"The world is yours. Take it."
Although it was widely disparaged and ridiculed upon its release, I had a more favorable reaction than most to Oliver Stone's historical epic Alexander, describing it in my previous review as worthy and literate, made with intelligence, passion, and vision. I stand by that opinion. It's a flawed movie, but a fascinating one. It certainly speaks to Stone's clout as a filmmaker that despite his movie's critical drubbing and box office failure, he's been afforded the opportunity to tinker with and adjust it in no less than three different versions for DVD. Since the 175-minute theatrical cut took such a beating, Stone added a little footage, cut out a little more, and dramatically rearranged the structure for a 167-minute Director's Cut that was meant to be "faster paced and more action packed" (according to the DVD packaging). I wasn't much impressed with the results, finding it needlessly convoluted and messy. I wrote at the time that I would have preferred if the director had merely added new footage on top of the old, and I still think that would have been the best approach.
Well, now we have Alexander Revisited – The Final Cut, of which Stone insists, "rest assured this is my last pass, as there is no more footage to be found". Indeed, Revisited seems to combine just about everything that was in the theatrical cut with everything added to the Director's Cut, and even throws in some brand new footage to bring the movie to a whopping 214 minutes. Stone describes it as his "clearest interpretation of Alexander's incredible life". I wish I could agree. While I still like the movie and find value in some of the new material, the director continues and in some ways even worsens his jumbled restructuring of the movie, which I find severely undercuts its sense of rhythm, momentum, and character development. Concerned that his original theatrical cut was too talky at the beginning and took too long to get to the action, Stone moved the first battle of Gaugamela forward for the Director's Cut and moves it even further up here, placing it as one of the earliest scenes in the movie. The problem is that this big epic action sequence is simply not earned so early in the picture. We don't know the characters, so we really can't get involved in their struggle or rejoice in their victory. Starting the movie this way is just confusing and frankly dull. Yes, the theatrical opening took a while to get things going, but it gave us a solid introduction to the characters and a foundation for the story that we could care about. It played in fact like a richly detailed history lesson being taught by a favorite professor. That effect is lost now, and as the movie progresses in fits and spurts, repeatedly jumping around "14 Years Later", "10 Years Earlier", "9 Years Later", "1 Year Later", and on and on, we just can't get a grasp on the story or why we should care about it.
Is the Final Cut better or worse than the Director's Cut? I find the new opening an even bigger mistake, but overall I do believe that Revisited is a slight improvement over the movie's last rejiggering. At the very least, it restores the small character moments that helped to flesh out the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion, putting their man-love into a proper historical and dramatic context, and also gives more screen time to some of the lesser developed characters. However, on balance I still feel that the original theatrical cut is the best and most effective telling of this story. Oliver Stone may love his experiments with fractured timelines, but this particular narrative just can't support them. The story begs for a linear structure. There's a truly great movie in Alexander struggling to get out, and all this playing around with breaking it up into scattered puzzle pieces only obfuscates that goal. Revisited has all the pieces present to make an ideal cut of the movie, but they're not in the right places. With this third and supposedly final version of the movie, Alexander still falls frustratingly short of its potential.
Alexander Revisited – The Final Cut debuts on the DVD format courtesy of Warner Home Video. The movie is broken into two halves on separate discs, with a brief intermission at the end of Disc 1. Both discs start with unskippable copyright notices and studio logos, and require you to go through a main menu to start playback.
The Alexander Revisited DVD is presented in the movie's theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 with anamorphic enhancement.
I've reviewed several DVD editions of Alexander at this point, from the Region 1 Director's Cut to special limited edition box sets of the theatrical cut from Hong Kong and Korea. Of those, the American disc had by far the best video transfer, with purer colors, a sharper image, and less edge enhancement or other digital artifacts.
The Revisited DVD seems to come from the same basic color transfer as the Director's Cut. Anthony Hopkins' robe in the prologue is a pure white, without the yellow tinge that affected the foreign discs. Unfortunately, the new release suffers from more edge ringing, filtering, and compression problems, even despite the movie's length being split to two discs. Shimmering and jaggies are present in fine object detail throughout the movie, visible starting with the opening titles. The Director's Cut in comparison is more stable. The image as a whole looks rather soft and dupey, especially in wide shots. Blocking and motion artifacts are also problematic during scenes of complex action, such as the big battle in India towards the film's end. I was expecting video quality to be at least on par with the Director's Cut but was sadly disappointed.
Here's what I had to say about the sound quality of the Director's Cut DVD:
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is extremely loud and dynamic, with particularly impressive use of the surround channels during the battle scenes. The score also has a nicely enveloping sweep. Bass is a little rumbly but does not extend as deep as hoped, and the audio mix never quite achieves the clarity of the best reference-quality soundtracks, but it's quite satisfying anyway.
Most of those comments carry over to this disc as well, though I do have to note that the movie's sound design is a little less refined in this version of the movie. The musical score has crude editing and bridges to match the new footage, and there are obvious mismatches in dialogue where lines are overdubbed. The transition between Anthony Hopkins' prologue and his voiceover narration is also very jarring.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles – English.
Alternate language tracks - N/A.
Both the theatrical cut and Director's Cut DVDs contained a fair amount of bonus features, so I supposed there was little left for this third go-round. All we get is a 3-minute Introduction by Oliver Stone, in which the director attempts to justify the need for another version, the expanded length, and the intermission.
An insert card in the disc case also contains a short note from the filmmaker.
Oliver Stone has had three attempts to get it right, but Alexander is still a very flawed movie. I appreciated it before and will continue to defend it, but the filmmaker's attempts to restructure the movie for his Director's Cut and now Final Cut just don't work nearly as well as the original theatrical version. I recommend Alexander Revisited to that select audience who liked the previous versions of the movie, because there is some worthwhile new footage in there. Be warned that if you aren't a fan already, the Final Cut will not change your mind.
Alexander – Director's Cut
Alexander – Theatrical Cut (Region 3 Limited Edition – Hong Kong)
Alexander – Theatrical Cut (Region 3 Collector's Edition - Korea)
World Trade Center (HD DVD)