Nicholas and Alexandra is
an ambitious, sprawling, and well-meaning motion picture about
the remaining members of the Romanov family dynasty in Russia.
The characters are in the thrust surrounding revolution and
changes to Russian government. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
and produced by Sam Spiegel, this is an expansive and determined
motion-picture from 1971.
Yet Tsar leader
Nicholas (Michael Jayston) and his wife Alexandra (Janet Suzman)
hardly pay any attention to these dramatic shifts in the times
of their country, and they are both far more concerned with
caring for their sick son, who was born with an illness that
caused exorbitant grief for their family. Along with their
several daughters they live a family life that seems to some
extents ordinary. However, they fail to recognize the country's
needs and they live out lives of great wealth and royalty.
Following revolts that occurred from Russia's starving and
suffering people, millions of Russians died in a great tragedy,
and the course of the story has become more complex in
significant ways; affecting all of Russia along with the Tsar
This isn't a
perfectly structured film that excels on every level of
filmmaking. I found there to be a lot of good effort involved in
the production anyway. This
isn't really average as a film. Not by any means is this merely
"average" on technical merits. But does it excel to the heights
it hopes to achieve? That really stands as a far more intriguing
question regarding the success found within Nicholas and
The direction of
the film by Franklin J. Schaffner (Planet of the Apes, Patton) is
actually quite good in some respects. The film has many
interesting moments visually and it sometimes has performances
that are also quite interesting and worthwhile. These are
definite marks of good direction and should by all means be
positive qualities acknowledge about the film's direction.
However, the film
doesn't hit a perfect stride at any point during the entire
story. This is both Schaffner's fault as director and the fault
of the screenwriter James Goldman, who adapted Nicholas and Alexandra from the
novel written by Robert K. Massie but forgot to make characters
that people in the audience could feel invested in more.
None of the
characters feel well developed. This is particularly problematic
for the script as everything is dealing with real events and
people and none of them seems particularly well portrayed. This
is also dampened even further by weak pacing. Sometimes the film
feels as unbelievably flat and uninvolving as one can imagine.
At other times, it's quite good and is interesting to behold.
It's all over the map.
plays around with having entire sequences filmed and acted out
as believable and fairly "ordinary" scenes in which characters
talk and interact with one another, before he lunges forward
into a more dream-like mystique that seems intended to add a
certain flavor to the film. These moments seem like attempts to
make it more experimental and artistic. Yet it doesn't all work
out that well. It just seems odd to me how many sequences were
handled like this and it doesn't really do the film any favors
in its stylistic approach.
There is one
element that really dampened the film's overall quality and it
was inherent in both script and direction: this is a film that
is undermined somewhat by its own obvious ambitions. This rarely
happens to a film (though sometimes it does), and here is a good
example of that. Producer Sam Spiegel (Lawrence of Arabia, On the
Waterfront) wanted this to be a massive success and wanted
big name actors and big, well, everything.
Yet the film is
constantly an undermined production because of these elements. It
just doesn't match the ambition found displayed everywhere else.
For every artistic moment of brilliance from the direction,
acting, a costume, or make-up moment of artistry there's another
element working unfavorably for the film's success. The
production seems to be overblown and has unfortunately failed to
grasp a clear sense of unity through all artistic areas.
It's odd to see a
film where everyone involved seems to be determined to make a
masterpiece - an ambitious effort that wants to succeed on every
level. That may be the biggest problem of them all. Most of the
movies that I would describe as masterpiece material are
masterpieces because the filmmakers succeeded in telling a great
story exceedingly well. Not because something about the story
they were telling seemed appropriate for the label of being a
masterpiece by some suggestion of name or ambition inherent.
Yet that's exactly
what sometimes seems to be the point of this as a production. It
feels designed to win big, overwhelming, and triumphant amounts
of Academy Awards. It
doesn't feel as if it designed to tell the audiences a story
crafted with precision filmmaking. It feels like something made
for awards potential, and I rarely ever feel that way about
sweepingly epic productions.
