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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 18, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 10, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
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The Movie:

While Oliver Stone's epic cinematic vision of a film detailing the life and times of Alexander The Great sounded like as close to a sure thing as you can find in Hollywood these days, sadly the final product met with bad reviews and miserable box office results. Three years since its theatrical review, the film has been released in its theatrical cut, in an alternate director's cut, and now in its third incarnation, Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut. Was the third time the charm for Stone? Not really. The same problems that plagued the other two versions hurt this one as well but the longer running time does allow for better character development and a few of the added scenes certainly do help things. While this remains a very flawed film, it's far from the complete disaster some have made it out to be and this supposed Final Edit is the best version of Stone's vision so far.

The film follows the story of Alexander The Great (Colin Ferrell), one of the most famous conquerors in all of history. We learn of his boyhood struggles to come to terms with the strange affections of his 'barbarian' mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie) as well as the begrudgingly respectful relationship that he had with his father, King Philip (Val Kilmer). Upon Philip's death, he was given the Macedonian throne and once the considerable army was under his control, he set out to conquer Persia and beyond. As the central plot plays out, so do a few interesting subplots such as Alexander's difficulty conceiving an heir to his throne with his first wife, Roxane (Rosario Dawson), his difficulty accepting theories and studies taught to him in his youth by none other than Aristotle (Christopher Plummer) and his homosexual relationships with boyhood friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and a servant named Bagoas (Francisco Bosch). We learn how he inspired a high ranking solider named Ptolemy (played in his youth by Robert Early, his adult years by Elliott Cowan and in his senior years by Anthony Hopkins who also narrates and bookends the movie) as well as his problems maintaining control over his army once things turned sour in India towards the end of his campaign.

The theatrical cut of Alexander ran for 175 minutes, the director's cut for 167 minutes, and this Final Cutfor 213 minutes. What makes up the forty-odd minutes of running time added to this release? The subplots involving Ptolemy and Olympias are fleshed out with both characters receiving more screen time here, and the relationships the grow between Alexander his first wife Roxane (and her jealousy over his interest in men), his mother Olympias, and his father, Philip, are also elaborated on a fair amount. The film also deals with Alexander's homosexual relationships to a considerably more graphic degree, demonstrating what was only hinted at in the theatrical cut without ever delving into the realm of exploitation. On top of the character development and relationship expansions scenes, the battle scenes also appear to be longer and a fair bit gorier. Both the opening battle and the finale that occur in the wilds of India are very hard-hitting and intensely brutal in their depiction of war. Aristotle gets more screen time here, and a post battle sequence shows some of Alexander's compassion and caring for the men under his command.

The added character development makes for a stronger narrative and more interesting personalities on screen and the more intense battle sequences certainly add to the already impressively staged scenes of mass carnage. In those ways, this is an improved version of Alexander. That said, the film does still suffer from some odd casting and the problems that have trailed the first two versions are still here in this third. Angelina Jolie is still too young to play Colin Farrell's mother even if she's wearing make up to give her a more elderly appearance. Stone's decision to have the Macedonian's speak with Irish accents and the Greeks with English accents still sticks out like a sore thumb. The picture still feels bloated in spots and it still jumps around a bit too much for its own good. Likewise, Stone's movie doesn't pay enough attention to Alexander's strengths as a military leader or to his inventive work as a strategist, and instead it focuses more on his inner conflicts and turmoil leaving us wondering just how he became such a great conqueror in the first place. More emphasis on the military aspect of Alexander's story would have made for a more complete and potentially more exciting film. There are moments where Stone tries to explain the reasons for Alexander's incessant push for more and more territory and where he tries to explain his love for battle and combat, but he never really succeeds at it, and as such, Alexander is just kind of this guy who was really good at war but who had much bigger problems in his personal life.

That said, all complaints aside, Alexander in any of its forms is not as horrible a film as some would have us believe. The flaws are there and they're quite obvious but the film does manage to get more than a few things right. First off, the entire production looks gorgeous. From the palaces to the battlefields, everything is picture perfect. There's an insane amount of detail obvious in the sets, the costumes and the backgrounds and it's obvious that the production team really did strive to make sure that the film looked as epic and grandiose as it needed to. Accent aside, Farrell does make for a likeable lead even if he's not quite as charismatic as he could have been. Angelina Jolie is wasted in her part, but Val Kilmer is impressive as Philip and Jared Leto is wonderfully sympathetic as Alexander's first true love, Hephaistion. Vangelis' score is suitably epic and sounds as pompous as you would hope a film about Alexander The Great would, and as mentioned, the battle scenes are truly fantastic. No, Alexander is not a bad film at all - it's just not as good as it should have been or as it could have been.

The DVD:

Video:

Alexander - Revisited is presented in a gorgeous VC-1 encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer presented in full 1080p, and, in short, it looks fantastic. Color reproduction is fantastic and black levels are always rich and deep. Most impressive is the level of detail present in the picture in both the foreground and the background. You can literally count the hairs on the performers' heads if you're so inclined. Flesh tones look dead on and there are no problems with print damage or heavy grain (a fine coat is noticeable in some scenes but it just contributes to the filmic look of the transfer). Some of the outdoor scenes are a little bleached out looking as they've been intentionally over exposed for dramatic effect but even these scenes look very good. Shadow detail is great, contrast looks to be properly set, and aside from a few blink and you'll miss it moments where some mild pixelation occurs during very fast movement, there's absolutely nothing worth complaining about in terms of how this HD-DVD looks.

