Alexander the Great “Pilot” (part 7 of 7)
Cut to Memnon gathering his army. He yells, “Set the point!”, a cry that’s picked up by his soldiers as it echoes around the group. And if you’re one of the few still paying attention by this point, you may notice an obvious change in film stock for shots of the Persian army. As I would later learn thanks to the Film Crew, all of the battle footage in this pilot is recycled from the 1959 Steve Reeves film The Giant of Marathon. Which, let’s face it, was not exactly the most extravagant production in film history to begin with. I mean, if you’re just recycling footage, why not go for something impressive?
As Memnon prepares to give the order to charge, there’s a pretty cheap effect (taken straight from Giant of Marathon) that tries to make it look like they hired twice as many extras. We see the Persians standing on a hilltop, and then there’s a few frames of a “whipping camera” effect, and suddenly we see the exact same extras, only standing in different positions on a different hill. What’s lamer, this “special” effect, or the fact that somebody actually reused it?
Memnon yells, “Charge!” and then there’s more recycled footage, this time of Smurfheads blowing their horns. Hilariously, the footage has actually been overdubbed with the Alexander the Great theme song, most likely because that was the only piece of music they could afford. Which gives the unfortunate impression that the Persian soldiers are actually playing their enemy’s theme song. This does not bode well for Memnon.
Persian soldiers on horses rush forward. Up on a hill, Greek bowmen let their arrows fly, and suddenly there are a dozen shots of horses falling over tripwires. Yowch. It’s pretty painful to watch, but to be fair, this is also recycled footage, so we only have the makers of Giant of Marathon to blame for this.
But several of the horses ride on, heading right for a line of Greeks behind shields with their spears extended. Through the magic of insanely confusing editing, we’re made to believe that the horses are riding directly into those spears. And yes, this is more recycled footage from the Steve Reeves movie. At this point, do you even need to ask?
Memnon orders chariots forward, and then there’s recycled footage of Persians beating a giant drum, and a huge pyre burning in the background. Nice one. As if anyone would actually believe the filmmakers constructed these massive set pieces for the sake of a three-second shot.
The chariots rush forward, and one of the Greeks yells for the rope slings, which in some way or another cause more horses to stumble over tripwire. Can’t get enough of that tripwire. I mean, what are you supposed to do when you’ve got this much footage of horses doing faceplants?
Then we return to scenes actually shot for this pilot, which include some rather non-rousing hand-to-hand combat. During this, Cletus actually tosses a Persian soldier through the air, knocking down two others.
In the middle of all this, a Greek soldier rides up to Alexander and reports that Antigonus is dead. “Murdered!” And someone’s responsible!
Alexander asks who did it, and the soldier says the name “Karonos” was written in blood next to the body. I guess that dying declaration is all the evidence Alexander needs, because he screams Karonos’ name and rides off to seek vengeance.
And then there’s more recycled battle footage for a while. Back in this episode, Cletus runs a Persian through with his sword.
Suddenly, a Persian leaps off a hill, knocking Alexander off his horse. (Or rather, he knocks Shatner’s stunt double off his horse.) But the last we saw of Alexander, he was riding off after Karonos, so why was he just sitting there? The two men both hit the ground, and oddly, the Leaping Persian stops moving. So, are we to assume that short jump killed him?
Having been thrown off his horse, Alexander jumps into battle and starts kicking ass. Attalos sits atop his horse nearby and watches this with great interest. Suddenly, he gets an arrow in the back and keels over dead. Wow. Like, wow, that was… anticlimactic. To say the least. I mean, I know he’s a bad guy, and we’re supposed to be happy he’s dead, but what exactly led to Attalos’ downfall there? Being too interested in watching other people fight? I’d say that’s not quite the comeuppance anyone was hoping for.
