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Alexander is a 2004 epic film, based on the life of Alexander the Great. It was directed by Oliver Stone, with Colin Farrell in the title role.The film is based mostly on the book Alexander the Great, written in the 1970s by historian Robin Lane Fox, who gave up his screen credit in return for being allowed to take part in the epic cavalry charge during the film's recreation of the Battle of Gaugamela.

The film was critically derided upon its release and failed at the Americanmarker box office. It grossed only US$34 million domestically, while costing $155 million to produce. However, it did better internationally in recovering its losses, grossing a total of $132 million in overseas revenue.

The two earlier DVD versions of Alexander ("director's cut" version and the theatrical version) sold over 3.5 million copies in the United States.


The film is based on the life of Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, who conquered Asia Minormarker, Persiamarker and part of Ancient India. Shown are some of the key moments of Alexander's youth, his invasion of the mighty Persian Empire and his death. It also outlines his early life, including his difficult relationship with his father Philip II of Macedon, his strained feeling towards his mother Olympias, the unification of the Greek city-states under the League of Corinth, and the conquest of the Persian Empire in 331 BC. It also details his plans to reform his empire and the attempts he made to reach the end of the then known world.

The story begins in 356 BC with Ptolemy I Soter, who narrates throughout the film. We see Alexander's daily life and the strained relationship between his parents. Alexander grows up with his mother Olympias and his tutor Aristotle, where he finds interest in love, honor, music, exploration, poetry and military combat. His relationship with his father is destroyed when Philip marries Attalus's niece, Eurydice.

After Philip is assassinated, Alexander becomes king of Macedonia and Greece. Having briefly mentioned his punitive razing of Thebesmarker and burning of Persepolismarker, Ptolemy gives an overview of Alexander's west-Persian campaign, including his being declared as the son of Zeus by the Oracle of Amun at Siwa Oasismarker, his great battle against the Persian Emperor Darius III in the Battle of Gaugamela and his eight-year campaign across Asia.

Also shown are Alexander's private relationships with his childhood friend Hephaestion and later his wife Roxana. Hephaestion compares Alexander to Achilles, to which Alexander replies that, if he is Achilles, Hephaestion must be his Patroclus (Achilles's lover). When Hephaestion mentions that Patroclus died first, Alexander pledges that, if Hephaestion should die first, he will follow him into the afterlife. Hephaestion shows extensive jealousy when he sees Alexander with Roxana and deep sadness when he marries her, going so far as to attempt to keep her away from him after Alexander murders Cleitus the Black in India. After Hephaestion succumbs to an unknown illness either by chance or perhaps poison, Alexander distances himself from his wife, despite her pregnancy, believing that she has killed Hephaeston.

After conquering Babylonmarker, Alexander admits that Hephaestion is the only person whom he loves and dies less than three months after Hephaeston, keeping his promise that he would follow him.


Actor Role
Colin Farrell Alexander The Great
Jared Leto Hephaestion
Angelina Jolie Queen Olympias
Val Kilmer King Philip II
Raz Degan Darius III of Persia
Erol Sander Pharnakes
Tsouli Mohammed Persian chamberlain
Annelise Hesme Stateira I
Rosario Dawson Roxana
Connor Paolo Young Alexander
Jessie Kamm Child Alexander
Gary Stretch Cleitus
Christopher Plummer Aristotle
Anthony Hopkins Ptolemy I Soter
Elliot Cowan Young Ptolemy I Soter
Jonathan Rhys Meyers Cassander
Rory McCann Craterus
Francisco Bosch Bagoas
John Kavanagh Parmenion
Joseph Morgan Philotas
Ian Beattie Antigonus
Neil Jackson Perdiccas
Denis Conway Nearchus
Marie Meyer Eurydice
Nick Dunning Attalus
Bin Bunluerit Porus
Toby Kebbell Pausanias of Orestis
Brian Blessed Wrestling trainer
Patrick Adolphe Alexander's servant boy
Alif Shinobi Indian Servant
Jaran Ngamdee Indian Prince
Patrick Carroll Young Hephaestion

