DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Alexander, Troy, The Odyssey, 300, Jason and the Argonauts

 

Title:  Alexander

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 173 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company:   Warner Brothers, Intermedia

Director; Writer: Oliver Stone

Producer:

Cast:   

Technical: full widescreen

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: homosexuality of major historical figure

Review:

 

Alexander (2004, R, Warner Brothers/Intermedia, 173 min, dir. Oliver Stone) is Oliver Stone’s latest controversial epic. It’s obvious what he will try to develop: Alexander the Great’s homosexuality, well, bisexuality. Though the opening of the film is sensational, when young Alexander sees his father King Philip (Val Kilmer) rape his mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie). But soon it is clear that Alexander is a gifted and determined boy, excelling at wrestling, soon a pupil of Aristotle (Christopher Plummer). Once he becomes King (Colin Farrell with his hair dyed blond) after some political manipulations, he moves quickly as a young adult. His idea is that when his armies conquer an area, they can make it better, and that Alexander can map and take over the known world. (Maybe he needed “Andy’s” Pepsi bottle-Globe from The Apprentice.)  Stone’s idea seems to be that Alexander’s homosexuality is intrinsic, and drives his ambition at the deepest aesthetic levels; family and children are to serve higher cultural purposes. His lover will be Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and it seems to be deeply felt and satisfying, with a real exercise of Alexander’s domain for its own sake. As he reaches the far East, he marries Roxanne (Rosario Dawson) who catches him with Hephaistion but eventually lets Alexander fight and manipulate her into supply international progency. Of course, all of this could be threatening in a society like ours, where some men see the family as the essential motivating element of society, and see homosexuality as a cheater’s way out for failed males. Not so in Hellenistic society, which tried to manage the idea of male beauty and male polarization for its own sake. Stone may intend here to make a profound political argument for gay marriage and letting gays serve openly in the military, but I think such an effort requires similar cinematic resources to a layered story with a contemporary setting. The dialogue is wooden at times, even including Old Ptolemy’s (Anthony Hopkins) narration from Alexandria, Egypt. Stone’s visual story telling is stunning, as are his recreations of Alexandria and Babylon, complete with high-rise buildings. Alexander and the other warriors, however, have that buffed and waxed look, that perhaps seems less manly, and Farrell sometimes sounds a bit whiny. Oh, what movies stars go through.

 

The gay press reports that WB is releasing two versions of this movie on DVD in Aug. 2005, the original theatrical release (which supposedly brought in only $35 M for a $150 M cost film, and played very poorly in the South), and a “director’s cut” (??) with most of the homosexual references (especially toward the end of the film) eliminated. Perhaps this is not a real problem if the releases are labeled well; TheWB may well need a “PG-13” version for financial reasons. A “cleansed” (??) version also is much easier to sell to the public schools, where the movie would be shown in world history high school classes.

 

Troy – (2004, Warner Brothers, Radiant, about 160 min, R, dir. Wolfgang Petersen). Brad Pitt is Achilles (is he the best casting choice? – maybe? Tom Welling is just too innocent), Eric Bana as Hector, and Orlando Bloom (from LOTR) as the Trojan survivor in this adaptation of Homer’s Iliad. This is your basic CinemaScope spectacle movie from the 50s. The early battle scenes, filmed on beaches in Mexico, setting up the invasion of Troy, and they are overwhelming with the digital special effect to replicate the ships and warriors. But the story is slow to get going, but toward the end it accelerates, with the Trojan horse gift, a live human experiment that foreshadows today’s computer viruses. Josh Groban sings in the end credits, and some of James Horner’s music score (however operatic) reminds one of the Dies Irae from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem.

 

The Odyssey (1997, NBC TV mini-series, Andrei Konchalovsky) presented Homer’s other epic poem, with Armand Assante as Odysseus and Greta Sacchi as the Penelope. There is plenty of spectacle along the way (such as the Cyclops) and the renunion at the end. The Odyssey gets adopted into other films sometimes, as with Joel Coen’s O Brother Where Art Thou (2000, Touchstone), based on the misadventures of some escaped convicts that will get religion, as well as Cold Mountain (q.v.)  ?

 

Jason and the Argonauts (2000, NBC/Universal/Hallmark, 220 min, TV-miniseries, dir. Nick Willing, UK) is a rendition of the famous Greek legend where Jason (Jason London) returns home to reclaim the throne of his slain father and has to enlist his army to capture the Golden fleece. There is a bit of the Superman theme of destiny in this series, but it seems to need the big screen.

 

300 (aka "Three Hundred", 2007, Warner Bros./Legendary/Virtual Studios, dir. Zack Snyder, graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, 117 min, R, Canada/UK). This sepia-toned CGI-feast-account of the gory Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC between Sparta and Persia has the corniness to have come from Dimension Films and Project Greenlight. It is quite a spectacle, with plenty heads, arms and legs rolling. More to the issue is the ideology. In the very opening, the narrator tells us that newborn Spartan infants were "inspected" and the defective thrown away. Later there is a line that "men are not all created equal" and that the warrior culture that socialized men for life determined who was worthy of life, and that somehow that gave the worthy of future generations freedom. Or, you could say, "freedom" (and there really wasn't much of that in Sparta) degenerated into a Spencerian exercises of survival of the fittest as an exercise in virtue, a kind of ancient neo-fundamentalism, that has the vehemence of radical Islam (a thousand years before it came into being). The script mentions Athens at least once, as a city-state of "boy lovers."  Often, the Miller book text as read, as if it were classic epic poetry, a curious effect. The cast is mostly British, with Gerard Butler as King Leonids, and Rodrigo Santoro is over costumed as Xerxes.  I never saw so many shaved chests in an ancient Army since the days of Victor Mature and the Romans; those Spartans really had their initiations. There is a confrontation where Xerxes claims that the whole point of the battle is whether Sparta and its values will be remembered by history at all, as a collective goal. There is one character with obvious neurofibromatosis, and he introduces all the minions like rhinos and elephants. This movie has the look of Dune. The film grossed tremendous amounts opening weekend, and this time WB proved than an R-rated flick on ancient history can work.

 

Iran is reported to already have protested this movie (even though the story pre-dates Islam)!    

 

 

Related reviews: Latter days, etc.   Hercules     Beyond the Movie: Troy     The Spartans   Sin City (Frank Miller)

 

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