Warner Bros. // 2004 // 213 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // November 1st, 2007
The greatest legend of all was real.
So this Alexander is the third such incarnation onto DVD, right? You had the original 175 minute theatrical cut, a Director's Cut that was eight minutes shorter, and now this absolutely final cut, bursting at the seams with 213 minutes of fun and adventure for the world to see. With it out on Blu-ray, is the third time the proverbial charm for Oliver Stone's labor of love?
Stone wrote the screenplay with Christopher Kyle (The Weight of Water) and Laeta Kalogridis (Night Watch), which covers the life of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell, Minority Report), as told by Ptolemy (Sir Anthony Hopkins, Nixon). Alexander grows up with his father Philip (Val Kilmer, The Doors), who constantly tells him of the dangers of women and doesn't seem as supportive of him as he should, and his mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie, The Good Shepherd), who tells him that not only is Philip not his father, but that his father is Zeus, king of the Gods. Alexander eventually took the throne and managed to conquer many lands in the process, with the goal of uniting many people under his rule. That's ideally as far as I can go on this without smashing my head on the keyboard, because that summary seems to make more sense than what I saw.
For those who have seen the film and are fans, I bet you're wonder: so what's new about the film? Well, since I've never seen the film before, I can only go from what Stone tells me, noticeably that the Battle of Gaugamela is moved to the beginning of this new cut, possibly causing the viewer even more confusion, but otherwise things are just generally extended from the theatrical cut, as far as I can tell. There is an intermission just after the two hour mark (the film is spread over two discs), because Stone wants people to get a chance to "think about what they saw." To me, that means that audiences will basically say, "What the hell?" before saying, "Oh crap, we've got more of this?!?"
The film is just downright confusing. The nonlinear structure of it going back and forth so often is excessive and frustrating. Sure, it's helped to illuminate some personal motivations of Alexander, but why not make it linear (or not SO nonlinear) and more effective, rather than try to keep track of things with a scorecard. Judge Dennis Prince mentions the scene cards that show either the particular time period, or even various areas of battle within the Macedonian army, and he's not kidding when he says that if you didn't have them here, you'd be flat out lost.
As for Farrell's performance in the film, aside from appearing to have a general dislike for Stone (or there's a very dry mutual teasing going on that's not discussed too much), he manages to do well in the role. Most of them in their faux English accents do, including Hephaistion (Jared Leto, Panic Room). However as Alexander's mother, Jolie might be channeling a Greek accent, but it sounds more like Natasha Fatale. Oh yeah, and when did the Macedonians ever get a chance to highlight their hair? I'm just asking. Val Kilmer is playing the detached, sometimes drunk father Philip, which seems to be a role that Val Kilmer is geared to play. And though Hopkins provides narration, one can only assume he was brought in to play the old English name actor that people will recognize and give the film some gravitas, much like Peter O'Toole in Troy. However, I hope that people wouldn't be fooled by such a trick, or any other in the film, as Alexander just doesn't cut the mustard.
Technically though, the 2.40:1 VC-1 encoded widescreen transfer looks good, even though there's quite a bit of browns through the film (and the image sometimes appears to lack some depth), the colors are plentiful and vivid and the image is pretty darn clear. I liked the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, even if it just a regular old non-high definition track. Vangelis' score was crystal clear, low end was ample throughout the battle scenes and dialogue was focused in the second channel for most of the film.
The film does include quite a bit of supplemental material behind a three and a half hour epic of this nature. First off, Stone provides an introduction to the film in which he explains his reasoning for coming back to it one more time. Then he contributes a commentary that is exclusive to the Blu-ray and HD DVD versions. Always willing to discuss his films, he's clearly put in a solid chapter to an already open book. He discusses yet again why he's happy with it, largely because there's no additional footage to put in. He does discuss the critical scorn the film received, along with the cuts/additions made to this version. He also talks about the historical details in the film, and provides the usual director's perspective on the scenes and some of the performances. All in all it's another solid commentary. The second track with historian Robin Lane Fox is more of a letdown. He provides the proper historical context of Alexander, but he seems to warble through at times and in others, is really doing nothing more than praising Stone's accuracy. It probably would have been better to put these guys together for a commentary on the film and go from there.
The extras are all on Disc Two, but they're pretty good ones. Stone's son Sean shot two feature-length documentaries on the film, the first one being "Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's Alexander." Sean starts the piece with memories of his Dad when he was growing up, and the piece is composed mostly of voiceover footage from Sean and interview footage with Oliver. There are some cast interviews sprinkled in every so often, with Farrell talking about wanting to kill Oliver, but yet deliver the eulogy, among other tidbits. The piece becomes really interesting when Sean discusses his reasons for doing this piece, and Oliver discusses his childhood and growing up, interspersed with footage of his mother discussing some things about him. A pretty interesting piece, to be sure. "Behind the Scenes with Sean Stone" adds three smaller featurettes on the film's production. "Resurrecting Alexander" shows how Oliver came to the project over many years, and explains why the script was how it was. The cast and crew are frequently interviewed as well, and details of the preproduction follow. "Perfect is the Enemy of Good" is on the production itself and illustrates the various ins and outs, and the "Death of Alexander" has more cast interviews, all the while with Oliver discussing the possible loss of footage from shooting. Both of these pieces are excellent and are the most intimate look's into Stone's thoughts and creative process, but I still found these pieces to be like the film itself, rambling and without meaning in a lot of places. Vangelis discusses how he came to the project and what he did for it, and the film's teaser and trailer round things out.
Stone took a more in-depth examination into Alexander's life and mind than one would expect. That is to say that you get a better idea of what made Alexander into the type of person he seemed to become. Similar swords and sandals epics are in love with the era and show us the mind of the charismatic yet enigmatic main figure, while he racks up success after success. The portrayal of Alexander's family is one that is severely broken, where at times he doesn't appear to be ready for the path laid out in front of him. The circumstances that put Alexander in the throne show him not being completely aware of what has just happened, and it's pretty affecting, and I think that if this was more focused, you'd have quite a little picture on your hands.
Sadly, Alexander is a bit of a mess. The film is like Caine in Kung-Fu, trying to walk the earth, but if it were done nonlinearly, he would have never gotten out of the house, he would have always forgotten something. Go watch one of the other many gladiator or old empirical action films for better substance, and go rent 300 or Gladiator if you want a really cool looking and sounding film for your home theater system. This really is a waste of your time.
Feed Alexander to the lions before it can do any further harm.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 213 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Introduction by Oliver Stone
* Commentary by Oliver Stone
* Commentary by Historian/Alexander Biographer Robin Lane Fox
* "Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's Alexander" Feature Length Documentary
* "Resurrecting Alexander" Featurette
* "Perfect Is The Enemy Of Good" Featurette
* "The Death of Alexander"
* "Vangelis Scores Alexander"
* Theatrical Trailers
* Official Site
* Original DVD Verdict (Theatrical Cut) Review
* Original DVD Verdict (Two-Disc) Review
* Original DVD Verdict (HD DVD) Review
* Wikipedia: Alexander the Great