Karonos shows up and spots Alexander, and flashes a sinister smile at him. He kills Alexander’s current Persian opponent, and then instantly the two men draw swords on each other. I guess this is where Karonos’s plan gets put into action, the one where he makes it look like Alexander died at the hands of the enemy. Only, he’s fighting Alexander with his own sword, and not the Persian dagger he showed off earlier. Tell me again how Alexander conquered most of the civilized world with numbnuts like this on his side?
Alexander says, “Karonos. I’ve been looking a long while for you!” Yeah, at least a whole two minutes. They bang their swords on each others’ shields for a while, ascending a hill the whole time. Throughout this, they’re clearly the only two people around for miles, but “battle” background noises have been dubbed in to convince us otherwise. Eventually, Alexander stabs Karonos in the gut, and then Karonos dies and goes tumbling down the hill. Which is also—do I even need to say it?—quite anticlimactic.
And then it’s back to the battle, where the Greeks are letting their catapults fly, and massive waves of rocks soar through the air, and in a refreshing change of pace, only about three-quarters of this is recycled from Giant of Marathon.
Tauron yells, “Boulders!” So the Greeks push big foam boulders downhill, which the Persians obligingly run directly in front of so they can get squashed. Soon, the Persians are fleeing en masse from all those scary giant boulders.
Memnon, seeing his men are no match for foam, yells, “Withdraw!” Triumphant music plays as the Persians all ride off, and we abruptly fade to black. Unbelievable. I understand the need to simplify historical events, this being a TV show and all. But attributing Alexander’s victories solely to the use of giant boulders is doing something of a disservice to history, I think.
When we return from break, Alexander is laying a sheet over the body of Antigonus. In echoing voiceover, we flashback to an earlier line (which I don’t remember at all) where Antigonus swears his loyalty to Alexander. Soldiers carry his body away as the voiceover narration returns.
“He came as a conqueror! But created a legend in which he lives on forever… as Alexander the Great!” Which makes absolutely no sense. It’s not like becoming a legend is some unintended side effect of arriving as a conqueror. [And for reasons unknown, the new DVD only has the opening narration, and not the closing narration. Is it because the closing narration is utterly superfluous? If so, then I wholeheartedly support this decision. —2010 Albert]
Alexander mounts his horse, holds his sword high, and leads his men away from the battlefield. Aaaand… scene.
It’s not too hard to see why this pilot was rejected. It’s incredibly bland, and it gives almost no indication of what the actual series would have been like. We spend almost the entire running time on three characters: Alexander, Antigonus, and Karonos, and two of those three are dead by the end of the episode. So I can’t tell you who the series would have focused on other than the Great One himself.
And of course, when at least one-third of a pilot episode is made up of recycled footage, that doesn’t portend much potential greatness for Alexander the Great, the series.
Most of the participants went on to bigger and better things: Shatner of course, West of course, Cassavetes of course. And you can add to that director Phil Karlson, who later was able to introduce Joe Don Baker to the world in Walking Tall.
In interviews, Shatner has occasionally spoken about this pilot, at least a lot more than he ever mentioned Impulse. The best of these interviews was when Shatner admitted he totally forgot that Adam West was even in it.
WS: Was Adam West in it?
WS: [very thoughtfully] Huh.
DE: Do you remember it very well?
WS: I remember doing the pilot. It was basically a pilot on Alexander the Great, a great subject matter. We rode fast horses without a saddle, which is a skill in itself. Had some wonderful moments making that picture.
DE: So you don’t remember Adam West?
WS: I don’t remember Adam being in the series, but if you say so, he was.
Funny, but I found myself saying the exact same thing after this was over.
But in a more enlightening interview, Shatner revealed his performance as Alexander contributed in no small part to a much more famous role he was about to land.
So, this failed pilot is clearly not a good story by any stretch of the imagination, but Alexander the Great is at least an interesting look into the formative years of a (now Emmy-certified) TV legend, where we get to see him develop the skills he’d later use to create one of the most enduring TV characters ever.