Four versions of the film exist, the initial theatrical cut and three home video director's cuts: the "Director's Cut" in 2005, the "Final Cut" in 2007 and the "Ultimate Cut" in 2013. The two earlier DVD versions of Alexander ("director's cut" version and the theatrical version) sold over 3.5 million copies in the United States. Oliver Stone's third version, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2007) as of 2012 sold nearly a million copies and became one of the highest-selling catalog items from Warner Bros.
The film is based on the life of Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, who conquered Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia, and North West India. Shown are some of the key moments of Alexander's youth, his invasion of the mighty Persian Empire and his death. It also outlines his early life, including his difficult relationship with his father Philip II of Macedonia, his strained feeling towards his mother Olympias, the unification of the Greek city-states and the two Kingdoms (Macedonia and Epirus) under the Hellenic League, and the conquest of the Persian Empire in 331 BC. It also details his plans to reform his empire and the attempts he made to reach the end of the then known world.
The story begins 40 years after 323 BC, around 283 BC, with Ptolemy I Soter, who narrates throughout the film. We see Alexander's daily life and the strained relationship between his parents. Alexander grows up with his mother Olympias and his tutor Aristotle, where he finds interest in love, honour, music, exploration, poetry and military combat. His relationship with his father is destroyed when Philip marries Attalus's niece, Eurydice.
After Philip is assassinated, Alexander becomes King of Macedonia. Ptolemy mentions Alexander's punitive campaign in which he razes Thebes and burns Persepolis, then gives an overview of Alexander's west-Persian campaign, including his declaration as the son of Zeus by the Oracle of Amun at Siwa Oasis, his great battle against the Persian Emperor Darius III in the Battle of Gaugamela and his eight-year campaign across Asia.
Also shown are Alexander's private relationships with his childhood friend Hephaistion and later his wife Roxana. Hephaistion compares Alexander to Achilles, to which Alexander replies that, if he is Achilles, Hephaistion must be his Patroclus (Achilles' best friend and lover). When Hephaistion mentions that Patroclus died first, Alexander pledges that, if Hephaistion should die first, he will follow him into the afterlife. Hephaistion shows extensive jealousy when he sees Alexander with Roxana and deep sadness when he marries her, going so far as to attempt to keep her away from him after Alexander murders Cleitus the Black in India.
After initial objection from his soldiers, Alexander convinces them to join him into his final and bloodiest battle, the Battle of Hydaspes. He is severely injured with an arrow but survives and is celebrated. Later on, Hephaistion succumbs to an unknown illness either by chance or perhaps poison, speculated in the movie to be Typhus carried with him from India. Alexander, full of grief and anger, distances himself from his wife, despite her pregnancy, believing that she has killed Hephaistion. He dies less than three months after Hephaistion, in the same manner, keeping his promise that he would follow him. On his deathbed, Bagoas grieves as Alexander's generals begin to split up his kingdom and fight over the ownership of his body.
The story then returns to 283 BC, where Ptolemy admits to his scribe that he, along with all the other officers, had indeed poisoned Alexander just to spare themselves from any future conquests or consequences. However, he has it recorded that Alexander died due to illness compounding his overall weakened condition. He then goes on to end his memoirs with praise to Alexander.
The story then ends with the note that Ptolemy's memoirs of Alexander were eventually burned, lost forever with the Library of Alexandria.Library of Alexandria: Shepperton Studios, London, England
Pella/Babylon/Indian palaces and myths cave: Pinewood Studios, London, England
Alexandria (effect back plate): Malta
Temple of Pallas Athena, Mieza and Macedonian horse market: Essaouira, Morocco
Gaugamela: desert near Marrakech, Morocco
Babylon gates: Marrakech, Morocco
Bactrian fortress: Lower Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Hindu Kush (effect back plate): Ouarzazate, Morocco
Macedonian amphitheater: Morocco
Hyphasis: Mekong, northeastern Ubon Ratchathani Province, Thailand
Hydaspes: Central Botanical Garden, Amphoe Mueang, Saraburi Province, Thailand
Alexander was released in 2,445 venues on 24 November 2004 and earned $13,687,087 in its opening weekend, ranking sixth in the North American box office and second among the week's new releases. Upon closing on 1 February 2005, the film grossed $34,297,191 domestically and $133,001,001 overseas for a worldwide total of $167,298,192. Based on a $155 million budget, the film was a box office bomb.
A group of 25 Greek lawyers initially threatened to file a lawsuit against both Stone and the Warner Bros film studio for what they claimed was an inaccurate portrayal of history. "We are not saying that we are against gays," said Yannis Varnakos, "but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander". After an advance screening of the film, the lawyers announced that they would not pursue such a course of action.
At the British premiere of the film, Stone blamed "raging fundamentalism in morality" for the film's US box-office failure. He argued that American critics and audiences had blown the issue of Alexander's sexuality out of proportion. The criticism prompted him to make significant changes to the film for its DVD release, whose cover characterizes them as making it "faster paced, more action-packed".
Alexander attracted critical scrutiny from historians with regard to historical accuracy. Most academic criticism was concerned with the insufficient adherence to historical details.