Director's cut

Oliver Stone's director's cut was re-edited before the DVD release later in 2005. Stone removed seventeen minutes of footage and added nine back. This, then, shortened the running time from 175 minutes to 167. The differences between the director's cut and the theatrical version are as follows:

  • Dates in the flashbacks and flashforwards use normal historical figures, such as 323 BC and 356 BC, as opposed to referring to time lapses, like "30 years earlier". In his commentary, Stone explains that, for the theatrical release in the United States, he had to refrain from using regular "BC" dates, since (according to data collected from test screenings) there was a significant number of viewers who did not know that 356 BC represented an earlier historical period than 323 BC.
  • Ptolemy's backstory at the beginning is shortened.

  • The two flashbacks with the arrival of Eurydice to the court and the wedding feast are shifted into the eastern campaign, enveloping the trial of Philotas and assassination of Parmenion.
  • The scene in which Aristotle gives a lesson to the young Alexander and his friends is re-edited and extended by a few seconds.
  • Ptolemy's narration leading up to the Battle of Gaugamela gives no reference to the razing of Thebes and burning of Persepolis. He mentions the official Macedonian accusation, that Darius assisted the assassination of Philip — in both versions, it is also mentioned when Alexander rallies the troops —, and the proclamation by the Oracle of Amun is moved to a later part of the narrative.
  • There is no scene on the night before the Battle of Gaugamela or the omen reader looking into the intestine of the ox-sacrifice before the Battle of Gaugamela.
  • Directly after Alexander's mourning the dead after the Battle of Gaugamela, there is an additional flashback in which Philip explains the Titan to the young Alexander.
  • In the theatrical version, during Roxana's dance, Perdiccas can be seen breaking up a fight between Hephaestion and Cleitus. This is removed in the director's cut.
  • The sex scene between Alexander and Roxana is shortened, and her attempt to kill him after her discovery of his relationship with Hephaestion is cut. More explicit footage of Alexander and Roxana having sex is added.
  • When Alexander uncovers the page's plot, the director's cut features a scenelet in which Perdiccas goes to arrest Hermolaus, who falls on his sword with the words "Death to all tyrants".
  • There is no narrative explanation by Ptolemy during the trial of Philotas.
  • Alexander does not mourn Cleitus.
  • The flashback of Alexander questioning Olympias does not appear immediately after the flashback of Philip's assassination; rather, it is moved to follow Alexander's grievous wounds in the Battle of the Hydaspes.
  • The scene in which Roxana is prevented from entering Alexander's tent by Hephaestion is also removed. This is the last remnant of a Roxana-Cassander subplot that was filmed but not included.
  • Between the scene in which Alexander smashes the "rebellion" within the ranks and the final battle, there is an additional scene in which Alexander reads a letter from Aristotle, who is featured dictating it to an unseen scribe.
  • Ptolemy's narration of the march through the Gedrosian desert additionally mentions the helplessness of Alexander watching his broken army die due to natural causes and harsh conditions. He does not mention either Alexander's new marriages in his final years or that the march across the Gedrosian desert was the "worst blunder of his life".
  • The scene of the army returning to Babylon, together with that in which Olympias receives the omen of Alexander's death, is shortened.

Final cut: "Alexander Revisited"

Stone also made an extended version of Alexander. "I'm doing a third version on DVD, not theatrical," he said in an interview with "I'm going to do a Cecil B. DeMille three-hour-45-minute thing; I'm going to go all out, put everything I like in the movie. He [Alexander] was a complicated man, it was a complicated story, and it doesn't hurt to make it longer and let people who loved the film [...] see it more and understand it more."

