Warner Bros. // 2004 // 214 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 27th, 2007
And now for a personal message from Oliver Stone included with Alexander: The Final Cut.
Why a third version of Alexander? The best answer I can manage is, I couldn't get it out of my system. It's a film that has been haunting me since the theatrical version first appeared in November 2004 in the US, followed by a Director's Cut on DVD in July 2005.
But neither version was complete. It wasn't an issue of right or wrong, or good or bad, but, like an experiment, one of trial and error. I believe this version now (3 1/2 hours) is my clearest interpretation of Alexander's incredible life.
For those who didn't appreciate the original, rest assured this is my last pass, as there is no more footage to be found. And for those of you who did like it, please share with me my passion for Alexander every sublime and awkward pixel of it.
I welcome your feedback on the discussion board at the Alexander website: "http://alexanderthemovie.warnerbros.com." And I still believe -- "Fortune favors the bold."
I can't fault Mr. Stone for being obsessed with something he did that never worked. Alexander was a deeply personal project in development for decades, and he went wild when he finally got the chance to deliver his epic. I'm sure it nearly killed him when audiences and critics lambasted it as excessive and meaningless. But three cuts later of Alexander, and the movie remains an interesting yet incoherent mess that doesn't tell the story of Alexander the Great in an entertaining way. The project deserved to bomb when it was released in theatres, even though it was never nearly as bad as all the critics or Razzie committee would have everyone believe. In the new, more-drawn-out cut, the movie is presented as if it were one of the grand trunk show event epics from the golden age of Hollywood. It runs two hours on one disc, is given an intermission, and continues an hour and a half more on the next disc. Every scrap of film seen in any cut to date is up on the screen, as well as forty minutes of material previously uninserted. Alexander: The Final Cut doesn't make anything clearer or better paced. This release retains the confusing disjointed order of the previous incarnations with events thrown out in seemingly random order and no attention to chronology. Sir Anthony Hopkins still has to act as a narrator to help make sense of a sprawling story that proves too large even for this nearly four hour final cut. Stone was bold to take on the story, and Alexander Revisited reveals sincere passion and his desire to make a masterpiece. The problem is that nothing saves the story from its narrative dalliances into excess. Until Stone allows someone else to recut the film or remake it, it will forever be flawed.
Casting this personal project for Oliver Stone was a long, arduous challenge. Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) was in the running for the title role, as well as first choice Russell Crowe (Gladiator), who turned it down. At various times in the production's history the director had Tom Cruise (Risky Business) tapped for the lead, Brad Pitt (Troy) to play Hephaistion, and Sean Connery (Goldfinger) to be the father. Of course that triumvirate was never meant to be, and instead we were given Collin Farrell (Miami Vice), Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream), and Val Kilmer (Batman Forever). Farrell is surprisingly fey as Alexander with his blonde locks, sunny belief in humanity, and longing to rule the world to make it a better place. Oh sure, he tantrums quite well when need be, and he's physically fitter than he's ever been on film. He cuts an impressive profile charging across the desert in gold armor taking on the barbarians, or wielding a spear while facing down elephants in the jungles of India. Yet there is something feminine about him in the role, and I'm sure that is by design. And for some reason Farrell rings false when he's asked to be soft and girlish. Jared Leto with his heavy heavy eyeliner playing the male best friend naturally pines for the king. He looks silly with all the make-up, and he is given little else to do but make moon eyes at Farrell. Val Kilmer gets a small but spectacular role as the heavy, crude father with one eye missing. He gained nearly fifty pounds for the role, and spent hours in make-up. He chews the scenery like only a fading legend could in an epic bomb. The men in the movie are serious, committed -- and not a whole lot of fun when it comes down to it. They speak endlessly about political quagmires, and fight each other verbally and physically with a ludicrous intensity that ultimately comes off as camp more than masterwork.
One of the great follies of the film is the men seem boring when compared to the women who never get to take center stage long. Angelina Jolie (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) is severely miscast as Alexander's mother Olympias since she is in real life a year younger than Farrell, and her Russian accent and love for snakes adds further to the disconnect. Yet I can't help but find her charismatic and fully formed when she's on screen. Jolie proves she could carry an epic period piece if she had to. Her natural star power overshadows the sloppy way her character is handled. Rosario Dawson (Sin City) likewise steals any scene she is in playing Alexander's Asian bride, Roxane. Her dark beauty and believable intensity make the perfect counterpoint to her blonde surfer conquering husband. You believe she could easily battle the men and end up victorious and on top. It is these female characters that capture the imagination most successfully, and they should have been given more time.
