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I caught this on the History Channel -- absolutely spellbinding! the
Narrator attempts to re-trace Alexander's conquests by following the
20,000+ mile route of his army through Asia Minor, Africa and into the
heart of Asia itself. Like Michael Palin (of 'Pole-to-Pole' fame), he
attempts to do without modern methods of travel as much as possible.
Along the way, we hear narratives recited from the writings of
Alexander's personal historians, plus assorted commentaries on the
battles and strategies. Some of Alexander's guys are still there..!
well, their offspring are anyway, along with oodles of Greek culture.
Watch for an eerie part when the team proposes following Alexander's poorly-chosen coastal 'return' route. The locals tell them to take water with them because there still isn't any to be found there. Some things haven't changed much in 2300 years.
Unlike Palin's travels which are mostly about the now, this is all
about the journey of a young godlike king of some 2500 years ago, for
whom his world was not big enough. Like Palin's travels though, Michael
Wood takes you through some of the most spectacular landscapes and
oldest cities and societies on this planet weaving a tale of conquest,
hardship, friendship and visions of greatness (on the part of
Alexander). Great imagery and gripping story telling make this one to
watch for anyone who is interested in (ancient) history and one of it's
greatest men. Go watch it: it made me want to follow his trail
Peripatetic documentary host Michael Wood treks across Asia retracing the ~20,000 mile campaign of Alexander III of Macedonia in this historically rich film exploration of one of history's greatest conquerors. Wood and crew take you from Greece to the Holy Land, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and more as he uncovers shreds of evidence from artifacts to ancient stories still told by storytellers and pieces them together into a mosaic of the short 32 year life of the legendary conqueror of Persia (circa 356-323 BCE). The always affable and upbeat historian/host Wood travels by everything from burro to boat to helicopter to foot over some of the most barren and rugged terrain in Asia tirelessly brining us the history and legends of Alexander. "In the Footsteps of..." is not only a well composed documentary but also a travelogue of places you'll not likely want to visit and will probably never see. Easy to understand didactics and great locations up close and personal makes this a should see for all ancient history buffs. (B+)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I kind of enjoyed the program. Michael Wood seems like a genuinely nice
guy who is enthusiastic about his retracing of Alexander the Great's
march from the northern border of Greece to India. He sits on a mule,
hikes through chest-high breakers around rocky outcroppings, travels
with his crew through desert wastelands. He meets people who dress
oddly and speak languages you never heard of. They sit around the fire,
smoke, and sing songs of Alexander the Great, whose legend seems to
have lived on.
I expect that if you asked most people about Alexander's ethnic background they'd say "Greek." But, as this documentary mentions, he wasn't Greek at all. Like his father he was a northern barbarian. When I was in Macedonia I was surprised to find that it didn't even LOOK much like Greece. It seemed to be far more mountainous, cooler, and heavily forested.
Wood does his best to evoke Alexander's character but, after all, the guy lived more than 2,000 years ago and the data base is limited. So we don't really learn that much about Alexander. The diarists on his march recorded more in the way of movement and obstacles than impressions of manners or quotidian facts.
The host is more interested in the remnants of legend than in ethnography. Those old guys around the fire sing about someone names Alexander (it comes out as "Xander") but we don't know what language they're speaking, how many wives they have, or what they ate for breakfast.
Wood's interest in features of the terrain are about the same as those of any tourist. Gee, this is an impressive desert. Or, Wow, it gets cold here at night, even in summer. I don't mean to suggest that it's an aimless travelogue. It has a purpose -- retracing Alexander's route from Greece to India. That's more than can be said in the episode dealing with "Shangri-La." Shangri-La wasn't a legend until a British novelist invented it in the 1930s. Shangri-La, still a fascinating look at an utterly remote landscape, was ALL travelogue.
If it's permitted, I'd like to recommend a feature film that deals with Alexander the Great's legacy around the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. It's "The Man Who Would Be King," from the Kipling story, directed by John Huston and starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. Awfully entertaining.
The only thing I am keeping from this, is that it is a decent travelogue. If you cut off the sound it is even better. The idea of traveling in his footsteps was indeed unique. However, as a documentary of Alexander's quest, it is way bellow par. He is basing much of the story on folklore, hearsay, and unreliable late sources. He tells the tale of how Alexander is viewed today by modern religions and by local folk who live in the places he conquered 2300 years ago. It is interesting to hear and it is entertaining to see the local folk and the scenery, regardless. The only thing missing from this documentary is Alexander. There are definitely better documentaries out there for sure.
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