Feeling the lack of access to Rome, the mini-series, I decided to rent the movie Alexander, written and directed by Oliver Stone.
Oh, baby. I thought the TV mini-series Empire was terrible, but this was actually worse. At least Empire had Jonathan Cake as the gladiator, although his permanently furrowed brow got old, and he was playing the WORST bodyguard in history.
But then came Alexander. I didn't go to see this in theatres because of an early warning clue that foreshadowed disaster: Colin Farrell's hair. Yep, those blond locks were just all kinds of wrong, and having seen the film, I can now say it was downhill from there. How so? Just a few of the problems:
The now-you're-here-now-you're-there narrative. Flashbacks can work, but they can also destroy the pace of a story, and never was this more clearly demonstrated. Plus, what were they trying to show? Alex's relationship with his mother was weird? One scene would do it. He had a difficult relationship with his father? Again, one would do. Somewhere there was an idea for showing how conquerors are made (maybe Alexander came to believe he really was the son of Zeus), but it was never developed.
The battle scenes were mass confusion. I'm sure they actually were, but if you want to show us that, it doesn't take much. I got irritated. Plus, the slow-mo shots of Alexander riding? Enough already.
The yelling. Oh, my word, the yelling. If it wasn't Anthony Hopkins' sonorous voice-overs, people were yelling. Sheesh.
And don't get me started on Alexander as the great champion of multi-culturalism. That's right up there (or should I say, down there) with Julius Caesar as the great liberator in Empire.
Gladiator was great because of several factors, but here's what I consider the main one:
Maximus's goal is to (a) get home after doing his duty and (b) when he finds it destroyed and his family killed, to avenge their deaths -- to make the villain pay for his villainy. In achieving his final goal, he also happens to get rid of a very bad emperor. We care about Maximus because we can empathize with his personal goal, which also has more significant ramifications.
Frankly, I couldn't have cared less about Alexander's goal in Oliver Stone's movie. He wants to conqure the east because...the father he apparently loathed wanted to? As revenge for the father he loathed? To bring about some kind of multi-cultural New World? Boy, that last one sure didn't ring true.
And what was Augustus's motive for gaining control of the Roman Empire in Empire? As far as I could tell, because Julius Caesar, that great liberator (snort), named him heir. The character Augustus says himself several times that he's not up to the task, and I certainly believed him. Again, I simply didn't care about him. They tried to make us care about Tyrannus but (a) he was the world's worst bodyguard and (b) that name! Not exactly inspiring of affection (c) he seemed like the Poor Man's Maximus and (d) did I mention the permanently furrowed brow?
Troy had the same problem. I'm supposed to care about Achilles because... he wants to be famous? Maybe if they'd concentrated on Hector, who's fighting to protect his home from invaders, it might have worked better. At least Troy had one saving grace: the relationship between Achilles and Briseis, and that's only because I write romances and it was interesting to see a captor/captive relationship. Knowing that Briseis was really nothing more than just another prize of battle, I knew I was in the realm of fantasy, though.
While I like Gladiator (especially with the extra scenes on the DVD), so far I've never seen anything in a sword-and-sandals epic to match a heart-wrenching scene in Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. Spartacus's army, after nearly getting out of Italy, is defeated, his men are captured, and the Roman general offers the captured slaves their lives if they'll give up Spartacus. Tony Curtis (talk about miscast!) and another of the slave commanders both leap up and declare themselves Spartacus before the "real" Spartcus can. Others then get to their feet, all claiming to be Spartacus (whose fate was sure to be a slow, torturous death) rather than turn Spartacus over to the Romans. I tell ya, I tear up just thinking about it. Do I care about Spartacus? You better believe it!
Give me characters I can care about, or at least find interesting. That's what makes a movie -- or any kind of story -- worthy of my time and money.