A Brief History
On January 14, 2005, the big budget Hollywood film, Alexander, starring Colin Farrell in the title role made its debut in Italy, after having opened previously in November of 2004 in the U.S. A lavish film with a budget of $155 million, the film was successful in that its box office worldwide was over $167 million, but was it real history or just Hollywood?
Released in the original theatrical form, DVD versions were later released as “Director’s Cut,” “Final Cut,” and “Ultimate Cut” giving movie and history buffs an opportunity to sample different versions of the film. In fact, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut released in 2007 sold a whopping 1 million copies while previous DVD versions sold over 3.5 million units.
Known for taking liberties with actual history in order to condense years of events into a 2 hour film, Hollywood can be forgiven some of its artistic license taken with the subject of Alexander the Great (aka Alexander III of Macedon) as the historical record of this great king and conqueror was written over 200 years after his death in 323 BCE. Contemporary accounts of Alexander and his reign have been lost, and at least as of now never recovered, leaving one to wonder how much of the “factual” history is indeed true and how much of what we think we know is legend or conjecture.
Clinging to the legend as much as to fact, critics have taken exception to the film’s adherence to “true” history. A group of Greek lawyers threatened to sue Warner Brothers and the director, Oliver Stone, over the portrayal of Alexander and his inner circle as indulging in homosexual behavior. In fact, Stone blamed a weak US box office performance on backlash against the homosexual innuendo by prudish audiences and critics.
The necessary condensation of time caused chronological inconsistencies with some of Alexander’s famous battles, and historical characters such as Darius III (of the Persians) and Alexander’s general Philotas were portrayed as young men when at the point in history being portrayed in the film they were mature middle aged men. A famous battle at Hydaspes is shown as being fought on a sunny day in a forest, when the actual battle was fought on a muddy plain at night in the rain. Alexander is shown suffering an arrow wound in that battle, when historically that wound came month later in a different battle. The film also merges major battles at Granicus and Issus into the Battle of Gaugamela in an apparent attempt to pay tribute to each of these battles in one cinematic event. In fact, it took Alexander’s army several hard fought battles over a campaign to defeat the Persians while the film implies one major battle accomplished the feat. The Persian/Bactrian woman taken by Alexander as a bride, Roxana, is played by an exotic appearing Rosario Dawson, a dark haired, dark skinned actress of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent with African heritage, while the real life Roxana was of fairer complexion and of considerably different appearance. Modern Iranians were rankled by the portrayal of Persian armies as a mob or rabble, while the Macedonian/Greeks are portrayed as highly disciplined professional soldiers. In fact, the Persians were clad in uniforms and had similar military professionalism.
Another historical criticism of the film is the portrayal of Alexander as a blonde haired, blue eyed man, contrary to the modern traits of Greeks and Macedonians being of darker hair and complexion. In fact, historical records as they are indicate that Alexander was of fair or even ruddy complexion and had either blue eyes or one brown and one blue eye. His hair may well have been lighter than commonly found in the region today, as in the centuries since Alexander’s life much ethnic mixing of North African and Middle Eastern peoples as well as those from what is modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and India had taken place.
With an unreliable historical record, it is hard to hold Hollywood to a strict accounting of the life of Alexander the Great. Unfortunately, that did not stop numerous critics from blasting the alleged “historical” inaccuracies and inconsistencies of the film. Obviously, such a film cannot be considered a documentary and should not be viewed as a factual record. After all, every word of the dialogue is made up as no record exists of what was said by whom. We liked the film as entertainment, and we welcome your opinions about it as well.
Question for students (and subscribers): Did you find this film useful for understanding the life and character of Alexander the Great? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Stone, Oliver, dir. Alexander, Revisited: The Final Cut (Two-Disc Special Edition). WarnerBrothers, 2008. DVD.