Sound:

While it would have been nice to see a PCM track or a TrueHD track, the English language 640 kbps Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround Sound mix is very, very good. Surrounds are used to bring the epic battle sequences to life and dialogue is always sharp and perfectly easy to follow and understand. The score swells up nicely underneath the action and drama and at times both the music and the effects completely envelope us to really and truly become surround sound. The range of the mix is pretty spectacular with very strong bass that certainly makes its presence known without overpowering the rest of the mix, while the higher end comes through distinctly and without sounding shrill or brassy. As nice as the dialogue and dramatic moments sound, it's the battle scenes that really benefit from the mix with the elephants, arrow slings and clashing swords all coming through powerfully and really hammering home how brutal these sequences are. Optional subtitles are provided for the feature in English, French and Spanish.

Extras:

Warner Brothers has, at Stone's request, split this release over two discs. Here's what you'll find and where you'll find it:

DISC ONE:

Supplements for this two-disc release start off with a pair of commentary tracks unique to this specific cut of the film and exclusive to high definition. Seeing as the running time has been changed a fair bit with this third edit, it only makes sense that the previously recorded commentary tracks be left behind in favor of two brand new pieces the first of which is courtesy of writer/director Oliver Stone. Always interesting to listen to, Stone delivers an interesting talk that does a good job of explaining the history of the picture and, equally as important, the history of its subject. He covers some of the location shooting, casting and editing of the picture but also discusses quite candidly the pressure that was put upon him by the studio who bankrolled the film and why we've wound up with three different edits of what is still a very recent film. Stone talks about how he set out to research Alexander before sitting down to start work on the film, and he does a good job of pointing out little details and historical accuracies that he wanted in the film that casual viewers might not pick up on. Although the director's personal politics come into play a few times, he's not here to preach to us about his leanings, he simply makes some interesting and perfectly valid comparisons to world events that have transpired since Alexander's time and he keeps everything in context here.

The second commentary track on the disc comes from historian and biographer Robin Lane Fox, a history professor at Oxford University, and it's sadly not quite as interesting as Stone's solo track. While Fox does elaborate on a few items of historical significance and manages to fill in some of the blanks surrounding certain players in the film, he spends just as much time gushing over Stone's work and expressing his admiration for the film. Fox's thoughts might have been better received had they been integrated with Stone's - they could have collaborated on the commentary as they did on the last release of the film. Flying solo, Fox seems to have trouble staying focused on the historical side of things and at times verges on sounding like a fan boy rather than a historian. That said, his track does definitely have some value, it's just that at times it is dry and uninteresting.

Stone also provides an atypical introduction to the film. While most director introductions are brief, fluffy and simply an explanation of why the director likes the picture, Stone takes the chance to explain to us here why this cut of the film has been split over two discs and why he's included an intermission. He also fully admits that he expects some people to have a negative reaction to the changes that have been made to the film. It's an interesting and refreshingly honest introduction that makes sure to note that this version of the film was intended to be viewed at home.

DISC TWO:

Carried over from the previous Director's Cut DVD release of Alexander is the fantastic three-part documentary shot and directed by Oliver Stone's son, Sean Stone. This eighty-seven minute examination of the ordeals involved in putting together a project of this magnitude begins with Resurrecting Alexander. a twenty-seven minute look at the pre-production side of things. Covering set design, research, costumes, script writing, special effects and camera work, this is a pretty interesting look at just how much went into the film before the cameras even started rolling. The second part of the documentary is entitled Perfect Is The Enemy Of Good and, over twenty-nine minutes, it takes a look at Stone's meticulous attention to detail and the sheer volume of research that was required to bring his vision to life. This segment is interesting as it almost portrays Oliver Stone as a man obsessed to a certain degree. The film and the research required for the film literally became his life for a set period of time. The third section, The Death Of Alexander, which clocks in at thirty-one minutes, is the most dramatic section as it examines the problems that Stone ran into during the shoot and how they had a fairly traumatic effect on the production while it was underway. In some ways, this documentary is more interesting than the feature itself as it portrays Oliver Stone as fairly obsessive and as such it makes for an interesting fly-on-the-wall character study. Despite the fact that the documentary was shot by Stone's son, it's not glossed over and he's not always portrayed as a saint - it comes across as quite honest and, in many ways, shows Stone's human side as much as it does his filmmaker side.

Also exclusive to the high definition release is Fight Against Time - Oliver Stone's Alexander, yet another documentary on the making of the film courtesy of Sean Stone. Clocking in at roughly seventy-five minutes, the focus here is on the struggles that Stone had to overcome to get his film finished. Again, Sean Stone paints his father as a man completely consumed with his work. While some of what we see here is covered in the commentary and the other documentaries, this is an interesting look that is as much about the director's obsession than anything else.

From there, check out the four-minute Vangelis Scores Alexander documentary. This isn't as thorough or in-depth as it could have been when compared to Sean Stone's three documentaries though this all too brief segment does give us a chance to see the film's composer scoring the film as it plays out in front of him. Rounding out the extra features on the second disc is a teaser trailer for the film, and the theatrical trailer for the film. Both discs feature some classy animated menus and chapter selection options.

Note: The only supplement presented in 1080p is the introduction. All the other supplements are presented in standard definition 480p.

Final Thoughts:

Alexander Revisited - The Final Cut is still a very flawed film but Stone has strengthened the story with the edits made here and if nothing else the movie always looks fantastic. Audio and video quality are top notch all around and while we've seen some of the supplements before on prior releases, the exclusive commentary from Stone is definitely a good one. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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