ALEXANDER - Blu-ray review

...on Blu-ray and in high definition, Alexander may have finally found some redemption for Oliver Stone.

DeanWink

Oliver Stone's "Alexander" has been derided continually since the film's theatrical release. Being an Oliver Stone film, "Alexander" has seen its share of controversy, but whereas the director is known for creating very good films, "Alexander" has been his black sheep. The film was released at a lofty 175 minutes and did not find great success in theater goers, despite its estimated $150 million dollar budget. "Alexander" and its three hour running time racked up only about thirty five million dollars before moving on to home video and the well-loved DVD format. There, "Alexander" found its running time trimmed by about nine minutes and the "Director's Cut" of the film was released to supposedly right what was wrong with the film and hopefully recoup some of its costs in the lucrative DVD marketplace. When the film failed to find the hopeful success with its second version, Oliver Stone took the reins once again and made his "Cecile B. Demille Version" and Created a 213 minute long final version, the "Alexander Revisited" edition of the film.

The "Alexander Revisited" cut of "Alexander" added over a half an hour of footage to the film and created an epic telling of "Alexander" that would hopefully produce the majestic telling of Alexander the Great's story without bounds of time constraints and in doing so, bring in just a little more profit to help the film recover some of the production costs. Stone had stated on numerous occasions that the story of Alexander was complicated and required a large amount of time (and film) to tell properly. The two previous versions did not fully do his film or Alexander justice with their sub-three hour running time and this final version of the film was his attempt at showing the picture he intended to make from the moment he first stepped behind the camera.

The film is completely restructured. For example, the climactic battle of Gaugamela now occurs near the beginning of the film. The three acts, "Seeds of the Man," "Introspection" and "Revolution" tell a stronger story and goes into more detail. They depict the rise, struggle and eventual fall of Alexander's world. The third and final cut of the film also allows Stone to take a much stronger look at the various relationships held by Alexander (Colin Farrell). His torrid relationship with his mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie), his father King Philip (Val Kilmer), his homosexual love Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and his wife Roxana (Rosario Dawson). Each of the four primary people in Alexander's life had a different effect on the person he became and his relationship with each of them was textured differently. Much of the additional length of "Alexander Revisited" focuses on these four relationships and how they affected Alexander and his empire.

"Alexander" finds an elder Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) recounting his time spent with the great Alexander. His narration guides the audience and moves through the film's three acts. Alexander begins showing the death of the great leader. His final moments are shown and then the film quickly moves to the Battle of Gaugamela and Alexander's swift and bloody defeat of the Persian Empire. The Persian King flees, but Alexander and his Army move into Babylon. There, he is a benevolent king and allows those that lived in the Babylon palace to remain there and maintain the extravagant lifestyle and not suffer as slaves or as conquered people. From there, Alexander moves onto Asia and Macedonia. He takes on a Barbarian wife, Roxana, and creates a stir by doing so. It is here that Alexander's rule slowly comes under question from his generals. His mother attempts to maintain influence over her son's life and Alexander becomes further detached from his family and from Egypt.

After conquering the Middle Eastern lands, Alexander looks towards Asia and to become ruler of the entire world. He stretches his army thin, but fights against larger armies at every opportunity. Alexander begins to call himself the son of Zeus and his power and influence slowly affect his decisions and send him on a path to become stronger and more powerful and to expand the control of Egypt to the furthest lands known. Alexander fights a mighty battle in India and takes control of the region after losing large numbers of his legions. At the Battle of Hydaspes River, Alexander and his men are forced to battle against gigantic elephants and they partake in a struggle against techniques that are unfamiliar to them and difficult to combat against.

The relationships of Alexander are a primary focus of the film. Alexander's parents Philip and Olympias are locked in a bitter relationship. They live to see each other destroyed and share little love between them. Philip is a great King who is also a drunkard and left with only one eye after fighting the battles and wars that have made Egypt powerful. He does not believe in all of the myths of the Greek Gods and looks towards women as being evil entities. He loves his son, but pushes him to be something great and constantly tries to keep Alexander from Olympias. Olympias, on the other hand is viewed as a sorceress and uses her pet serpents in various rituals. She despises Philip and wants Alexander's father to have nothing to do with him. Olympias desires more power and wants Alexander to relocate her to Babylon, but she becomes a pathetic and removed mother as Alexander moves further away from her.

Alexander had two loves in life. The first was his boyhood friend Hephaistion. They first met as they learned to fight and wrestle, but Alexander soon found love between his thighs and they shared a strong lifelong bond as lovers and friends. Much of this relationship stirred the controversy surrounding the film and Alexander was shown as a definite bisexual, but with a preference perhaps more for Hephaistion than his wife Roxana. Alexander took the ‘primitive' Roxana as his wife to show solidarity with his Macedonian kingdom. Their marriage was full of turmoil and resentment in the early stages, but Roxana would later find love for her husband, as Alexander tried to produce a son. His relationship between his male lover and his female lover were completely different and there was far more tenderness for Hephaistion than there ever was for Roxana.

