It had to happen, after Gladiator (the most overrated film since that piece of crap Braveheart, in my opinion) won the Best Picture Oscar. The lemmings of Hollywood immediately put a series of sword, sandal, ‘n’ toga pictures into production.
Even HBO got the fever, recently opening a new series called “Rome.” I looked at the first episode, decided it was basically “Deadwood” in drag, and haven’t bothered since. I admit I’m a little prejudiced. When I was growing up there were tons of these turkeys: Quo Vadis, The Robe, Samson and Delilah, The Ten Commandments, Cleopatra, culminating in The Fall of the Roman Empire. Of them all, only Spartacus and the chariot race in Ben-Hur were worth a damn.
So we got Troy, which didn’t break even, and then Oliver Stone gave it a shot with this turkey, which totally tanked at the BO. I mean, the battle scenes are enormous, just like in Troy and the Lord of the Rings trilogy … and who gives a Phoenician fart? Big battles are meaningless unless you care about somebody in the picture, unless you have someone to root for. They worked in LOTR; they don’t work here, simple as that.
At the one-hour point I gave up, but I’d seen a fascinating battle with elephants in the trailers, so I skipped ahead. Started out fine. All these guys on foot and on horses, and here come the battle pachyderms. Whoa! Can you imagine? They’re plenty scared, but bold Alex charges ahead. Trusty horse Bucephalus is hit by a spear, and Alex catches an arrow in the chest … and Oliver Stone resorts to the most horrid cliché of action movies, slow motion. It takes him twenty minutes to fall off the goddam horse. And it gets worse. The whole slomo scene gets red. That’s right, monochrome and slomo at once.
Lord, it’s awful. I kept hitting the NEXT button, and kept getting dancing girls, vast palaces, subtitles like TEN YEARS PREVIOUSLY … $150,000,000 worth of overblown crap. Sure, Babylon looks great, sweeping CGI vistas, but what doesn’t look great these days? It’s not enough, people. Take a look at Intolerance. To me, those scenes in the B&W silent Babylon are infinitely more impressive than this baloney, because old D.W. Griffith built the place …
What was Stone thinking? The very first battle he seems to be attempting to show the troop movements, the ebb and flow of the actual fight. I remember Stanley Kubrick tried for years to make a film about Napoleon. He wanted to show this kind of stuff, how it all went down at Austerlitz, Borodino, Leipzig, and Waterloo, but back then you couldn’t order up 100,000 CGI extras, the cost was prohibitive. I’d like to have seen that picture; I’ll bet Kubrick could have pulled it off, like Kurosawa did in Kagemusha and Ran. Stone just doesn’t have the chops for it.