Ubon Ratchathani – One of Ubon Ratchathani province’s newest and most unusual attractions is the Alexander the Great Museum, a seven-rai park that houses props from the Oliver Stone 2004 blockbuster movie ‘Alexander.’
Perhaps bizarre to people who are unfamiliar to Ubon being selected as the location for shooting the climactic battle in ‘Alexander.’
For Northeasterners, it is a big deal. They take pride in being involved with a Hollywood production by one of the world’s top filmmakers. Stone has won Oscars and prizes for films such as ‘Platoon,’ ‘Born of the 4th of July’ and ‘Wall Street.’
Made for US$155 million, it is also one of the most expensive films shot here.
As an educational tool, the film is pertinent in reminding people about the significance of Alexander’s march, conquering lands beyond Greece, from Persia, Egypt, Afghanistan and what was then Northern India.
The museum’s designers have organized a wide display of period costumes from the film. They are tailored for historical accuracy revealing the various armory and weaponry used by the warring armies.
The Greeks carried heavier gear while the Indian Punjab forces wore lighter tunics better suited for hot climates. One must be mindful this took place more than 300 years before the birth of Christ. Yet it has left a mark that determines how civilizations were shaped, how we think, how we are schooled, the way we view sports and the way armies fight centuries thereafter.
The entrance is reminiscent of gates to a walled fortress, often employed in today’s theme parks. Here it bears symbols of ancient Greece and emblems worn by Alexander’s forces.
Near the gate is a small movie theatre for those who want to view the 2-hour 50-minute epic. It stars Collin Farrell as the Macedonian king who at the age of 18 commanded his father King Philip’s army.
At 25 he led them on a journey to create a vast empire consisting of what was then thought to be most of the civilized world. For Alexander it was a one-way ticket, he never returned home, dying after the Indian campaign.
Other stars in the film include Angelina Jolie who plays his mother and Val Kilmer who plays King Philip. Christopher Plummer plays Alexander’s tutor Aristotle who taught him that a highly educated, physically fit and visionary leader can make a great difference in ruling the land.
Aristotle was a student of Plato who championed ideas of Socrates. They are considered giants in Greek philosophy and Alexander was the living proof their ideas can work.
The main tent houses props of Alexander’s throne and armor won by the Greeks through their eight-year campaign adorn the tent.
We also learn from the special 3-D clip available for viewing in a hall at the back of the tent that the final battle Alexander fought in India was shot on location near the Mekong River that overlooks Laos.
Other tents also show the adversaries the Greeks faced as well as background to the battle that took place.
Thai actor Bhin Banleurit plays the Indian King Porus who fought Alexander. Stone chose him after seeing the actor’s strong performance in ‘Bang Ra Chan,’ a period war movie about patriotic villagers resisting an advancing Burmese force on Ayuthaya.
Because of the need to trim the length of an already long film, Stone had to reduce its devotion to Bhin’s character. The film’s Porus is given a touch of Cabaret make up with heavy mascara and shocking red hair and beard, sufficient to frighten the Greeks.
The highlight of the battle was Porus on an elephant facing Alexander riding his trusted steed Bucephalus.
Bucephalus meaning ‘ox-head’ (355 BC – 326 BC) was one of the most famous stallions in history.
Stone devotes a segment about how Alexander tamed it. The horse was key to Alexander’s might, he always rode in front of a charge, a sight to behold and this would endear him to his men who would willingly give up their lives and follow him to the ends of the world.
Ancient accounts state that Bucephalus died after the Battle of the Hydaspes, in what is now modern Pakistan, and is buried in Jalalpur Sharif outside of Jhelum. Another account states Bucephalus is buried in Phalia, a town in Mandi Bahauddin district, which is named after him.
As for the Battle of the Hydaspes, Alexander fought Porus of the Paurava kingdom resulting in a Greek victory. Alexander was so impressed by his adversary that he reinstated Porus as a satrap of his kingdom and dominion over lands to the southeast.
So why is the Alexander Museum pertinent to visitors?
Here we learn something few schools today teach, that the origins of Western civilization owes much to this warrior king and his empire that was the first to employ ‘universalism,’ a bit like the ‘globalization’ approach without its more sinister side.
The difference is Alexander respected the culture and sensitivities of the different peoples that he conquered. He did not impose Greek social norms, but its political structure.
In fact, he encouraged, troops to marry local women, start families, take up local ways and religions so as to forge an unbreakable bond with Greece.
Alexander named every city Alexandria so none may be accused of being a favorite.
In them, the Greeks housed libraries, schools and gymnasiums, institutions that cultivate higher thinking and promote healthy bodies and healthy minds.
This is the bedrock of modern civilization. It still is the best way to combat superstition, mysticism and irrational behavior.
Top: A statue of Alexander’s horse Bucephalus protecting his master who has fallen on the ground as King Porus attacks on a war elephant.
First inset: .Collin Farrell as Alexander in the 2004 film.
Second inset: A statue of Alexander at the Museum.
Below: Alexander the Great Museum displays ancient armies of Greece and India.
Further down: The entrance to the Alexander Museum.
By Cimi Suchontan