Alexander (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)



This is a biopic about Alexander the Great, or simply Big Al, as I like to call him. (Or Big Paddy, as I should probably call him, since he and everyone around him apparently spoke with Irish accents.)

It was a mega-bomb of astronomical proportions.

  • Made for $155 million, it grossed $34 million.
  • American critics scorned it. British critics found it unworthy of their scorn, and ridiculed it instead.
  • It was nominated for six Razzies.

At the top of his game, Oliver Stone is a great filmmaker, but this movie is just so jaw-droppingly bad in so many ways that it should be used as the official screening criterion in film criticism societies. Any critics who gave this a good review should be called in front of their peers and have their pencil broken over their editor's knee, in the manner of that opening scene in "Branded."

The most irritating thing about the film is the sequencing. Scott Weinberg of had the point exactly right: "You could literally chop Alexander up into six 30-minute blocks, reassemble it at random, and the movie would make the exact same amount of sense (i.e. none)." The film follows the same pattern again and again: there's totally boring chit-chat and background for about a half an hour, followed by a scene where you are finally starting to get involved, and then - just as something is finally about to happen - followed by a word slide that says "ten years earlier, in Babylon" or "2300 years later, in Pennsylvania" - or whatever - thus changing the story's focus and assuring that you will never at any time actually be interested in what is going on. Every time that happens, you can almost hear Tom Servo saying, "Meanwhile, in another movie."

That was the deal-breaker, the one element which secures the film's place as bad cinema in a serious conversation. On the other hand, who cares about serious conversations? There are other, more entertaining elements which place it in the realm of so-bad-it's-almost-good.

  • The accents are crazy. Colin Farrell chose to play Alexander with his natural Irish accent. Jared Leto, who does not normally have an Irish accent, decided to adopt one since that seemed to be the official way to represent ancient Macedonians. Others in the cast followed suit. All non-Macedonians (Angelina Jolie, for example), to demonstrate that they are foreign speakers, talk like Borat.
  • It's hard to believe it, but I've now watched this film three times because there are three distinct versions. The theatrical film is 176 minutes long. If you prefer, you can get Oliver Stone's 167 minute "director's cut." Most film versions bearing that particular appellation are longer than the theatrical cut, but Stone felt the film was better shorter. I'm sure he was right, but this raises the question of why, if Stone now likes the film better nine minutes shorter, he just didn't cut it that way in the first place. Did the MPAA pressure him to put scenes in? (Technically, he took out about eighteen minutes of the theatrical footage and added in some ten minutes of different footage, if you really care about such minutiae.) There is a full-length commentary on the DVD, and that may answer the question, but I am not about to watch this movie again to find out. If you're really a glutton for punishment, you can try to survive Stone's "Final Cut," which was issued three years after the theatrical run, and is 214 minutes long. It includes everything. Not just everything shot for this particular movie, but every scene ever filmed for every movie in the history of color photography. Seriously, it has everything from both of the other cuts plus another 30 minutes or so of additional footage, with all the scenes re-ordered once again. I can't really offer an opinion about whether the final cut improved the film. My sense was that it did flow better, but I fast-forwarded through all the scenes I had already seen, so I really didn't get any sense of the whole film in context.
  • Ol' Hannibal Lecter is supposed to be playing Ptolemy I, and he has a beautiful garden palace overlooking the Alexandria harbor, with a great view of the famous lighthouse. One problem with that is that the film shows the lighthouse burning a fire on a sunny day. (It did use the fire at night, but provided illumination with mirrors in sunlight.) The far greater problem is that Ptolemy is looking out over a scene which could only have been seen after his death. Ptolemy conceived the lighthouse, but it was not completed and functioning until the reign of his son, Ptolemy II, who dedicated it as a memorial to his parents. The film therefore pictures Ptolemy looking out over his own memorial. (Pictured below left.) And it sure doesn't look all that spiffy for a newly-built (or not-yet-built) monument which was said to be covered in white marble. As shown here it looks like a grungy brown factory from post-Dickensian London.
  • There is no real sense of dialogue. Oliver Stone really wanted to present the facts correctly, and many individual scenes required a great deal of background information, so that was covered with conferences in which Alexander and his henchmen discussed all the technical issues. "Now you, valiant Oneguy, hold the center just long enough until staunch Otherguy, oh, brave, brave Otherguy, hero of a thousand combats, can turn his column  ... etc " The transitions between scenes and the overall narrative continuity were handled by a framing device in which an old Ptolemy (Tony Hopkins) looks back on Big Als' life and narrates to the camera, basically reciting either a history lesson or purple prose. ("I have known many great men, but only one Colossus. Thank Zeus, because I don't know the plural of Colossus. Is it Colossi or Colossuses or Colossopods or what? Somebody look that up and get back to me.") When the tedious background information has all been conveyed, the remaining talk is stagy speechifying, even in the love scene. Big Al says to his bride on their wedding night, in the middle of a semi-rape: "A man searches for a woman at the top of the world, and finds her," in the spirit of "Ron Burgundy is down, and it's bad." The bride and groom were supposed to be alone at that point, but I was expecting her to turn around to see whom he was speaking to.

