Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 16 News List

'The world's greatest idealist' turned into celluloid

A homosexual Alexander romps through Oliver Stone's latest epic, on his way to forging one of the world's greatest empires

By Glenn Whipp  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Los Angeles

Alexander contemplates marriage and a large loaf of bread.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FOX MOIVIES

Oliver Stone is exhausted and a little out of his gourd. He just turned in the final print of his epic dream project, Alexander (it was more or less pried from his hands), and, truth be known, he isn't sure he has succeeded in telling the story of the man he calls "history's greatest

idealist."

"We tried," the 58-year-old filmmaker says wearily from his hotel room, rubbing his face in his hands, his longtime girlfriend, Chong Son Chong, and their nine-year-old daughter, Tara, hanging out in the suite's bedroom, patiently waiting for him to be done.

Will Stone ever be done with Alexander? It's a question that lingers heavily in the air following the months he has spent editing the half-year's worth of footage he shot last year and early into 2004 in Morocco, London and Thailand. Stone's Alexander has gone through three major cuts, whittling a good 45 minutes from first edition to last, forcing Warner Bros to delay its release from early November to Thanksgiving. (The line from the studio: The later date will be better for Oscar campaigning.)

Finding a cut everyone can tolerate, much less like, has been problematic. For some, the film is -- take your pick -- too violent, too gay, too confusing. Much of the violence and overt homosexuality that was present in Stone's first cut has been excised.

It has made little difference. When Alexander was first screened for US film writers, the reaction to the now two-hour, 55-minute movie was so bad that MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls ran a story with the headline: "Early viewers stone Alexander."

`TOO BIG FOR LIFE'

Stone knew it would be a nightmare to make a movie about Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered the Persian Empire and spread Greek culture (while ruthlessly destroying everything and everyone in his path) into the Middle East and Egypt, before contracting malaria, dying and leaving a beautiful corpse at age 32 in 323 BC.

Film Notes

Directed by: Oliver Stone

Starring: Anthony Hopkins (Old Ptolemy), Jessie Kamm (Child Alexander, Angelina Jolie (Olympias), Val Kilmer (Philip), Fiona O'Shaughnessy (Nurse), colin farrell (alexander), , Christopher Plummer (Aristotle)

Running time: 173 minutes

Taiwan Release: today


Unlike, say, Julius Caesar, Alexander's story has been little told either on stage or screen. (Robert Rossen's sluggish 1955 film with Richard Burton as Alexander is an exception.) That Alexander had proved so elusive intrigued Stone, who traces his interest in the ancient conqueror to a class he took in Greek mythology in 1969 at New York University's film school.

"Possibly he's too big for life," Stone muses about why so few dramatists have taken a stab at Alexander. "People want more ordinary. Too famous, too known, too successful, too much. I don't know. He's sexually ambiguous. He's a thorny character. He has mother-father issues. He has sexuality issues ... but 'issues' evokes a modern sense of problem awareness."

"The biggest problem," Stone continues, "is that he lived a five-act life, at least. There were 50 battles. We started thinking about this movie in 1989, but I could never solve the script. We finally brought it down to three acts. That was my problem. People talk about the competition with this other film. My mind was always on the prize, which was the script."

A DIRECTOR'S VISION

That "other film," an Alexander biopic from director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) and producer Dino De Laurentiis was but one of several Alexander-related projects being discussed at the beginning of the 21st century. Mel Gibson had plans to produce a miniseries for HBO. Producer Moritz Borman calls casting Farrell a "giant leap of faith."

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