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THE GREAT RACE EVERYBODY WANTED TO MAKE THEIR OWN ALEXANDER THE GREAT MOVIE, BUT OLIVER STONE IS THE ONE WHO GOT IT DONE.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Writer

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 9-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 domestic and international film writers two weekends ago, the reaction to the now 2-hour, 55-minute movie was so bad that MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls ran a story with the headline: ``Early viewers stone 'Alexander.' ''

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 Mideast and Egypt, before contracting malaria, dying and leaving a beautiful corpse at age 32 in 323 B.C.

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.''

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. Martin Scorsese toyed with the idea of a feature film.

Stone's version had a 10-year head start, and although his financing was shaky (the film cost at least $160 million, with most of the money coming from foreign investors) and continued to be so even two weeks before the project's start date, his ``Alexander'' was first out of the gate. Luhrmann's project, which, like Stone's, was green-lighted after ``Gladiator'' revived interest in the sword-and-sandal epic, will likely never be made.

Luhrmann never did have a script, but he did have an A-list star, Leonardo DiCaprio. Stone went with Irish actor Colin Farrell, a rising young actor whose tabloid headlines have thus far outshone the impression he has made on moviegoers. Apparently, the fact that Farrell didn't in the least resemble the fair-haired Alexander (prompting one of the more questionable on-screen dye jobs in film history) intrigued Stone. Producer Moritz Borman calls casting Farrell a ``giant leap of faith.''

This would also explain signing Angelina Jolie to play Olympia, Alexander's tempestuous mother, a decision that Paul Cartledge, professor of Greek history and chairman of the classics faculty at Cambridge University, calls an ``absurdity.'' Jolie is 29; Farrell, 28.

``It was weird,'' Jolie says of first considering the idea. ``But I read the script and really connected with her. There was something mysterious and dark. Putting the age aside and Colin aside, I understood her and felt I was the right woman to play her. Is it believable? We tried.''

Though it's hard to move beyond the strange casting, stranger accents, Stone's trademark scenes of animalistic sex and drunken bacchanals, the blood-soaked battles, the strange contrast between Farrell's dancing, dark eyebrows and his feathery, platinum hair and the coy depiction (by Greek standards) of Alexander's bisexuality (a line early in the film sets the tone: ``It has been said that Alexander was never defeated except by Hephaistion's thighs''), there is some great, teeming history in Stone's film.

However, the director is just not sure if anyone who doesn't have some background in ancient history is going to be able to figure it out.

``There were scenes we had to recut, shorten or simply take out,'' he says. ``It's there if you're careful and observant.''

Says Farrell: ``Look, Alexander wanted to achieve immortality, and look at us - we're talking about him here, two and a half thousand years later.''

``Sadly,'' Farrell continues, ``all some people want to focus on is that this is a 'gay movie.' It's not hidden. But it's not hit on the head, either. I think there's just enough of an out for those who can't handle it, for some people to be able to say (doing a caveman voice), 'No ... that's not. Do you think? I don't think they were ...' And then for those who want to go in with open minds and open eyes and an open heart, there's enough to know that certain things might have been going on that weren't shown on camera.''

Stone knows his movie isn't going to be the last word on a controversial figure who's viewed by many historians as a destroyer who didn't care a whit about spreading Hellenism. He burned Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire, wiping out many sacred books in the process. He leveled Thebes, crucified those who resisted him and engaged in wholesale slaughter when invading new areas.

All true, says Stone. But there's more. And the man who made ``JFK,'' ``Nixon'' and ``Born on the Fourth of July,'' no stranger to having his cinematic interpretations parsed and dissected, isn't afraid of taking a view many see as romantic and contrarian.

``People see Alexander in starker terms: conqueror, tyrant, bloodthirsty vs. generous visionary,'' Stone says. ``But they miss the larger issue. The Hellenic world did spread. Greeks never achieved that. Alexander created the true Hellenic revolution and exported it to the East, to the West, to Rome. So what you have is an empire. First time.

``I think young people today should see what Alexander did at the age of 26, see it and feel it,'' he adds. ``Remember the time when young people could do that, to be leaders. Now they're demographics to be sold to. It's a joke. There's so much more available to them.''

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672

glenn.whipp(at)dailynews.com

ALEXANDER MEETS JIM MORRISON

They both drank to excess, indulged in a bit of the ultra-violence and worshipped Dionysus, the god of chaos. Alexander the Great - meet Jim Morrison.

You can't help but notice that Oliver Stone sees some parallels between the two men. After all, in his 1991 film, ``The Doors,'' Stone even inserted a brief flash of Alexander's face. We don't see anything of Morrison in ``Alexander,'' but we did take notice of a few similarities between the two historical figures, interpreted as tragic heroes by Stone.

TITLE

ALEXANDER: Macedonian King

MORRISON: Lizard King

LIKES

ALEXANDER: Seeing new places, slaughtering new people.

MORRISON: ``Love, death, travel, revolt, chaos.''

DISLIKES

ALEXANDER: His mother telling him what to do, colleagues who don't share his lust for adventure.

MORRISON: His girlfriend telling him what to do, bandmates who don't share his lust for adventure.

ANIMALISTIC SEX SCENE

ALEXANDER: Gets jiggy with a knife-wielding Rosario Dawson while growling like a tiger.

MORRISON: Drinks blood, snorts coke, indulges in sadomasochism in freaky marriage ceremony with a witch (Kathleen Quinlan).

BELIEF IN HIS OWN GODHOOD

ALEXANDER: Encouraged subjects - those he hadn't killed - to worship him.

MORRISON: ``Let's plan a murder or start a religion.''

OEDIPAL SUBTEXT

ALEXANDER: Yes. Mother played by Angelina Jolie, basically same age as Colin Farrell, playing Alexander.

MORRISON: Yes. Took delight in his song ``The End'': ``Father, I want to kill you. Mother, I want to (well, you know) you.''

DRINK OF CHOICE

ALEXANDER: Vats of wine

MORRISON: What have you got?

TRUE CAUSE OF DEATH

ALEXANDER: A broken heart.

MORRISON: Being misunderstood.

- G.W.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) CHASING ALEXANDER

Oliver Stone's mad dash to finish his dream film was an epic struggle

(2) Oliver Stone and Angelina Jolie

(3) no caption (``Alexander'')

(4) no caption (Colin Farrell as Alexander) (5) no caption (Jim Morrison) Box:

ALEXANDER MEETS JIM MORRISON (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 21, 2004
Words:1596
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