"Alexander" is not a perfect film. It has many flaws and is heavy-handed in its narration. Oliver Stone intended to cover all of Alexander's life and that may have been too much for one film. The weight of the story is not the sole problem for "Alexander" and certainly not my primary complaint. The major problem I had with "Alexander" and this "Alexander Revisited" version was the casting of Colin Farrell as Alexander. I believe that Farrell is a fine actor and I enjoy him in most of the films that he has been involved with, but it was hard imagining the Irish bad boy as an Egyptian King who conquered much of the world. Stone did manage to bring about a homosexual eroticness in Farrell that was surprising. His boyish appeal through the early going of the film served this well. It was this aspect that also made it hard to believe that he was the legendary field general that Alexander was and Farrell's portrayal of Alexander was more of a wimp that would get his ass handed to him in a fight that it was of a man to be feared and respected.

I enjoyed "Alexander Revisited" perhaps a little more than I did for the theatrical release. Unfortunately, the film feels too long in its three and a half hour running time and there were definite stretches of time that I found as being tedious and boring. Having seen the film in its original incarnation, it was somewhat difficult to enjoy something that is essentially a longer rehash. The character development is definitely stronger and I believe that the new ordering of scenes serves Stone's vision better than the slimmed down theatrical version. I have not seen the director's cut and cannot compare them directly. "Alexander Revisited" is certainly epic and feels similar to a Cecil B. DeMille picture, but with a more mature tone than any of DeMille's biblical stories. If there ever was a film that was too deep and too heavy in its storytelling, than "Alexander Revisited" is it. My shoulders did not bear the weight of Oliver Stone's massive third version of his film, but my eyes certainly did.

Video:

"Alexander Revisited" is an incredibly long film and thankfully, the VC-1 mastered 2.4:1 picture looks amazing on Blu-ray. It would have been more difficult to sit through the near four hours of this movie if the picture would not have been as vibrant, detailed and flawless as this new Blu-ray transfer is. Oliver Stone set out to create a humungous and amazingly detailed epic with faithful and impressive sets that brought back to life the kingdoms of Egypt, Macadamia, India and Babylon. He wanted "Alexander" to be colorful, grand and as epic in its visuals as it was in its storytelling. The scenes in Babylon are utterly amazing. The hanging gardens and colorful costumes and surroundings of the historic city are among some of the more detailed and colorful sequences yet captured on the high definition video discs. "Alexander Revisited" is undoubtedly the most epic film in scope to yet grace the Blu-ray format and it ranks as one of the better looking releases as well.

The coloring of "Alexander Revisited" is nothing less than spectacular. Ancient Egypt and Alexander loved the shades of red. Red is a notoriously troublesome color for home video and loves to bleed onto other colors and cause other visual problems. The VC-1 mastered picture shows no ill effects from the brightest reds and whether it be the feathery plume of his battle helmet, the red cloak he wears throughout the film or the blood spilled on the battlefield, "Alexander Revisited" is an education on how to showcase the color red. The remaining colors of the rainbow are also faithfully reproduced. Lush green foliage is present throughout the film. Blues and metallic hues are also commonplace. The scenes when Alexander first entered Babylon are easily the film's most colorful sequences, but there are numerous other instances throughout the film that showcase some of the best color yet to hit Blu-ray.

Detail and other aspects of the transfer is also top notch. Throughout the film, the level of detail is incredibly strong and everything from individual grains of sand to the textures of various clothing can be seen as if it was right in front of the viewer and not part of a film. You could count the blonde hairs on Alexander's head. The Greek architecture looks sharp and impressive and benefits from the high definition visuals. Aside from the sand swept moments during the Battle of Gaugamela and a few of the film's darker moments, there were no drops in definition. Black levels are also strong and held up nicely throughout the picture. One or two of the darkest sequences looked a little less than true black and part of this was solely due to candle light. Shadow detail is strong. The source materials are as clean as can be and a viewer would be challenged to find a single blemish. The digital transfer does have an instance or two of color banding, but this is again during candle lit sequences or other troublesome moments. "Alexander Revisited" is definitely one of the better Blu-ray transfers out there.

Sound:

With the length of the film and two commentary tracks, I'm not surprised that Warner Bros. opted to not include either a Dolby TrueHD or PCM Uncompressed audio track. There is only so much space on a Blu-ray platter and I imagine a third disc would have been necessary to include a next generation audio track. The disc does include a rather epic sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel surround mix that rivals most of the better Dolby Digital tracks out there. The film contains a few enormous battle sequences that are as aggressive as anything else out there. The musical score by Vangelis matches the styles of the conquered lands and sounds warm and wonderful throughout the film and it too adds to the epic nature of "Alexander Revisited." From the swirling winds of Nepal to the quiet serenity of Babylon, "Alexander Revisited" is a sonic treat.

