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I forgot to remember to forget

'Alamo' presents another version of history

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Thornton
Billy Bob Thornton plays Davy Crockett in "The Alamo."

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ON CNN TV
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Billy Bob Thornton
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(CNN) -- History is written by the winners -- or the survivors. But there are at least two sides to every story.

The Babylonians and Romans generally have a different take (if any take at all) on the stories told in the Bible. The Aztecs didn't have a very favorable view of the Spaniards. Slave narratives offer another view on life in the pre-Civil War American South.

Telling a story from more than one perspective doesn't always make for an well-told movie, however.

Movies with multiple narrators can be fascinating -- "Rashomon" and its descendants come to mind -- but popular films usually follow a story from one side's point of view (or even one person's).

So, when filmmakers proposed making a new film about the 1836 battle at the Alamo, they had a decision to make.

Would they follow the path of the 1960 John Wayne film in all its American (Texas) flag-waving glory? Or would they present a more balanced view, showing the Texas heroes -- Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, William Travis -- warts and all, and not making the Mexicans out to be completely black-hearted villains?

And how would the direction affect the film's box office chances?

Eye on Entertainment digs into history.

Eye-opener

"The Alamo," about the famous battle that led to the founding of the Republic of Texas, was supposed to be a super-big-budget ($125 million) epic directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe -- both coming off Howard's Oscar-winning "A Beautiful Mind."

But the studio, Disney, disagreed with Howard's intentions and his budget (which included Crowe's sizable salary), and the director's job went to John Lee Hancock, best known for helming "The Rookie."

Hancock spent months doing research on the battle and its principals, and hired historians to go over the script, according to Reuters. He's proud of the movie's accuracy -- even if some Alamo fans think he's indulging in political correctness.

That means that Travis is illiterate in the beginning and that Crockett wasn't gung-ho from the outset. But it still has some Hollywood touches; after all, as Disney chief Dick Cook told Reuters, "It is not a documentary. It is a movie."

As a movie, it's garnered mixed reviews so far. Critics who have disliked it dismiss the film as dull, with cardboard characters. On the other hand, the Associated Press gives it three stars. Nobody, however, denies that it strives for accuracy.

Whether other movies will follow in its footsteps may depend on the box office.

The film stars Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett, Dennis Quaid as Houston, Patrick Wilson as Travis and Jason Patric as James Bowie. "The Alamo" opens Friday.

On screen

  • What comes after "The Whole Nine Yards"? "The Whole Ten Yards," of course, complete with the same cast: Bruce Willis, Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Natasha Henstridge and Kevin Pollak (yes, Pollak's character died in the first film, but now he's a different character). At this rate, they'll have a touchdown in no time. Opens Friday.
  • "Ella Enchanted" has been compared to a live-action "Shrek." The filmmakers can only hope it does "Shrek"-like box office, or has "Shrek"-like wit. The film, which stars Anne Hathaway, opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • "The Swan," which premiered after Wednesday's "American Idol" and then moves to Mondays on Fox, is like an extreme "Extreme Makeover" crossed with "The Bachelor": Several not-stunning women (that is, regular, everyday, real non-model people), perhaps cowed by other reality shows, glossy magazine covers and Victoria's Secret catalogs into believing that they're inferior human beings, undergo "physical, mental and emotional transformations with the help of a team of experts," according to the show's Web site. And then? One by one, they get voted off the show. What could be better? Having to go on "Fear Factor" and eat infected leeches? Monday, 9 p.m., Fox.
  • "Homeland Security" is an original TV movie about "American warriors on the front lines" who "pursue an enemy hiding throughout the world," it says on NBC's Web site. They haven't found Carmen Sandiego yet? The film airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.
  • Paging readers

  • Two new books look back at figures in history and what they can teach us. Dorie McCullough Lawson's "Posterity" (Doubleday) collected letters by well-known Americans to their children; Cokie Roberts' "Founding Mothers" (William Morrow) shows the influence of the Founding Fathers' wives on creating the United States of America. Both books are due Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • Primed for "Kill Bill Vol. 2"? No? You may want to check out "Kill Bill Vol. 1," then. The Quentin Tarantino movie comes out on video Tuesday. (Read Paul Clinton's review.)

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