The movie is a reduction, rather than a chronicle, of Alexander's life events. It makes use of time compression and it condenses several key events into fewer ones; some actions are attributed to different individuals from those in real history; it generally adheres to milestone facts and phrases, but they are often misplaced in time and in location. The movie additionally skips the initial conquest of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt in its entirety, and from Macedonia the storyline jumps straight to the battle of Gaugamela which took place 3–4 years after Alexander moved to conquer the Persian Empire. Alexander and his troops defeat the Persian army in a single battle in the film, but Persian historian Farrokh points out that the real Alexander had to fight several fierce battles before he was able to defeat Darius III. Alexander had to fight major battles at Granicus, Halicarnassus, Issus, Tyre, Gaza, and Gaugamela, not to count innumerable other battles and sieges along the route between Asia Minor and Egypt, but these battles only receive passing mentions in the film. Farrokh also observed that, in the movie, "Greek forces are typically shown as very organised, disciplined, and so on, and what's very disturbing is, when the so-called Persians are shown confronting the Macedonians, their armies are totally disorganised."
Philotas, one of his generals, and the one tried for treason, is made to look little older than a boy, while he was well in his mid-40s when he was executed, having served with Philip long before. The same criticism applies to Darius III himself, who was 57 or 58 when he died and in the movie is played by an actor only about 38. Hydaspes was not fought in a forest on a sunny day but on a muddy plain on a night with torrential rains. The centre of the Macedonian line was never surrounded by any accounts, but the infantry suffered many casualties. The film has also been criticised for omitting a famous story about Alexander's conversation with King Porus. When Alexander won the battle, Porus was captured and presented to him. "Tell me," said Alexander, "what do you wish that I should do with you?" Porus replied, "Treat me, O Alexander, as a king ought." However, a similar scene exists in the film regarding Princess Stateira, Darius III's daughter.
Other major objections came from Iranian historians, who were upset by the film's renderings of Persians and Macedonians alike. The on-screen titles also incorrectly identify Babylon as in Persia, rather than the Persian empire. Objections were also raised by Indian historians. The final battle depicted in the film, heavily dramatised and altered from history, was the Battle of the Hydaspes on the River Jhelum in ancient India. Alexander was not (contrary to what the film depicts) severely injured by an arrow from Indian ruler Porus during this battle. That occurred only later, during a siege later that year against the Malli tribes in Punjab.
Oliver Stone has, in his various commentaries in the film's DVD, defended many of the most glaring historical issues in regard to Iranian history by claiming that he had no time or resources to portray accurately a multitude of battles at the expense of storytelling. He goes into great detail explaining how he merged all the major aspects of the Battle of the Granicus and the Battle of Issus into the Battle of Gaugamela, as well as heavily simplifying the Battle of Hydaspes into a straightforward clash, while merging the near-death of Alexander from the siege of Malli.
The film performed well in Europe, but, in North America, received mostly negative reviews from film critics, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it a 16% rating based on 196 reviews. The consensus states: "Even at nearly three hours long, this ponderous, talky, and emotionally distant biopic fails to illuminate Alexander's life."
One of the principal complaints among US film critics was that Alexander resembled less an action-drama film than a history documentary. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in his review, "[W]e welcome the scenes of battle, pomp and circumstance because at least for a time we are free of the endless narration of Ptolemy the historian."
Faint praise came from Daily Variety Magazine, published on 21 November 2004, for which Todd McCarthy wrote, "Oliver Stone's Alexander is at best an honorable failure, an intelligent and ambitious picture that crucially lacks dramatic flair and emotional involvement. Dry and academic where Troy (2004) was vulgar and willfully ahistorical" Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times that Alexander "brought out the best of the worst in terms of inaccurate storytelling that lacks planning."
On his 11 December 2004 episode of Saturday Night Live, Farrell joked about the failure of Alexander during his monologue saying, "I've been out of the country for 14 months filming Alexander which I think proved to be time well spent."
The film was nominated in six categories at the Golden Raspberry Awards in 2005: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Colin Farrell), Worst Actress (Angelina Jolie), Worst Director (Oliver Stone), Worst Supporting Actor (Val Kilmer) and Worst Screenplay, thereby becoming the second-most-nominated potential "Razzie" film of 2004; however, it won no awards.
This is the film as it was originally released in theaters, with a running time of 175 minutes. It was released on DVD and is also available on Blu-ray in some territories.
Stone's director's cut was re-edited before the DVD release later in 2005. Stone removed seventeen minutes of footage and added nine back. This shortened the running time from 175 minutes to 167. The differences between the director's cut and the theatrical version are as follows:Dates in the flashbacks and flashforwards use normal historical figures, such as 323 BC and 356 BC, as opposed to referring to time lapses, like "30 years earlier". In his commentary, Stone explains that, for the theatrical release in the United States, he had to refrain from using regular "BC" dates, since (according to data collected from test screenings) there was a significant number of viewers who did not know that 356 BC represented an earlier historical period than 323 BC.
Ptolemy's backstory at the beginning is shortened.
