Time Out
Athens guidebook


Hero worship
First edition, 2004

 

 

"‘Toga saga’,
another description
batted about, is,
of course, technically
inaccurate: Ancient
Greeks dressed in
chitons, which doesn’t
quite have the same
ring to it."

 

Ancient Greece is hot property in Hollywood right now, as studios scramble to launch a new generation of sword-and-sandal epics. (‘Toga saga’, another genre description batted about, is, of course, technically inaccurate: Ancient Greeks dressed in chitons, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.)

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was a runaway hit in 2000 and its success revived the genre, long neglected since the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor flick Cleopatra threatened to bankrupt Twentieth Century Fox.

Alexander the Great is receiving royal treatment with two major biopics, directed by Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann. In the 4th century BC, the charismatic king expanded his father’s modest Balkan domain as far as the Himalayan foothills, rewriting western civilisation en route.

Stone’s version, due out first in 2004, fizzes with conspiracy theories about Alexander’s life and death. The script – co-written by the director and Oxford academic Robin Lane Fox – even tackles his controversial sex life. Colin Farrell plays mainstream’s ‘first bisexual action hero’. Alexander dallies with the Queen of the Amazons, as well as his childhood friend, lover and general, Hephaestion (Jared Leto). "Back then there was no term for bisexuality," Farrell told the BBC. "It was just the way society was. People made love to men and women. It was only later on you had to pick one side of the fence."

Luhrmann’s film doesn’t dwell on the lurid details in such depth. Instead, the Moulin Rouge director choses to explore the cultural impact of the conqueror’s nine-year campaign. The 2005 release stars the high-powered duo of Leonardo di Caprio as Alexander and Nicole Kidman as his mother, Olympia.

Troy, meanwhile, has already caused an early flutter with publicity shots of Brad Pitt in his battle skirt as Achilles. This adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, out in 2004, is directed by Wolfgang Petersen (The Perfect Storm). Other stars include Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom, Julie Christie and Sean Bean. Pitt’s Achilles will probably see more action than his literary counterpart, who spends most of the epic sulking in his tent. Purists may be dissatisfied on many points, however: Petersen has omitted the Greek gods, who meddle ferociously in the original poem.

Director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) also is ransacking the classics library. He’s chosen the blind bard’s second masterpiece, chronicling Odysseus’ long, convoluted journey home after the Trojan War. Spanish actor Javier Bardem will play the lead role when production starts in 2004.

George Clooney may charge into battle as Leonidas, leader of the brave, outnumbered Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, where a mere few hundred warriors turned back the vast Persian hordes in 480 BC. Michael Mann’s film, Gates of Fire, draws on Steven Pressfield’s historical novel, as well as Herodotus, the ‘father of history’ (aka the ‘father of lies’). The stirring tale also attracted the attention of Twentieth Century Fox, who asked screenwriter Erik Jendresen to update a 1962 film, The 300 Spartans, about the same battle.

Cameras are rolling elsewhere in the ancient world. Vin Diesel is to play Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca in a film by the genre’s past master, Ridley Scott. Oscar-winner Denzel Washington is lined up for the same role in another production. And Warner Bros is developing a new Cleopatra film, based on the two-part novel by Karen Essex.



"Colin Farrell
plays mainstream’s
‘first bisexual
action hero'."

 

"Pitt’s Achilles
will probably
see more action
than his literary
counterpart, who
spends most of the
epic sulking in
his tent."

 

See also:
Greek mythology
A-Z of Greek Gods


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