I could go on to mention the obvious problems, but why bother? Everybody has noted that Big Al's mom is the same age as he, and looks younger. Everyone has already noted that Alexander is a whiny talk-too-much bitch. Why did they need macho Colin Farrell for the role? As it is written here, Paul Giamatti would have been better, or better yet Andy Dick, who already had the right hairstyle.

Are there positives? Yes, there were a few things I liked.

  • The opening credits are beautiful and elegant.
  • The musical score by Vangelis is appropriate for the epic scope of the story.
  • Val Kilmer brought some weight to the role of Philip of Macedon, Big Al's dad. (In more ways than one. He gained fifty pounds.)
  • The aerial shots of the big battle scene are both spectacular and useful, in that we are able to see the strategies employed by massive armies moving into their various formations.
  • Some of the other battle footage is impressive, especially the parts with exotic animals in combat.
  • The march into Babylon (below right) looks kind of impressive in a Roger Rabbit, "humans performing in front of cartoon backdrops" kind of way.

Given the sweep and majesty of the project, or at least the attempt at it, it is probably worth your while to rent the Alexander Final Cut DVD if you love the big epics. The blessing of the DVD format is that you'll be able to see all of those spectacular elements and fast-forward through everything else, because it is just so-o-o-o long. The supreme irony of the project is that Alexander himself died so young that he would not have had time to watch this movie.


DVD INFO (Director's Cut)

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length commentary by Oliver Stone

  • Disc two contains an 85 minute documentary made by Sean Stone, Oliver's son. It's called "Behind the Scenes of Alexander With Sean Stone"

DVD INFO (Final Cut)

The Final Cut is a two-disc set with no features, and the presentation is widescreen letterbox rather than anamophic.



In the key sex scene, Rosario Dawson does full frontal and rear nudity and Colin Farrell shows his bum

NOTE: The nude scene lasts longer and is more dramatic  in the THEATRICAL version than in the Director's cut

Director's cut

167 min

Theatrical cut

175-176 min

Final Cut

214 min

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: slightly less than two stars. James Berardinelli 2/4, Roger Ebert 2/4, Entertainment Weekly C-.

  • British consensus out of four stars: just slightly more than one star. Mail 2/10, Telegraph 2/10, Times 2/10, Sun 4/10, Express 4/10, FT 4/10, BBC 2/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $155 million for production, and grossed $34 million. Amazingly, it grossed $133 million outside the USA.

Miscellaneous ...

  • It was nominated for six Razzies, including Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a low, low C-. If you see it because you just have to see every "spectacular," you'll see some incredible battle scenes involving tens of thousands of extras, and some very colorful visuals. There's really no other reason to watch it except to see Rosario Dawson naked (a sight worth seeing, by the way!)

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