The extended version of the film was released under the title of Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut on 27 February 2007. The two-disc set featured a new introduction by Stone. "Over the last two years," he said, "I have been able to sort out some of the unanswered questions about this highly complicated and passionate monarch — questions I failed to answer dramatically enough. This film represents my complete and last version, as it will contain all the essential footage we shot. I don't know how many film-makers have managed to make three versions of the same film, but I have been fortunate to have the opportunity because of the success of video and DVD sales in the world, and I felt, if I didn't do it now, with the energy and memory I still have for the subject, it would never quite be the same again. For me, this is the complete Alexander, the clearest interpretation I can offer."

The film is restructured into two acts with an intermission. Alexander: Revisited takes a more in-depth look at Alexander's life and his relationships with Olympias, Philip, Hephaestion, Roxanne and Ptolemy. The film has a running time of three hours and 34 minutes (214 minutes) (about 40 minutes longer that the theatrical cut and almost 50 minutes longer than the first director's cut) and is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. Beyond the new introduction with Stone, there are no other extras, except for a free coupon to the movie 300.

Production details



Box Office performance

  • Budget: US$ 155,000,000.00
  • Total Domestic Grosses: US$ 34,297,191.00
  • Total Overseas Grosses: US$ 133,001,001.00
  • Total Worldwide Grosses: US$ 167,298,192.00


Even prior to its release, there was controversy about the film's depiction of ancient Greek sexual mores or, more specifically, homosexuality. A group of 25 Greek lawyers initially threatened to file a lawsuit against both Stone and the Warner Bros. film studio for what they claimed was an inaccurate portrayal of history. "We are not saying that we are against gays," said Yannis Varnakos, "but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander". After an advanced screening of the film, the lawyers announced that they would not pursue such a course of action.

At the British première of the film, Stone blamed "raging fundamentalism in morality" for the film's US box-office failure. He argued that American critics and audiences had blown the issue of Alexander's sexuality out of proportion. The criticism prompted him to make significant changes to the film for its DVD release, whose cover characterizes them as making it "faster paced, more action-packed".

Criticism by historians

Alexander attracted critical scrutiny from historians due to its various factual errors. Most academic criticism was concerned with the insufficient adherence to historical details.

Major objections came from Iranian historians, who were upset by the film's renderings of Persians and Macedonians alike. As an example, Alexander and his troops defeat the Persian army in a single battle in the movie, but Persian historian Farrokh holds that the real Alexander had to fight several fierce battles before he was able to defeat Darius III. Farrokh also observed that, in the film, the "Macedonian forces are typically shown [to be] very organised, disciplined, and so on, and what's very disturbing is, when the so-called Persians are shown confronting the Macedonians, their armies are totally disorganised.

The final battle depicted in the film, heavily dramatized and altered from history, was the Battle of Hydaspes or Jhelum Rivermarker in ancient Indiamarker (now in modern-day Pakistan). Alexander was not (contrary to what the movie claims) severely injured by an arrow during this battle. This only occurred during a siege later that year against the Malli in what is now the city of Multanmarker, Pakistanmarker. Hydaspes was not fought in a forest on a sunny day, but on a muddy plain on a night with torrential rains. The center of the Macedonian line was never surrounded by any accounts, though the infantry did suffer many casualties. The film has also been criticized for omitting a famous story about Alexander's conversation with King Porus. When Alexander won the battle, Porus was captured and presented to him. "Tell me", said Alexander, "in what way should I treat you?" Porus replied, "Treat me, O Alexander, like a king." However, a similar scene exists in the film regarding the Princess of Babylon.

Criticism by film critics

One of the principal complaints among US film critics was that Alexander resembled a history documentary more than an action-drama film. Roger Ebert wrote in his review, "[W]e welcome the scenes of battle, pomp and circumstance because at least for a time we are free of the endless narration of Ptolemy the historian".

The kindest criticism came from Daily Variety Magazine, published on 21 November 2004, for which Todd McCarthy wrote, "Oliver Stone's 'Alexander' is at an honorable failure, an intelligent and ambitious picture that crucially lacks dramatic flair and emotional involvement. Dry and academic where Troy was vulgar and willfully a historical success." Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times that Alexander "brought out the best of the worst in terms of inaccurate storytelling that lacks planning."


See also


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