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Alexander, the great turkey!

Arthur J Pais in New York | November 25, 2004 16:42 IST

AlexanderBaz Luhrmann, who lost the Alexander-filming race to Oliver Stone, ought to revive his own project at the soonest. For Stone has delivered the first big turkey of this holiday season with his Alexander.

Even if Luhrmann's film were a catastrophic disappointment, it is doubtful he or anyone else can turn the liveliest historical subject of Alexander the Great into a plodding, lifeless film like this.

Despite a cast of proven veterans and promising young actors, the film does not offer one singularly compelling performance. Perhaps the only artist who makes her presence really felt is Rosario Dawson, and that is mainly because she looks so ravishing.

There just isn't enough drama, and the film is emotionally frigid for the most part. It will have a hard time engaging, let alone conquering, an audience.  

Stone's film, certainly a sincere effort, is so disappointing that one suddenly feels the mediocre Troy released earlier this year, to be a relatively invigorating film.

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The thrilling battle sequences in Alexander, set in Persia and India (but shot in northern Thailand), save the film from time to time from total disaster. The final scenes involving elephants and horses are rousing but, like everything else in the film, they are too long.

Alexander's defeat of the Persian army in the Battle of Gaugamela is captured vividly, with many ferociously fought scenes amidst stormy sands having been infused with intensity. The scenes in the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon are also lively and eye filling.

But what is missing is a powerful portrait of a complex and yet a visionary war-maker and empire builder who rode across at least 10,000 miles, successfully fighting at least 70 battles over a period of 12 years by the age of 32 in 323 BC. And yet, despite respecting the conquered people instead of subjugating them to Greek traditions, and desisting from plundering them, Alexander, who was never defeated, could not succeed in building an empire that would last even a few decades after his death. Worse, he could not stop his army mutinying as he sought to push through India.  

The movie starts with Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) musing over the legacy of Alexander four decades after the conqueror's death.

It then moves to the younger Alexander (Connor Paolo) and his dysfunctional family.

AlexanderSurrounded by her snakes, Olympias (Angelina Jolie) is teaching her son to grasp a snake. But young Alexander's education is interrupted by suspicious and jealous King Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer), his father, who doesn't hesitate forcing himself onto his own wife.

Alexander's (Colin Farell) association with his friend Hephaiston (Jared Leto), strongly suggests a relationship but is never exploited for any dramatic result.

Alexander's education involves lectures from Aristotle (Christopher Plummer), who fills the young man's mind with the notions of Greek superiority. It will take him a few years to weigh the claim of other nationalities being inferior and discard it.

As Alexander pursues his empire building ambition, he also pauses to take a bride called Roxane (Rosario Dawson) in Persia, closer to the border of what we know today as Afghanistan.

It is a strange development. We don't see him really enchanted by Roxane but we do get a sense he is more interested in using the marriage to unify his empire and beget an heir.

The wedding scene provides the film with some silly, but welcome, melodrama. Alexander has certainly been learning how to handle defeated people but in bed, he has quite a lot to learn.

As with the movie's many relationships, the one between Alexander and Roxane is also not satisfactorily explored, and the dialogue is often clumsy. When Olympias is frustrated by her son's lack of communication and distancing himself from her, she despairs: 'What have I done to make you hate me so?'

Stone surely wants to make Alexander relevant to our times. We can be certain of that when he makes Ptolemy say: 'Babylon was a far easier place to enter than it was to leave.'

It certainly wasn't easy for Stone to enter this movie project, but he has been overwhelmed by it, despite having made such controversial but lively films like Platoon and JFK over the last two decades.

Seldom has a war film from an accomplished filmmaker disappointed as much as Alexander.

Also, check out our Alexander special which had predicted just this kind of abysmally great disaster!

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