Oliver Stone's 'Alexander' is behind the times

Posted: Dec 01, 2004 12:00 AM

    Oliver Stone had a really rotten week.  His huge-budget epic drama ?Alexander,? starring Colin Farrell, Angeline Jolie, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Hopkins, premiered to critical raspberries and popular apathy.  ?Alexander? reportedly cost over $150 million to make, and over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, it garnered a mere $21,837,517, finishing sixth at the box office.

    In all likelihood, Warner Bros., which produced the film, will still recoup its costs, despite the probability that ?Alexander? won?t come close to $100 million in domestic grosses.  Europeans are expected to turn out in high numbers to see the Macedonian wunderkind; they turned out en masse to see the American box office flop ?Troy? as well.

    What was the hold-up for American audiences?  It wasn?t the nearly three-hour running time ? remember, each movie in the ?Lord of the Rings? trilogy ran over 178 minutes, with the most successful of the trilogy, ?The Return of the King,? running at well over three hours.  It wasn?t the critical coolness toward Stone?s pet project ? several of the movies that finished above Stone?s at the box office last weekend were critically panned (although none to the extent of this disaster).

    A large part of ?Alexander??s downfall is attributable to the moral distastefulness of the subject matter.  Alexander the Great is played as a mop-top, indecisive bisexual by Farrell.  During the course of the movie, Farrell kisses a eunuch full on the mouth, and exchanges numerous lingering glances with boyhood chum and grown-up gay lover Hephaiston (played by an eye-liner-wearing Jared Leto).  Anthony Hopkins, playing Ptolemy, intones: ??It was said . . . that Alexander was never defeated, except by Hephaistion?s thighs.?

    This stuff doesn?t go over well with most Americans.  Frankly, we don?t want to hear about it, and we?re definitely not going to pay money to see it.  Critics love films with homosexuality, but very few of those films go on to see great popular success.  Since 1994, 17 actors and actresses have been nominated for Academy Awards for playing gay characters; meanwhile, every movie nominated for an Oscar since 1994 containing substantial homosexuality has fallen well-below the $100 million mark, except for ?As Good As It Gets? and ?American Beauty,? both of which were fueled by Oscar hype.

    You can sense how much the critics wanted to love ?Alexander,? too, primarily for its exploration of bisexuality, despite the fact that the movie is simply awful.  Manohla Dargis of the New York Times ripped into the film, but praised Stone?s portrayal of Alexander?s homosexual tendencies: ?There are moments in ?Alexander? that show Mr. Stone in fine form, including . . . the aching tenderness between the ruler and his longtime lover, Hephaistion . . .?

    Meanwhile, most of the critics complained that ?Alexander? failed because it didn?t do enough with Alexander?s sexuality.  Desson Thomas of the Washington Post complains that ?Alexander's homosexual side is only bashfully explored . . . . There are no thighs, just whispers.?  Likewise, Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe writes, ?The nervous handling of the important relationship [between Alexander and Hephaiston] lays an absurd emotional dead spot over the picture's overblown finale.?

    Unfortunately for the critics ? and Stone -- the cultural pendulum has begun to swing toward traditional morality again.  The five films that beat ?Alexander? to a pulp were: ?National Treasure,? ?The Incredibles,? ?Christmas With The Kranks,? ?The Polar Express,? and ?The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.?  These films were rated, respectively, PG, PG, PG, G and PG.

    These are all family friendly fare.  That?s what Americans want to see nowadays.  That?s why Sharon Stone whined that social conservatism prevented the filmmakers from approving a lesbian kiss between her and Halle Berry in ?Catwoman?:  ?Halle?s so beautiful, and I wanted to kiss her. I said, ?How can you have us in the movie and not have us kiss? It's such a waste.? But that?s what you get for having George Bush as president.?  That?s why Wayne Llewellyn, president of distribution at Paramount, blamed ?Alfie??s flop on President Bush?s re-election: ?It seems to be the result of the election. Maybe they didn't want to see a guy that slept around.?

    With the shift in social values currently underway, here are a few predictions: ?Brokeback Mountain?(2005), starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger as gay cowboys, will be a critical favorite but a box office dud.  So will ?Brideshead Revisited?(2005) starring Jude Law and Paul Bettany as love interests.  Meanwhile, anything Pixar puts out will do big business.  Note to Hollywood: welcome to the backlash you inspired.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!