U, Fox out front in ‘Great’ race

Baz gets go to mount first Alexander pic

It will probably be one of the most ambitious and expensive pictures ever made — whoever ends up making it.

The formidable team of Baz Luhrmann and Dino De Laurentiis believe they will win the race to make a sweeping epic biopic of Alexander the Great, and hope to start shooting in January.

They have a greenlight from Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox, along with the cooperation of a movie fan named Mohammed VI, who happens to be the 39-year-old king of Morocco and who will contribute some 1,500 members of his army to the production.

If the Luhrmann-De Laurentiis team wins the Alexander race, they will have beaten back some imposing competition.

Oliver Stone had said he intends to start his Alexander biopic Oct. 16, first starring Heath Ledger, but now with Colin Farrell, with funding coming from Intermedia. Martin Scorsese had announced his Alexander movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but now is intent on first making a movie about Howard Hughes with DiCaprio.

Yet another Alexander buff, Mel Gibson, had hoped to make a multi-part film for HBO, but his company, Icon, has also put off that project. Gibson and Luhrmann, of course, are fellow Australians.

Why the focus on Alexander?

Luhrmann, one of the most theatrical of contemporary filmmakers, sees Alexander as “the world’s first rock star … a fantastic freak of nature.” Before his death at 32, he ruled over the largest area of the world ever to fall under the control of one man.

To Luhrmann, Alexander was a spectacularly charismatic figure, whose battles against the Persians utterly changed the course of world history.

While Luhrmann hasn’t locked in a budget, he intends to build upon the epic quality of the story.

“The poetry of the landscape, as well as the epic battles, will be the stars of the picture,” he said.

To this end, the Moroccan king has started construction of a studio to house the production, whose final budget may total north of $140 million.

Though reminiscent of panoramic productions of old, Luhrmann is persuaded the movie will speak to the present.

“At this moment in history when we are desperately trying to figure out what’s ahead, it is important to turn to the lessons of the past,” he said.

Luhrmann considers himself to be in pre-production and is working closely with Ted Tally, whose past credits include “Silence of the Lambs.” Tally’s script is based on novels by Valerio Manfredi. Ridley Scott initially was interested in the Tally script, but shifted to other projects.

“Dino and I are completely bonded on this film,” said Luhrmann, who is half the age of De Laurentiis.

The fabled Italian producer is responsible for a long list of historical sagas, including “War and Peace,” but he insists, “This movie will be a different sort of epic. Baz has his own unique vision. He is a complete original.”

Luhrmann has yet to cast Alexander, but there’s speculation that, if the Scorsese and Stone versions are aborted, one of the stars of those projects may surface in his film.

Final elements of the deal were completed Sunday at a dinner hosted by De Laurentiis at his house in Bel Air. The arrangement calls for a 50-50 studio partnership with Universal distributing in the U.S. and Fox overseas.

“We are completely supportive of Baz’s vision,” Universal Pictures’ Stacey Snider said. “For 10 years Baz has nurtured the idea of doing this project. It was consistent with his long-term aim of following his musicals with a series of films that, in his words, would view an epic landscape through a new cinematic vocabulary.”

“Alexander succeeded in achieving his goals beyond the scope of anyone’s imagination,” Luhrmann said. “But achieving absolute success brought him absolute failure.”

“We’ve been talking about this film with Baz for years,” said Tom Rothman, co-chairman at Fox Studios, which backed “Moulin Rouge.” “A project of this magnitude needs the support of two studios that are at the top of their game, and we all passionately endorse Baz’ vision.”

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