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Great Expectations

Is ''Alexander'' really that great? - EW gets a globe-trotting first look at Oliver Stone's most ambitious movie ever

Alexander The Great was a son of a Macedonian King. He was blindingly handsome, a natural leader, and a ruthless general with some serious mother issues. And after the assassination of his father, Phillip, in 336 B.C., he embarked on the greatest conquest the world has ever seen, snapping up land from modern-day Greece to Iraq to India. At the time of his death, he was hailed as a living god. He was only 33.

So how do you go about playing a guy like that? ''You need some serious fookin' balls, man,'' snorts Colin Farrell, who went bottle-blond for the part. ''Serious, serious balls.''

That's one thing Oliver Stone's Alexander won't be short on. With a raucous, lusty cast -- including Angelina Jolie as Alexander's mad mother, Val Kilmer as his one-eyed father, and Jared Leto as his best friend and sometime lover -- a $150 million-plus budget, and a 143-page script written by its director, Alexander promises to be one of the more fascinating historical dramas ever made. While audiences -- and a few overseas distributors -- may have reservations about Farrell as the famous general, Stone's doubts were extinguished almost immediately. ''There's an amazing adaptability to him,'' says Stone. ''He was a huge shot of testosterone for this thing.''

The movie won't be out until Nov. 5, but Stone offered EW an exclusive early look at his peripatetic production. Filming started last October in the deserts of Morocco, where the director shot Alexander's famous battlefield victory over the Persian Empire. It was a massive scene, which featured hundreds of professional soldiers and more than 9,000 arrows, 3,000 shields and swords, and 1,000 lances.

The crew then trooped to damp, cold London soundstages to film palace scenes and a few others with Anthony Hopkins, who plays Alexander's friend Ptolemy in old age and narrates the film. Finally, in January, it was on to Thailand to shoot the end of Alexander's campaign, including a dizzyingly complicated battle complete with war elephants and charging steeds. The problem? Turns out elephants and horses are like cats and dogs -- they absolutely hate each other.

''The elephants eventually got into it. When I said 'Action,' their eyes would sort of sparkle,'' says Stone. ''The horses, on the other hand, were very skittish. And dangerous. They wrapped some people around trees at full gallops, and we did have a few injuries -- but no deaths. Nothing serious.''

Originally posted Apr 23, 2004 Published in issue #761 Apr 23, 2004 Order article reprints
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