a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou
Shortly after the film opened In the US the film was criticized greatly, as most of Oliver Stone's films are at first. "Alexander" is no exception, it too generates both excitement and criticism...
Personally after seeing the film twice (and trying to disregard this is a Vangelis-scored movie), I think there's a lot more to "Alexander" than is clear 'at first sight'. What strikes me most is that beyond anything else as a film "Alexander" is Oliver Stone's in-depth character-study of Alexander the Great.
As far as the critics are concerned (especially in the US) I feel they have chosen an easy path of bashing the film without giving it a proper chance. There's a lot to be said about the film, but it's not a bad movie by far.
First of all I don't think Jolie and Farrell are badly cast, they both perform well and I don't find Farrell's blond hair or the Jolie's accent too distracting. Those things are just easy targets for a critic that is only interesting in bringing the film down, rather than making an effort to learn a thing or two from history and understand what the story is that is being told by the movie.
However I can see where some of the criticism is coming from. First of all the film seems a collage of action-packed scenes, mixed with dialogue-scenes some of which sound like they'd fit well in a theater play. These conversations in-between take the pace out of the movie which definitely makes it harder for an average viewer to keep focused. Especially any audience expecting an all-action all-adventure movie, like e.g. Gladiator. And considering the marketing I can imagine many people do go into the theater with that expectation.
Next to that the film tries to tell a time in history that has so many impressive events that it's impossible to tell it all in just 3 hours. Of course Oliver Stone knows this too, and so he fast-forwards several times, e.g.. from a youthly Alexander to the battle at Gaugamela. That's all very well but now the audience is left with a fragmented story that requires some background knowledge of historical events to fully understand and appreciate.
One thing I found somewhat exaggerated was the repeated hinting to Alexander's gay or bi-sexuality. I don't think it's even disputed by most historians that Alexander was bi-sexual. But as it doesn't add that much to the story, I get a feeling that Stone purposely turned up the volume on Alexander's sexuality to create the controversy that it raised, especially in the US.
What I do like about the movie is that it works on different levels, it can be viewed from different angles. For instance as for many other Vangelis-scored movies (such as Chariots of Fire, Antarctica, The Bounty, Francesco, 1492 Conquest of Paradise and Kavafis) there is a historical background, an authentic story to be told.
What I also like is that the film tries to account for Alexander's extraordinary behavior and accomplishments. Knowing the story of Alexander The Great, it's hard to understand why he went on and on with his conquest, even after he had already conquered Egypt and Persia. It is suggested that Alexander is one of the world's first global explorers who tried to go to 'the end of the world' (as known then...) In the end the disappointment of learning that the world is larger as thought before is one of the reasons for Alexander to return home. Apart from that Alexander's character is put into almost Freudian perspective based on the behavior of his parents.
Finally the film draws a parallel to current events in the same region, when referring to the conquest and domination of new cultures to old ones. With the noted difference that Alexander respected the leaders and people of conquered civilizations and proclaimed integration rather than suppression of cultures.
As far as Vangelis' music is concerned, I loved every minute of it! Compared to the album the score as heard in the film sounds much more Vangelis-esque. There's less room for the orchestra in the film-cues, and definitely more synths including the beloved CS-80 :-)
As always there is so much more music in the film than on the album, and even the music from the album that appears in the film is often arranged differently. It's both a curse and a blessing... ;-)
Vangelis' score as usual fits the movie perfectly. It contains a couple of real gems, some of which (again) can only be heard in the movie. Alexander may not be his best score ever (an unthinkable challenge with past work such as Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire and 1492 Conquest of Paradise) mostly due to that it is less renewing than many before. Then again that may have been caused by the fact that it is Vangelis' style that has been greatly imitated by several other composers in the last decade (with none of them ever reaching the same level of expression) Personally I enjoy the music heard in the film much more than the album, it is less 'produced' and more spontaneous.
All in all Alexander is a pretty deep movie that mixes drama with history. It doesn't try to give a complete historic picture as a documentary would, but it dramatizes historic events in a pretty credible way. It may work for you if you're interested in it's historical background and set your expectations to what the film really is, a character study of Alexander the Great.