BAZ LUHRMANN WILL MAKE HIS 'ALEXANDER THE GREAT' -- LATER

Times Staff Writer

Yes, there will be two Alexander the Great movies -- but they won't do battle against each other on the big screen.

Director Baz Luhrmann says that he will go ahead with "Alexander the Great," one of two planned films about the legendary Macedonian conqueror. But rather than try to get into theaters ahead of Oliver Stone's "Alexander," Luhrmann is conceding the race and plans to open his film more than two years from now.

The contest between the two films has been one of Hollywood's most fascinating chess matches. Only slightly less confrontational than Alexander's razing of Thebes, the clash between the two films has generated a rash of show business speculation, including whether both films (and, sometimes, either film) ultimately would be made. Each is a steeply expensive epic, and both involve shooting in the Middle East, which had been jeopardized by the war in Iraq.

But Luhrmann concluded that his film can't be rushed. "I am not going to be drawn into a race," Luhrmann said late Monday from his native Australia. Stone's movie, starring Colin Farrell in the title role and to be released by Warner Bros., is scheduled to open in November 2004. Luhrmann said his film, which will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman and be distributed domestically by Universal, now won't be ready until late 2005.

20th Century Fox, which made Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" and originally was co-producing "Alexander the Great" with Universal, dropped out of the project over budget and profit-participation concerns. The film is now a co-production between Universal and DreamWorks, with the latter studio releasing the film overseas.

For all the competition, the makers of the two films have tried to make it clear they won't be deterred. Stone already has filmed some background shots in India for his film. Intermedia, which is funding Stone's "Alexander," says that Anthony Hopkins is negotiating to co-star as Ptolemy, a general in Alexander's army who subsequently ruled Egypt. Filming on "Alexander" is set to begin in July.

Luhrmann said he will begin working on his film's digital effects in November. He plans to begin rehearsals with DiCaprio and Kidman, who plays Alexander's mother, Olympia, in January. Six months of principal photography is scheduled to commence in April 2004. Among the 17 lead roles and 70 speaking parts, Luhrmann has yet to cast Philip, Alexander's father, and the two young actors who will play Alexander as a child and a teen.

Luhrmann's film has been delayed by three things. First, DiCaprio is starring in Martin Scorsese's Howard Hughes story "The Aviator" and won't be available until late in the year. Second, Luhrmann has been revising screenwriter Ted Tally's "Alexander the Great" draft, adding much more material about his formative childhood years and Alexander's psychology. Finally, Luhrmann and his production-designer wife, Catherine Martin, have been trying to start a family; they are now expecting their first child, a daughter, in October.

Luhrmann's movie at one point was going to be made primarily in Jordan, but the filmmakers were unable to get insurance to cover working in a country adjacent to Iraq. "At the moment, it's impossible," says Dino De Laurentiis, who is producing "Alexander the Great." He convinced Morocco to supply as many as 4,000 soldiers and 8,000 horses to the production, and the production is relocating to the African country. De Laurentiis also is building three stages in Morocco. Stone plans to film some of his movie in Morocco as well.

Even though scores of books have been written about perhaps the greatest warrior ever, few movies have chronicled Alexander and his conquest of the Persian empire. In the wake of the Oscar-winning blockbuster "Gladiator," several "sword and sandal" dramas are in active development. In some ways, the life story of Alexander is perfect territory for both Stone and Luhrmann: A bisexual world conqueror with dreams of a multicultural kingdom and all sorts of mother issues who died at age 33, he's viewed historically as both a visionary and an oppressor.

The dueling Macedonia movies are but the latest example of Hollywood's strange history of simultaneously making films about nearly identical subjects.

In 1997, the volcano drama "Dante's Peak" competed against the volcano drama "Volcano." A year later, the disaster movies "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon" both tried to kick asteroids at the same time. In 2000, the astronaut stories "Red Planet" and "Mission to Mars" opened seven months apart.

This year, there will be two movies about legendary racehorses, Universal's "Seabiscuit" in July and Disney's "Hidalgo" in October.

There previously had been at least three other Alexander the Great projects. A planned HBO miniseries, a movie directed by screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie and a Scorsese-directed feature all appear to have died.

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