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Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2005

In defense of a visionary

What defines a "box-office disaster?" "Alexander," a film that cost $150 million to make and only took in $34 million in the United States last year, would appear to fit the bill. Given the poor reviews and bleak word-of-mouth reports, one would be tempted to think the movie's a stinker.

News photo
Director Oliver Stone (left) and actor Colin Farrell

Not if you're Oliver Stone, though. The director has gone on record as saying that red-state fundamentalists and other troglodytic denizens of George Bush's America rejected the film out of hand, mainly due to its gay content. While he's more than a bit biased, he might have a point: "Alexander" has already made over $80 million in markets outside the U.S., and that's not counting Japan.

At a recent Tokyo news conference, Stone combatively defended his work, while Colin Farrell, the film's star, put on a display of loyalty the real Alexander would have undoubtedly appreciated.

On why he wanted to make a movie about Alexander:

Oliver Stone: Well, I loved Alexander as a boy, because he was a dashing, heroic young man who conquered the world and died young. It's an archetype. As I got older, I started to work on [a script about] him in 1989, almost 15 years, off and on. The more I read about him -- unlike most people in history -- the more I admired him. He grew in my estimation. He's unique; no one did what he did in all of history. He was not a typical conqueror, a typical plunderer.

On what made Alexander "great":

Colin Farrell: The Greeks talk about this idea of "Pothos," a never-ending yearning, longing for the realization of your own destiny. Alexander was born the son of the king of Macedonia, received the kingship at age 20, and then forged his own destiny through bravery and inquisition. He was somebody who was fascinated by the world and its many different cultures; he didn't impose his cultural beliefs or religion on those he conquered. If anything, he adopted theirs.

On whether he's come to expect controversy:

OS: Every single film I've released was filled with controversy. "Salvador" was trashed, theatrically. So was "Wall Street." All these films became successful. "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers" -- the controversy obscured the work that went into them. So every film has been difficult. But in every case, my films do last, and are seen again. "Alexander" has been as difficult a birth as ever been for me. But I'm proud of this movie; it will be seen more fairly by my countrymen with the passage of time.

On what he wanted to say in the film:

OS: Don't judge this world, that was 2,300 years ago, by the cynicism and the darknesses of today. Imagine a different time and place -- like "Star Wars," like "Lord of the Rings" -- where war was fought between men, nobly. Men killed men, and they got their aggression out; they didn't kill civilians, they didn't destroy cities or drop bombs. It was a whole other way. Alexander -- whatever the criticisms of him are -- fought these battles and he won, and he created a huge empire, under one world, no borders, one king. Himself, yes, but it worked for that period of time.

It was the largest empire in world history, promoting fusion between East and West. Alexander married an Eastern woman; he encouraged his men to marry Asian brides. One-hundred thousand of them are estimated to have had children; that's a new race, 100,000 East-West people, back in 300 B.C. This is a man of great vision. It wasn't about sending all the money back to Macedonia; it was about making a world civilization. Laugh at it all you want. People are cynical, but what a beautiful dream.

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