Warner Bros. // 2004 // 213 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // October 24th, 2007
"The Final Cut is the whole...magnificent vision."
This is Derek Elley's quote seen on the cover insert but...never trust the ominous ellipsis.
It's an epic tale that studies the life and legacy of a man who determined he would change the face of civilization and assure his place in history. Do I speak of Alexander the Great or Oliver Stone? Take your pick.
The wise and well-traveled Ptolemy (Sir Anthony Hopkins, Hannibal) recounts the life and legend of his friend and leader, Alexander (Colin Ferrell, Miami Vice). Having come into the world as the bastard child of the Philip of Macedonia (Val Kilmer, Tombstone) and Olympias (Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart), the boy Alexander sought first the approval of his marauding father yet soon determined to best the lecherous drunkard. In his twenties, Alexander has sought to conquer and subsequently unify the vast expanse of the known world and sets out to do so through bloody conflict and eventual tyranny, all in the name of unity while certainly securing a place for himself in history. Along the way, Alexander will tangle with the complexities of differing cultures, beliefs, political advantage, popular opinion, and emotional sustenance. It will be an immeasurably thorny path the young leader must travel and tame, but by so doing, he will truly be regarded as "the Great."
To take on expanse of Alexander's exploits in a single film is no small task yet who better to attempt that than the perennially controversial Oliver Stone. As Director, Stone has anointed himself with the similar moniker of "the Great," so it would seem, as he unleashes a tale that bends historical fact in a way that makes the tyrant Alexander more palatable, physically and philosophically. In a sort of harkening back to the days of Hollywood epics, Alexander -- The Final Cut is more production that it is historical precision. This might not necessarily be a bad approach provided viewers are informed that what they are watching is inspired by a true story. Stone doesn't offer this disclaimer and, therefore, he became rightly lambasted by the critics who proclaimed he bore an unapologetic self-indulgence and a perpetual penchant for rewriting history to suit his personal tastes and attitudes.
Alexander was originally released in 2004 to critical disdain. Stone insisted the film was much better than its detractors had asserted...until 2005 when he coalesced and presented the "Director's Cut" on DVD. It seemed a mere contrivance, though, since he only trimmed seven minutes from the bloated 175-minute theatrical version. Still not gaining the admiration or acceptance of the critics and the public, he took another swing at the film, this time adding more material to reach a swelling 214-minute appeal. Indecision, then, seems to reign supreme in Oliver Stone's land.
The biggest problem with this Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is that it betrays the director's own apparent uncertainty over how to present his story. Mired in a maddening non-linear narrative, the film jumps forward, recoils back, and loops over itself again and again that we're continually being provided on-screen labels to help us understand where and when we are now. While it would never be recommended that an audacious narrative such as this be dumbed down for easy access and mass-market appeal, this serves as the opposite extreme, causing viewers to continue to shuffle facts and occurrences in their heads as they attempt to tie the revelations together into some sort of coherent "big picture" that Stone had hoped to achieve. He failed.
Of course, much speculation has been made of the obvious homoerotic content and bisexual undercurrent that was alluded to in the theatrical cut. Sure, Alexander was great but was he so with both women and men? Apparently, he was. That is, the historical background has previously indicated Greek men were prone to proclaim their love, emotional and physical, for other men while entertaining women mainly for matters of bearing the next generation of soldiers and potential leaders. Alexander is no different and he has an open affection for his closest love, Hephaistion (Jared Leto, Panic Room, although it's the boy-servant, Bagoas (Francisco Bosch, House of Boys) who is actively bedded by the king. What's interesting to note about this theme is that it's more prominent in this extended cut yet it's still often tiptoed around nonetheless. Stone seems unable to make the plain statement regarding Alexander's bisexuality and so this material comes off sloppily with a sort of peep-show silliness.
And, lastly, the film suffers from its inability to convince us this particular Alexander is truly great. Stone determines to spend his time -- and ours -- on the emotional insecurities and obsessions of Alexander, never revealing the leader's ultimate accomplishments or their juxtaposition to his inherent tyranny. Instead, we see a fragile leader who is inconsistent in his actions and headstrong in following his frayed emotions, causing us difficulty to believe how he could regarded as a leader by his subjects. In essence, it's a grand excursion into a land of confusion.
So here is Stone's take on Alexander on DVD -- again!. This is the HD DVD version, also available in Blu-ray as well as Standard Definition. (Perhaps Stone believes he can conquer us with sheer volume, huh?) The image quality, thankfully, is excellent with the well rendered color palette being most dominant throughout. Reds truly leap off the screen in this highly detailed and very sumptuous presentation, compliments of the 1080p / VC-1 encode. The source material is perfect without any visible indications if the inserted footage. Take special note of the black levels, those which are velvety smooth and maintain some of the best shadow detail seen in the high-definition format yet. Audibly, the Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 track is as full bodied, providing a swelling soundstage with excellent channel progressing punctuated with well-placed discrete channel effects.
As for extras, this two-disc release is overwhelming to behold and reviewing them is aptly as overwhelming as screening the feature film itself. There is an overall sensibility of exhaustion, that coming from the seemingly still-confounded director who can't yet understand why his epic was so resoundingly rejected by the critics and the public at large. His introduction sets the tone that he is still trying to convey his vision and seems to believe that sheer magnitude of his explanations, presented in numerous documentaries (3 by his son, Sean Stone plus a new feature-length offering) and a running commentary, will eventually win the approval of viewers. Sadly, less would have been more but that doesn't seem to be a sentiment within Stone's mindset at this time. Of course, if you love Stone's work -- this one in particular -- you'll find all the indulgence you could ever hope for in this content heavy release. There's also an additional piece that explores Vangelis' scoring for the film.
Granted, I'm no student of ancient Greece nor am I a scholar of the details of the days so it's difficult for me to confidently comment on the accuracy or inaccuracy of Stone's vision. But, to take the picture on its level of "epic scale," there's no question that the director has tended to tremendous levels of intricacy that gives the film a very authentic look, lush and well produced. Whether this is in line with actual historical record, I cannot say but, when compared to the historical epics of decades past, Alexander is certainly to be included in conversation with Hollywood's grandest exploits. If you love the grandeur of a large-scale production, including a nostalgic Intermission at the 2-hour mark, here's one now.
In the end, Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is simply all dressed up with no real purpose. It appears as a self-indulgent work and an exercise in denial from a director who refuses to believe that this great work of his isn't that great at all. Unfortunately, this leaves us believing history's real Alexander wasn't so great, either.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 213 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Introduction by Oliver Stone
* Commentary by Oliver Stone
* Commentary by Historian Robin Lane Fox
* Documentary: Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's Alexander
* Documentary: Resurrecting Alexander
* Documentary: Perfect Is the Enemy of Good
* Documentary: The Death of Alexander
* Featurette: Vangelis Scores Alexander
* Theatrical trailers
* Official Site