The two flashbacks with the arrival of Eurydice to the court and the wedding feast are shifted into the eastern campaign, enveloping the trial of Philotas and assassination of Parmenion.
The scene in which Aristotle gives a lesson to the young Alexander and his friends is re-edited and extended by a few seconds.
Ptolemy's narration leading up to the Battle of Gaugamela gives no reference to the razing of Thebes and burning of Persepolis. He mentions the official Macedonian accusation, that Darius assisted the assassination of Philip – in both versions, it is also mentioned when Alexander rallies the troops – and the proclamation by the Oracle of Amun is moved to a later part of the narrative.
There is no scene on the night before the Battle of Gaugamela or the omen reader looking into the intestine of the ox-sacrifice before the Battle of Gaugamela.
In the commentary, it is explained that Kilmer and other cast members deliberately use an Irish accent as Farrell was unable to lose his, with Irish accents being used as a stand-in for a Macedonian Greek accent, and British English representing Greek.
Directly after Alexander's mourning the dead after the Battle of Gaugamela, there is an additional flashback in which Philip explains the Titans to the young Alexander.
In the theatrical version, during Roxana's dance, Perdiccas can be seen breaking up a fight between Hephaistion and Cleitus. This is removed in the director's cut.
The sex scene between Alexander and Roxana is shortened, and her attempt to kill him after her discovery of his relationship with Hephaistion is cut. More explicit footage of Alexander and Roxana having sex is added.
When Alexander uncovers the page's plot, the director's cut features a small scene in which Perdiccas goes to arrest Hermolaus, who falls on his sword with the words "Death to all tyrants".
There is no narrative explanation by Ptolemy during the trial of Philotas.
Alexander does not mourn Cleitus.
The flashback of Alexander questioning Olympias does not appear immediately after the flashback of Philip's assassination; rather, it is moved to follow Alexander's grievous wounds in the Battle of the Hydaspes.
The scene in which Roxana is prevented from entering Alexander's tent by Hephaistion is also removed. This is the last remnant of a Roxana-Cassander subplot that was filmed but not included.
Between the scene in which Alexander smashes the "rebellion" within the ranks and the final battle, there is an additional scene in which Alexander reads a letter from Aristotle, who is featured dictating it to an unseen scribe.
Ptolemy's narration of the march through the Gedrosian desert additionally mentions the helplessness of Alexander watching his broken army die due to natural causes and harsh conditions. He does not mention either Alexander's new marriages in his final years or that the march across the Gedrosian desert was the "worst blunder of his life".
The scene of the army returning to Babylon, together with that in which Olympias receives the omen of Alexander's death, is shortened.
Stone also made an extended version of Alexander. "I'm doing a third version on DVD, not theatrical", he said in an interview with Rope of Silicon. "I'm going to do a Cecil B. DeMille three-hour-45-minute thing; I'm going to go all out, put everything I like in the movie. He [Alexander] was a complicated man, it was a complicated story, and it doesn't hurt to make it longer and let people who loved the film [...] see it more and understand it more."
The extended version was released under the title of Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut on 27 February 2007. The two-disc set featured a new introduction by Stone. "Over the last two years," he said, "I have been able to sort out some of the unanswered questions about this highly complicated and passionate monarch – questions I failed to answer dramatically enough. This film represents my complete and last version, as it will contain all the essential footage we shot. I don't know how many film-makers have managed to make three versions of the same film, but I have been fortunate to have the opportunity because of the success of video and DVD sales in the world, and I felt, if I didn't do it now, with the energy and memory I still have for the subject, it would never quite be the same again. For me, this is the complete Alexander, the clearest interpretation I can offer."
The film is restructured into two acts with an intermission. Alexander: Revisited takes a more in-depth look at Alexander's life and his relationships with Olympias, Philip, Hephaestion, Roxana and Ptolemy. The film has a running time of three hours and 34 minutes (214 minutes, about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut and almost 50 minutes longer than the first director's cut) and is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. Beyond the new introduction with Stone, there are no other extras on the DVD except for a free coupon to the movie 300. The Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases both feature a variety of special features however, including two audio commentaries and a new featurette.
For seven years, it was the only version of the film available on Blu-ray, until the release of the Ultimate Cut, which also includes the Theatrical Cut.
In November 2012, Stone revealed that he was working on a fourth cut of the film, at Warner's request and that this time around he would remove material, as he felt he had added in too much in the "Final Cut". The version, which is 206 minutes long, premiered on 3 July 2013 at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and Stone swears that no more versions will follow. In February 2014, Oliver Stone announced on Twitter that 'Alexander the Ultimate Cut (Tenth Anniversary Edition)' would be released in the United States on 3 June 2014. According to Amazon.com, some of its features include:"40-Page Art Book with Concept Drawings, Storyboards and Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Correspondence memos between Oliver Stone and the Cast and Crew
New documentary: The Real Alexander and the World He Made
The Ultimate Cut commentary by Oliver Stone
Original theatrical version and commentary
Oliver's son Sean Stone's feature-length documentary Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone’s Alexander And much more!