I appreciate the
artistic merits of Nicholas and Alexandra as
a production. It is genuinely good in many regards and it is
worth the recognition for its costumes and production designs
and all of that other fine jazz that helped with the quality of
the sets and other backdrop elements. It's really just too bad
that the film doesn't work out as perfectly as the filmmakers
and Alexandra is
sometimes just an over-the-top dramatic period piece but it's a
worthwhile trip into an interesting passage in Russia's history
on Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition transfer which preserves
the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of the original theatrical exhibition,
as intended by director Franklin J. Schaffner and director of
photography Freddie Young. Fans of the film will undoubtedly
find themselves feeling pleased with the presentation quality.
This is a well
preserved presentation. The film has never looked better than it
does on this quality High Definition release. The transfer
retains a reasonable amount of film grain, has good depth
throughout the entire course, and color reproduction is
reasonably strong. The transfer doesn't have the sorts of
annoyances sometimes found on classic films: specks of dirt or
damage and other big problematic possibilities aren't found
here. The overall image is crisp and smooth. There is some minor
softness, but it's something that seems to be the result of the
source material. I have little doubt that longtime fans will
find this release to contain a worthy presentation in regards to
the film's transfer.
The 1.0 DTS-HD
Master Audio is not even remotely close to being as good as the
film's video quality presentation and it's nothing that really
ever impresses. Unlike the rather stunning HD transfer, the
audio lacks a sense of real "punch" and flavor and feels rather
dated. This is the result of an underwhelming audio source that
was surely used for the original elements.
slightly muffled to me. The dialogue is understandable enough to
follow but it is rather soft and the volume levels I use were
actually disagreeable with this presentation and had to be
raised significantly. This isn't just because of it being a mono
presentation, either. It's certainly not that aspect. I just
had a magnificent sounding 1.0 lossless audio track) and the
comparison in quality seems rather drastic. The audio
disappoints with an average lossless presentation with only some
minor added depth, clarity, and jubilance when it comes to the
and Alexandrasounds altogether dated. Don't expect a great
presentation in the audio department on this release.
supplement is an Isolated Score Track containing the music of
composer Richard Rodney Bennett. This receives a lossless DTS-HD
Master Audio 2.0 presentation. This was certainly an acclaimed
score at the time of the film's release, and it earned the
composer an Academy Award nomination. Fans of the score will
enjoy this supplement.
There is also a
printed essay written by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo. She writes
extensive notes about the film's behind the scenes production
aspects and it makes for an interesting and quite worthwhile
read for anyone interested in the film and its creation.
Supplements are included in1080p High Definition, but they are
clearly dated and are not as stellar as some may hope to
discover. Still, the effort to include these vintage featurettes
in HD at all is something worth appreciating.
Royal Daughters (8
min.) focuses on the actresses who portrayed the young Tsar's
Changing Faces (7 min.) takes a
look behind-the-scenes at the use of makeup on the film with
transforming the actors into their respective roles.
The Royal Touch (6 min.) is about
the Academy Award winning costumes used on the film.
Theatrical Trailer (4:25)
a bag of decidedly mixed results. On the one hand, you have an
entirely lush and impressive scope in design with expansive
sets, costumes, makeup, and more technical success at every
corner of the film and elaborate efforts. Conversely, the film's
really lacking characters that are easy to connect to. Despite
the historical backdrop being significant there isn't as much
time spent trying to develop characters to make audiences care
about them and the film suffers because of that element. This is
a historically interesting motion-picture a viewer will be able
to recognize as an ambitious and worthy effort but it doesn't
meet its own established sense of potential.
Longtime fans of Nicholas and
be pleased with the Blu-ray presentation even despite some
disappointment found with the audio. For that audience, this
release is a worthy purchase. The video presentation and amount
of extra supplemental material included is notable. As for
everyone else, it's
worth seeking out for history buffs hoping to see some extra
artistic flair and creativity but most audience members should
probably rent the film first and decide about a purchase from
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.