The battle sequences are easily the most stand-out moments of the transfer. Sound can be heard from every direction. The pain and the suffering of those being killed in battle can be heard in not just the front speakers, but the separated rear surrounds. Bass is deep in the .1 LFE channel and the elephants during the Battle of Hydaspes River pushes the subwoofer with tremendously deep bass. The front channels are extremely busy during these action-filled moments, but throughout each sequence, the rear surrounds can be plainly heard. Back in the days of Alexander, there were no gunshots to be heard, but this Blu-ray disc definitely makes the sounds of spears and swords sound impressive. Of course, gigantic elephants are always fun.

The rest of the soundtrack holds up well as well. The environmental sounds that populate the film are strong and plentiful. From flowing streams to swirling winds, "Alexander Revisited" is full of sound. The jungles of India are full of wildlife and the sounds of parrots and monkeys sound great. The narration by Anthony Hopkins is clear and stands out against the backdrop of the film, but it never seems out of place. The dialogue shared by the actors is equally strong and never falls prey to the sounds of the film, even during the most intense battle sequences. The .1 LFE channel is active during more than the battle sequences. A rainy sequence has strong thunder, Vangelis' score pounds routinely. The contrasting high frequencies are crisp and solid. "Alexander Revisited" is definitely a good example of how good a Dolby Digital soundtrack can be, but sadly, it could have benefited from a higher bandwidth format.

Extras:

"Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut" is spread out onto two discs. Much of the supplements are contained on the second platter, but there are some bonus materials to be found on the first disc. The Introduction by Oliver Stone (3:27) can be turned on when viewing the film and finds the director giving explanation as to why he triple-dipped into his vault and produced a third version of his critically maligned film. The introduction was a nice touch, but not the only supplement found on the first disc. Two commentary tracks spread over both discs. The first, Commentary by Oliver Stone is a brand new commentary for the new high definition releases of his film. Stone had recorded commentary tracks for the previous versions of the film, but he shows his support for his film by providing a very strong and entertaining commentary track for the third version. I found myself listening to much of this commentary and enjoyed his rather candid discussion on the ‘flaws' of the film and reasoning for various versions and cuts. The second Commentary by Historian/Alexander Biographer Robin Lane Fox is another brand new commentary for these new high definition versions, but I could only sit through a few minutes before being turned off by the dry nature of this film. After spending nearly five hours with the film, this was just too much. Fox spends time on the historical accuracies and inaccuracies of the film, but I honestly could only spend about fifteen minutes jumping between different scenes with this commentary on.

The second disc has a handful of features that go further into detail about Stone's film. Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's Alexander (1:16:10) finds Oliver Stone's son Sean creating a documentary about his father's filming of this epic telling of an epic historically personality. This is another new feature for the high definition releases and I found Sean Stone's film about his father to be interesting and fresh. Filmed with a personal video camera, Sean Stone looks at many of the problems that befell the production of the film. He looks at many of the decisions made by his father and how demanding this three continent production was to bring to life. Although Oliver Stone is his father, Sean is not afraid to create an honest look at the production and show his father's stubbornness and own humanity during this production. I have found a number of video diaries to be dull and ineffective at showing what goes on during a movie shoot, but Sean Stone's film is a top-notch making of documentary.

The director's son is featured during a three part look at the making of the film. They may be played separately or together. This documentary uses other footage created by Sean Stone, but nicely bookends the larger documentary already discussed. Pt. 1: Resurrecting Alexander (26:41) finds the younger Stone interviewing his father about the decisions on choosing the Alexander story and the necessary steps to get the project ready for filming. Everything from costumes, to set design to the script are loosely detailed. Pt. 2: Perfect is the Enemy of Good (28:51) is Sean Stone's look at his father's fanatical attention to detail and how so many hours are spent just for a few seconds of screen time. Stone is a man who works hard for his visions and this part is a testament to that fact. The third Pt. 3: The Death of Alexander (31:13) looks at the final days of shooting on the film and spends time looking at the historical aspects of the film and problems involved with brining the film to the big screen. They discuss the various delays and how Stone handled each of them. This three part documentary was very good and matched the quality of the first Sean Stone feature contained on the disc. Finally, the Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer are included.

Closing Comments:

"Alexander Revisited" is the third and final version of Oliver Stone's epic look at one of history's greatest conquerors. Stone stirred controversy with the homosexual relations that Alexander held and other aspects based upon the historical accuracies of the film. This third version is certainly superior to the theatrical release, but its three and a half hour running time is quite tedious for just one sitting. Stone included an Intermission and that may serve as a good time to break the film down into a two night viewing. Stone wanted to do a DeMille and he succeeded. This is about as epic as a film gets and the sets, scenery and battle sequences are incredible. This heavy film may be hard to sit through because of the amount of story and geography it covers, but in the end, it is worth watching. I could imagine somebody other than Colin Farrell in the starring role, but he helped make the movie happen. This Blu-ray release features supplements only available on the two high definition formats (Blu-ray and HD-DVD) and includes nearly two hours of other supplements that make this a very nice two-disc set. The video quality is among the best titles yet released and although the soundtrack is not next-gen, it is very good. This is definitely a top quality release on Blu-ray and in high definition, "Alexander" may have finally found some redemption for Oliver Stone.

Ratings

Video
10
Audio
9
Extras
8
Film Value
8