Alexander the Great conquered the world not only
by virtue of his military genius, but perhaps even more importantly,
with the power of his ideas. What Alexander accomplished in his
near 33 years on earth have reverberated through the centuries,
still informing how life is lived throughout the lands he conquered
more than two thousand years ago. Although he was the ultimate warrior,
Alexander had the soul of an explorer – in his 22,000-mile march,
he sought not to destroy, but to re-invent each society in the mold
of his own vision for a new world, and perhaps a new destiny for
the human race. Through his actions, Alexander temporarily united
East and West, spreading Hellenistic thought and culture throughout
the Eastern world with lasting effect.
His accomplishments were astonishing by any standards.
His empire included 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 B.C., the year of his death, it comprised well over
two million square miles.
Alexander has been the subject of an enormous body
of written works, historical, fictive, psychological and even practical
(as evidenced by two recently published books that translate Alexander’s
military strategy into a guide for modern businessmen), but except
for one attempt by Hollywood nearly 40 years ago, no filmmaker has
found a way to translate Alexander’s extraordinary life to the screen
– until Oscar-winning director/screenwriter Oliver Stone took on
the challenge of telling the story in the epic Alexander.
The film’s production incorporated a multitude
of disciplines, all designed to bring the exact quality and look
of Alexander’s world to life. The numerous sets included detailed
re-creations of lavish palaces, the extraordinary Alexandria Library
and the magnificent city of Babylon, including its legendary Hanging
Gardens, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Additionally,
each actor’s accent was specifically chosen to reflect the interconnected
languages and wide array of dialects of the time.
In preparation for their roles, all the actors
portraying soldiers, including stars Colin Farrell and Jared Leto,
underwent extensive training in ancient battle strategies and the
use of exact replicas of Macedonian and Greek weaponry. The battles
are epic in scope – recreated for the screen are the Battle of Gaugamela,
where Alexander’s heavily outnumbered troops resoundingly defeated
the vast Persian army, and a vicious battle in the forests of India
in which his troops fight against enormous elephants.
"The beauty of Alexander is that he won,"
says Stone, whose acclaimed films include Any Given Sunday,
Nixon, Natural Born Killers, JFK, The Doors,
Born on the Fourth of July, Wall Street and Platoon.
"He’ll always be known for at least two reasons – that
he conquered the world without ever suffering a military defeat,
and as a visionary and a man of remarkable and generous spirit.
He was perhaps the greatest warrior of all time, greater than his
mythic heroes Achilles and Herakles. He grew up under the influence
of these mythological Greek figures and he believed in them as no
other child. Out of that belief and faith grew this monumental drive
and destiny, which he actually achieved."
Fascinated by Alexander since childhood and inspired
by Greek mythology, Stone dreamed of making Alexander’s story for
years. "I had frustrated student fantasies of going back in
time with documentary cameras and a small crew to actually film
Alexander’s military campaigns," he recalls. "32 years
later, I finally had one chance to go back in time and actually
recreate the period as best I could."
Alexander producer Moritz Borman was
intrigued by the extent to which Stone had delved into Alexander’s
mind in his screenplay. "Most of us have some historical knowledge
of Alexander," Borman notes, "but don’t know much about
the man himself, his soul, his inner workings. Oliver’s script asked
where he came from, what were his trials and tribulations, how did
his cultural environment form him, what happened when he encountered
different cultures and confronted apparently impossible situations.
This was not just a history lesson, but a script about a man who
all of us could very well relate to today, with many of the themes
of our time. The whole story of Alexander just came alive in the
script, a truly dramatic and glorious tale."
Serving as historical advisor to Stone was Robin
Lane Fox, a fellow of New College, Oxford, whose 1972 biography
of Alexander has sold more than a million copies and is considered
one of the finest contemporary works on his life. Lane Fox’s
encyclopedic knowledge of Alexander’s life provided
the filmmaker with information for his screenplay and occasional
"I first met Oliver three years ago in London,"
Lane Fox recalls, "and he bombarded me with questions, a process
that went on for months. He wanted to understand everything from
how Greeks would behave at a dinner party to what Aristotle meant
"I think Oliver’s strength as a historical
dramatist is that his mind has a real feel for the character. He
has an epic eye and dimension. Oliver has aimed high to present
the greatness, and it will surprise historians to the degree to
which he’s tried to convey the balance of Alexander’s accomplishments,
both good and bad."
Stone’s film is by definition interpretive, as
are all works of historical fiction. Alexander lived in ancient
times, and even his earliest historians could only take their best
guess at the truth. "Cramming every incident of Alexander’s
extraordinary life into one feature film would be quite literally
impossible," notes Lane Fox, "and there are also mysteries
that may never be solved. I understand why Oliver made the decisions
to omit certain incidents in Alexander’s life, or to make slight
changes in the sequence of events. One of the fascinations about
Alexander is the gaps in what we can know – they give such scope
for the imagination."
Stone doesn’t see the story of Alexander as belonging
solely to the ancient world. "The incredible thing about Alexander
was that he knew all of the Greek myths, and then acted them out
in his real life. He had a lot of demon drives that modern people
have, and one of my hopes is that the movie will bring back some
sense of history that there were other times and places, empires
that ruled the earth and men who were great dreamers and visionaries.
Everyone, especially young people now, should be given a sense
of history and the possibility of idealism; that
should never be corrupted."
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