In Alexander, Oliver Stone portrayed Alexander The Great as a man obsessed. In many ways, art has imitated life, as it seems that Stone has not been able to extricate himself from this particular film. The version released to theaters was 175 minutes and, while not entirely linear, was told in a roughly chronological fashion. This was the edition most people saw, and the one that received a very poor reaction from both professional critics and audiences alike. Stone reworked it for the DVD release, giving us a Director's Cut that was actually shorter, at 167 minutes. But Stone didn't just make cuts so much as take out existing footage, replace it with previously unseen footage, and changed the timelines of events. This really didn't do much to change people's minds about the piece, and so Stone has given it another shot, giving us a whopping 214 minute take on it this time around. Does Stone finally succeed where previously it seemed he was doomed to fail?
Yes and no. I'd say that Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut is the best and most interesting of the three versions of the film. At the same time, Stone is working with flawed elements from the beginning, meaning even the best cut still isn't ever going to be perfect. There's actually a lot to admire about the film, and this re-edit especially. Stone works hard to get into the mind of his protagonist, making the audience understand Alexander as a man, not a myth. It's an approach that differs from most, as usually Alexander's achievements as a military man are pushed to the forefront, not his personal life. At the same time, it is for his military achievements that he will always be remembered, and Stone gives us very little of those grandiose historical battles.
This cut of the film features the most fractured narrative of the three. But the length of the piece allows Stone to let each sequence breath and comment on what has come before. Now, instead of feeling like we're missing vital information, we get the full view of what made Alexander the passionate young man that he was. And the cross-cutting makes for some nice parallels between what occurred to him prior to his being made king and later during his campaigns further and further East. There's a lot of detail to drink in, and even though at times it feels like Stone is throwing in everything and the kitchen sink, this particular story benefits from the more leisurely pacing and extended coverage that we finally get.
The casting is troublesome. Colin Farrell has never been, in my mind, a great actor, and even a veteran director like Stone can't turn coal into a diamond. He has the charisma to be the public Alexander, but not the chops to pull off the private Alexander. When the character starts going into a downward spiral, Farrell's lack of ability become painfully apparent. Even worse is Angelina Jolie as his mother. While she may have won an Academy Award, I have never considered Jolie to be an actor of merit. She's certainly gorgeous, but wholly inadequate as Alexander's mother, but in performance and looks (that is, she never looks old enough). Val Kilmer plays King Philip as nothing but a raging drunk, while the real man was quite a military leader who clearly influenced the ambitions and strategies of his son. None of this is shown in the film.
When Stone does focus on the action, he does it very well. The opening and closing battles are bloody, vicious, and grand. Stone switches between shooting right on the front lines and taking a longer view, using titles to let the audience know what area of the battle they're seeing. While it seems like chaos at times, it's also possible to see the tactics and strategies being employed by Alexander's armies, and the importance of his generals in executing those plans. They're so good that it makes the lack of further battles all the more disappointing.
While Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut isn't the airtight film Stone might want it to be, it's still quite an improvement over either previous edition and worth a view or two.
The Blu-Ray Disc:
Warner Bros. presents Alexander Revisited in a VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 1080p transfer. At Oliver Stone's insistence, the film is split between two discs, which works to the transfer's advantage (the less they have to fit on one disc, the more space they have). And this does look quite good. The film has a lot of different locales with different color schemes, and they're all handled ably. From the whites and reds of Macedon to the blues and golds of Babylon and the greens and browns of India, the image is always lush and vibrant. Detail is excellent. You can count every leaf and vine in the Indian sequences. I did notice that at times fleshtones tended to be a little too warm, but other than that, very few flaws mark this excellent transfer.
Considering that Warner has been very generous with Dolby True HD tracks, it's a bit surprising that all we get is a 640 kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Still, it's far from bad, with plenty of range and directional effects. The battle sequences are approriately chaotic, with all kinds of noises coming through all over the place, and a strong bass channel all the way through. Dialogue is well mixed and always clear. I do find it puzzling that Warner couldn't be bothered to make a higher bitrate track, but it's hard to complain about the mix that we do get.
In an interesting development, both the HD DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film feature a bevy of special features that are entirely absent from the DVD. The one feature that the standard set does get is presented here in 1080p. It's somewhat surprising that all of these features are exclusive, as they're much better than most supplements, with a lot of depth to them.
- Introduction by Oliver Stone: Stone candidly explains why he returned to the film yet again, and why he made the changes he has made. He hearkens back to the roadshows of old when discussing the intermission and even admits that fans of the other versions may not like the changes he has made.
- Commentary by Writer/Director Oliver Stone: An intelligent and literate man, Stone comes to this commentary with a wealth of knowledge. There are, of course, the requisite talks about the production, but he branches out, talking about Alexander as a person, the real life history of his subject, and much more. He hardly ever takes a break for the entire length of the picture, and at the same time doesn't resort to describing the plot or just blindly praising his cast and crew. An excellent track.
- Commentary by Historian Robin Fox: Stone wove together production stories with historical facts on his commentary, but Fox sticks solely to the history. It's not his fault, but he's just not as interesting as Oliver Stone. And even worse, he spends a lot of time gushing over the movie, as if Warner were paying him to praise the picture instead of discussing its historical attributes. You could easily skip this one and never have to worry about it.
The rest of the supplements are on disc two and all of them are presented in 480p.
- Resurrecting Alexander: The film's pre-production is the focus of this featurette, covering everything from the script to costume designs and more. This was also available on the Director's Cut DVD.
- Perfect Is The Enemy of Good: A look into the research that the film required, this segment shows just how deep Oliver Stone went. Already a fan of the historical Alexander for many years, Stone practically lived and breathed him in order to prepare for the movie. The second of four features to be ported over from the Director's Cut.
- The Death of Alexander: An examination of the issues that bogged down the production. This begins to show how close to the edge Oliver Stone skated while working on the film. The featurette was also on the Director's Cut DVD, and it dovetails nicely into an HD exclusive extra...
- Fight Against Time - Oliver Stone's Alexander: A 73-minute new documentary directed by Sean Stone, Oliver Stone's son. This covers the entire period of making the film, with a big focus on production and post. Sean uses the opportunity to paint a portrait of his father as a man possessed, but not without warmth. In fact, one of the many reasons Sean decided to make the documentary was to get to know his father better. He pulls no punches when it comes to Oliver, often asking him tough questions directly, and showing him at less than his best. The longer runtime allows the piece to really delve into the problems that threatened to derail the entire production, and gives us an unfettered look into the troubled process. An excellent documentary that makes this disc worth a purchase even if you didn't like Alexander.
- Vangelis Scores Alexander: This runs only four minutes, and thus understandbly feels far too brief.
Oliver Stone takes yet another stab at one of his most flawed films and comes out with a much longer cut that is considerably more interesting than the two that came before. However, the movie can't fix many of the casting problems and the lopsided focus Stone places on Alexander's personal life over his military victories. This cut is preferable to the others, and when it comes in a package as attractive as this Blu-ray, it's hard to pass up. The picture is excellent, and the sound isn't too bad, either. The supplements, many of which are exclusive to the HD formats, are the real prize of the two-disc set, and more than anything make this worth a purchase. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.