilitary modern professionals, I now realize, have lost an eye for the great mass-conflicts of the ancient world. Happily, film restores what archaeology cannot.”     

After his resounding victory at Gaugamela, Alexander easily occupied the greatest and richest city in Mesopotamia – the magnificent Babylon. There he allowed Darius’ family to remain in comfort and honor, and is thought to have become like a son to Darius’ own mother Sisygambus. The king then drove his army further east than they had ever ventured, to the provinces of Bactria and Sogdiana. After his conquests there, Alexander married Roxane, daughter of the most powerful chieftain in that region of Persia. Although rooted in his teacher Aristotle’s proclamations
of the essential superiority of the Hellenic culture and religion, Alexander ultimately challenged Aristotle’s notions of racial purity by encouraging his soldiers to marry women in conquered territories, setting the example himself by taking Roxane as his first wife. The film captures the exotic majesty of their union, reflecting Alexander’s desire to meld Greek culture with those of his conquered nations.

Alexander next turned towards India, a land that held many astonishing sights for the Macedonians. In the film, a fierce forest conflict pits Alexander’s army against Indian troops, with the soldiers facing dramatic weather, a landscape inhospitable to their military formations, and most incredibly, war elephants – the Macedonians had never encountered anything akin to the giant beasts that the Indian soldiers employed in combat.

Alexander’s ambition inspired him to push further east, towards the Ganges River, but his exhausted and increasingly belligerent army refused to go on. After weathering a near-mutiny, he led them south, engaging in numerous smaller conflicts before finally returning to Babylon. A short time later, it was there that Alexander died of an unexplained illness, in June of 323 BC. Alexander the Great conquered the known world not only with military genius, but perhaps even more importantly, the power of his ideas. In his 11,000-mile march, Alexander sought not to destroy, but to re-invent each society in the mold of his own vision for a new world, a new people
and a new destiny for the entire human race. He dreamed of uniting East and West, of spreading Hellenistic thought and culture throughout the world. Alexander often allowed the local rulers he had defeated to continue to govern their territories. “For instance, in India, he did not find a world of peace and disrupt it,” says Lane Fox. “There were existing local wars and hatreds, and if people surrendered to him, he favored them. If not, he conquered them and killed all the rebels, but he also ended their local hostilities.”

What Alexander accomplished in his near 33 years on earth have reverberated through the centuries, still informing how life is lived not only in the lands he conquered more than two thousand years ago, but even in those he never saw. And now, he lives again in Alexander, Oliver Stone’s epic account of the life of the king who nearly conquered all.

Lane Fox believes that Stone has woven together a fascinating interpretation of the many sides of one of history’s most complex and charismatic leaders. “Epic films about history have been much discussed for showing a ‘Past Imperfect,’ but this neat label is the wrong one to apply,” cautions Lane Fox. “But ‘Perfect history’; does not exist, nor was it ever Oliver’s aim. His aim was an intense drama, not a documentary. The framework of Alexander’s life is a much more fascinating starting-point for such a drama than an ignorant imagination of it. As a result, history is the film-drama’s springboard and gives it force, but fiction is built into it too. We cannot hear Alexander nowadays and we have next to no idea what he said. So a scriptwriter has to invent, and Oliver’s script is a historical fiction. But it is a fiction exceptionally rooted in history.”

Alexander (Colin Farrell) works
on a scene with director Oliver Stone.

The regal Olympias (Angelina Jolie)
watches the events at the amphitheatre.

Alexander (Colin Farrell) observes the
vast Persian army from a ridge
overlooking Gaugamela.

King Philip (Val Kilmer) walks into the
amphitheatre to have himself enshrined
as the 13th god of the Greek pantheon.

Rosario Dawson as Princess Roxane.

Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) in the
Alexandria Library.

Hephaistion (Jared Leto) is Alexander’s
closest friend and loyal General.

Christopher Plummer portrays the great
philosopher and teacher Aristotle.

A costumed Robin Lane Fox chats with
director Oliver Stone.

In a ruined temple to the goddess
Pallas Athena, the great Greek
philosopher Aristotle (Christopher
Plummer) teaches young Alexander
(Connor Paolo) and his friends.

King Philip (Val Kilmer) and Alexander
(Colin Farrell).

Olympias (Angelina Jolie) at the horse
market with her young son Alexander
(Connor Paolo).

Young Hephaistion (Christopher Cantwell) and young Alexander (Connor Paolo) are best friends from childhood.

Alexander (Colin Farrell) cuts the bread,
which marks his marriage to the beautiful Princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson).

Alexander (Colin Farrell) explains his
battle plans to his generals.

King Darius III (Raz Degan) in his
ornate golden chariot.

Alexander (Colin Farrell) inspires his
troops at Gaugamela.

Bessus (Stephane Ferrara), a leader of
Darius’ calvary, stands with his Persian
forces at the ready for combat at
Gaugamela.

A triumphant Alexander (Colin Farrell)
leads his companions into the
vanquished Darius III’s opulent Babylon
Palace.

Ptolemy (Elliot Cowan) tells Alexander
(Colin Farrell) that they must try to find
their way through the mountains to
India.

The Indian King (Bin Binruelit) sits high
atop a war elephant in his howdah.

Indian archers prepare to fire their volley
at the Macedonians.

In a moment right out of myth, Alexander
(Colin Farrell) on Bucephalas goes head-
to-head with the Indian King (Bin Binruelit)
on his war elephant.

 

Alexander will be released on November 24, 2004, and distributed by Warner Bros.
Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and Intermedia.

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