The Life of the Legend
Oliver Stones Alexander is based on the true story of Alexander
the Great, one of historys 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
Alexanders 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
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.
Alexanders 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
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 Alexanders campaigns. These were not gentle times. But
Oliver has powerfully dramatized the roots of Alexanders 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
Born in late July of 356 BC, Alexander grew up in the royal palace
of Pella, Macedonias 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
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 fathers thwarted ambition
invading the vast and powerful Persian Empire, led by King Darius
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 Alexanders 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 Philips 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 wouldnt
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 Alexanders immortal charge at the Persian center.
I saw my minds-eye of the battlefield coming alive,
says Lane Fox. What I wrote in Alexanders 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 Stones 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 Aristotles proclamations
of the essential superiority of the Hellenic culture and religion,
Alexander ultimately challenged Aristotles 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
Alexanders desire to meld Greek culture with those of his
Alexander next turned towards India, a land that held many astonishing
sights for the Macedonians. In the film, a fierce forest conflict
pits Alexanders 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.
Alexanders 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 Stones 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 historys 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 Olivers aim.
His aim was an intense drama, not a documentary. The framework of
Alexanders 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-dramas 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 Olivers script is a historical fiction. But
it is a fiction exceptionally rooted in history.
Alexander (Colin Farrell)
on a scene with director Oliver Stone.
The regal Olympias (Angelina
watches the events at the amphitheatre.
Alexander (Colin Farrell)
vast Persian army from a ridge
King Philip (Val Kilmer) walks into
amphitheatre to have himself enshrined
as the 13th god of the Greek pantheon.
Rosario Dawson as Princess
Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) in the
Hephaistion (Jared Leto)
closest friend and loyal General.
Christopher Plummer portrays the
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)
Olympias (Angelina Jolie) at the
market with her young son Alexander
Young Hephaistion (Christopher
Cantwell) and young Alexander (Connor Paolo) are best friends
Alexander (Colin Farrell) cuts the
which marks his marriage to the beautiful Princess Roxane
Alexander (Colin Farrell)
battle plans to his generals.
King Darius III (Raz Degan) in his
ornate golden chariot.
Alexander (Colin Farrell)
troops at Gaugamela.
Bessus (Stephane Ferrara), a leader
Darius calvary, stands with his Persian
forces at the ready for combat at
A triumphant Alexander
leads his companions into the
vanquished Darius IIIs opulent Babylon
Ptolemy (Elliot Cowan) tells Alexander
(Colin Farrell) that they must try to find
their way through the mountains to
The Indian King (Bin
Binruelit) sits high
atop a war elephant in his howdah.
Indian archers prepare to fire their
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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