Culling From Among Mediocre in Hollywood

A short review of Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Great

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

Well, I thought it was simply terrible. The film goes on for nearly three hours, but we hear nothing of what either supporters or detractors of Alexander, both ancient and modern, have agreed were the central issues of his life. Did he really believe in a unity of mankind, and were his mass mixed marriages, Persian dress, and kowtowing cynical, sincere, or delusions of megalomania? We see nothing of the siege of Tyre, Gaza, much less Thebes or even the burning of Persepolis. Other than the talking head Ptolemy, none of his generals have much of a character. There is nothing really in detail about the page purging other than a single reference; Stone, I would have thought, could have had a field day with Alexander’s introduction of both crucifixion and decimation.

The Gedrosian desert gets a few seconds. And what was the elephant scene in the jungle? Was that supposed to be dirty fighting in India, or the battle at the Hydaspes—which in fact was a brilliant Macedonian victory? The elephants were visually good, but without context or significance. So since Stone omitted the controversial and key issues of Alexander’s career, what do we get instead for at least over two thirds of the movie? Mostly sit-com drama, with gay and bi- subplots, in various bedrooms and banquet halls. Olympias was something out of a teen-aged vampire movie, not the sophisticated and conniving royal we read about in the sources.  It is the old Dallas or Falcon Crest glossy pulp in Macedonian drag. Stone’s Alexander is a pouty, wimpy bore; the real figure, whatever your thoughts on him, was a killer and a fearful man of action. Gladiator’s Maximus was a far more engaging and forceful character—and that was a far better film as well.

There is also irony here. If we remember the embarrassing Troy, we are beginning to see, that all for all the protestations of artistic excellence and craftsmanship, Hollywood has become mostly a place of mediocrity, talentless actors and writers who spout off about politics in lieu of having any real accomplishment in their own field. I’ve heard so many inane things mouthed by Stone that I would like someone at last to address this question—why would supposedly smart insiders turn over $160 million to someone of such meager talent to make such an embarrassing film? Alexander the Great is third-rate Cecil B. Demille in drag.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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