Oliver Stone seems fascinated by the pansexual quality of the great man, but he never allows the movie to feel uninhibited or unapologetic as the real figure from history. Stone had made much of inserting "true to life" homosexual overtones to Alexander and his most trusted Hephaistion, but this is solely relegated to tearful hugs and longing glances. Farrell seems uncomfortable in any scene where he has to look longingly into a man's eyes. Thankfully that comes only a couple of times in the film, but many scenes with Hephaiston seem to build with no logical climax. A love scene is missing, and this new extended cut does not provide it. Stone and Farrell have shied away from committing to something the film's story demands. Alexander keeps a "boy," but there's not enough of the "male love" to make Alexander scandalous. It fails to push an agenda of rugged acceptance with the idea that a real man can love another. The boy sequences feel decorative rather than sincere anytime we see the two men together.
On the other side of the sexual coin Rosario Dawson radiates the most heat as the chosen barbarian bride; her scenes with Farrell are most convincing and graphic. She only gets one chance to get naked, but it is an impressive, scary sequence where her spitfire antics create a lasting impression. None of the men are allowed to match her heat, and in the end the movie is straight as an arrow despite halfhearted attempts otherwise.
More troubling is the failure of the movie to allow us to see why Alexander's world campaign was so important or the man was so great. It set the stage for the spread of Christianity, and was noble in its conception if history is to be believed. Did the ruler truly spread a dream of unification or did he merely satisfy his ego by conquering all known nations? Stone's treatment never answers this question, and gets mired in its own complex meditation on power and ambition with a lecture on the meaning of everything at the end of the film. All we see is Alexander's army taking down nameless faceless hordes again and again, and then debating the nobility with his own people over victory dinners. The campaign is delivered out of order, and we're never sure what is going on from battle to battle. It all seems pointless rather than grand, and that is the final insult that prevents Alexander from being a true masterpiece. It makes a mess of thirty years of history by delivering it out of order with no logical progression. Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy narrates the progression of events and delivers the final lesson of the man's life to make it clear to viewers, and each sequence is labeled with a year and location. This helps, but it feels tacked on and the desperate last ditch effort of a storyteller who has failed to tell the tale. Certainly there would be a way to naturally progress and relate history in a sequential order which would clarify things. I had hoped this Alexander Revisited package would have been reedited to allow things to unfold chronologically, but no such luck.
Alexander Revisited triumphs in style, which overcomes the lack of substance. The battles are amazingly shot and feel real. When compared with the digital ants confronting each other in the similar treatment of Troy, you can't help but hand it to Alexander for looking more stunning and graphic. Stone knows how to deliver eye popping visuals, and even when the film slows down the production values are massive and great. It has an eye candy quality that can't be matched, and the colors and cinematography are hard to forget. A sweeping score contributed by Vangelis gives everything the pompous heft it so richly deserves. When everything looks and sounds this great it's easy enough to forget the story is lacking, and there are stretches of Alexander that rival any epic ever filmed. There's a great artistry behind the production, and you mourn the fact the story isn't delivered more effectively.
Alexander: The Final Cut offers the film with a couple of tweaks and forty-five minutes of deleted footage reinserted into the already bloated narrative. The transfer remains strong, and I couldn't see any problems with the new sequences which would indicate their presence. They integrate seamlessly as if they were polished for the initial release (which apparently they were before MPAA demanded snips to violence and studio concerns about length). All of the additions are sequences that extend elements firmly present in the former cuts. Notably the battle scenes are longer and more graphic, that's the major change. Rosario Dawson also gets some added footage here in this new version. Stone has reordered a piece here and there, but it plays out closely to what was released in theatres in 2004. Cataloging the new scenes or additions would be futile since they don't make much impact when compared to the theatrical release. There's not enough of a difference to justify a third release, so don't hope for much more than some extra violence and an extended look at things already seen. It does raise the bar on hopes other movies may follow suit for fans. The disc is completely bare bones save for a new introduction by Oliver Stone. No commentaries, no feaurettes, and nothing to guide us through what purpose the film serves. You do get a movie pass to see 300 which promises to be even more stylized than this gorgeous mess. I say this one isn't motivation for a triple dip for people who own previous editions. It does make sense for first time buyers, since it is the most extended look at a film only notable for excess. This is probably the definitive version for anyone interested in the epic. The director's cut has the greatest economy, and says everything in a tighter span.
Alexander Revisited provides a longer running time, but doesn't address earlier problems. The story is still told out of order in a disjointed messy way, themes about sexuality and ambition remain unclarified, the disconnect between Alexander's emotional life and political aspirations are not married successfully, and the film becomes even more spectacularly exhausting as it drifts from one fanatastic battle to the next. It is simply more of a mess similar to the previous two releases. Hopefully now Oliver Stone can let this one go. It's an interesting study in excess, but certainly not one that demands three revisits on DVD. Those that hated it before will loathe it even more, while fans will embrace the chance to see every scrap of film available.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 214 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Previous Review of Theatrical cut