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Oliver Stone
Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto, Anthony Hopkins
Writing Credits:
Oliver Stone, Christopher Kyle, Laeta Kalogridis

Fortune favors the bold.

Academy award winning director Oliver Stone presents a breathtaking new cut of his sweeping epic film, Alexander, the true story of the world's greatest warrior. Using new footage and dramatically reshaping dozens of scenes, he brings to life the overpowering forces and fierce personalities that forever changed history. Torn by the war between his parents (Angelina Jolie and Val Kilmer), Alexander (Colin Farrell) left Greece to face massive armies in Persia, Afghanistan and India - and was never defeated. "Fortune favors the bold" Stone powerfully demonstrates in this bold new film, Alexander: Director's Cut.

Box Office:
$150 million.
Opening Weekend
$13.687 million on 2445 screens.
Domestic Gross
$34.293 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 167 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 8/2/2005

Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Director Oliver Stone
Disc Two
• “Resurrecting Alexander” Documentary
• “Perfect Is the Enemy of Good” Documentary
• “The Death of Alexander” Documentary
• “Vangelis Scores Alexander” Featurette
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Alexander: Director's Cut (Special Edition) (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 18, 2005)

While he’s no Terrence Malick or James Cameron, Oliver Stone sure takes his sweet time between movies these days. Between 1986 and 1995, he cranked out 10 films. Since then, however, he’s only managed to produce three: 1997’s abysmal U Turn, 1999’s superficial but entertaining Any Given Sunday and 2004’s Alexander.

Apparently Stone’s currently at work on a project related to 9/11. That one has already kicked up some controversy, and hopefully the challenge of doing justice to such a recent tragedy will motivate Stone to produce something memorable. After five years on the sideline, he sure couldn’t give us anything good with the dull and plodding Alexander.

The film starts with the end, as we witness Alexander’s death in 323 BC. From there the flick leaps ahead 40 years to show Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins) as he chats about the greatness of the Great. When cued, we head back to 350 BC to witness a six-year-old Alexander (Jessie Kamm) as with his freaky mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and father Macedonian King Philip (Val Kilmer). The pair don’t exactly like each other, which means Alexander watches as Philip rapes Olympias right in front of him.

From there we leap ahead eight years to see teen Alexander’s (Connor Paolo) education in both the physical and mental domains, and the film attempts to convey how these lessons shaped the man. Philip also eventually warms up to the boy and gives him some advice.

Philip gets murdered when Alexander turns 20 (Colin Farrell). Rumors abound that King Darius of Persia (Raz Degan) ordered this killing, so Alexander – now the ruler of Macedonia – provokes battle with him. Alexander’s advisors feel this will be suicide, but he desires revenge and pursues the attack. After years of bloody conflict, Alexander eventually succeeds and becomes the ruler of the Persian Empire.

This takes us to age 25. The rest of the movie follows Alexander’s remaining seven years of life and all his conquests. These take him to the limits of the world known at the time and see how much of that territory he ruled. His mother warns him to watch his back, and we see Alexander’s tumultuous relationship with her. We also watch how he deals with others close to him such as boyhood friend – and more – Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and wife Roxane (Rosario Dawson).

Sometimes directors stretch their limits and succeed. For example, nothing Peter Jackson did prior to the Lord of the Rings trilogy indicated that he could helm such a massive project, but he pulled it off in a triumphant manner.

Similarly, Oliver Stone had no flicks like Alexander on his résumé. Although he’d led war-related movies like Platoon, Stone had never worked on anything with the grand scope of Alexander. Unfortunately, unlike Jackson, Stone failed to live up to the demands of the project. In Alexander, he creates a dull, awkward attempt at an epic.

As anyone who’s listened to him knows, Stone loves to talk, and that attitude comes through clearly in Alexander. The movie starts with a great amount of unnecessary dialogue and continues in that vein through its conclusion. Hey, why show something when the narrator (Hopkins as Ptolemy) or the characters can tell us?

This results in an unfortunate emphasis on chat over action, and it means the movie never draws us into its world. Instead, we’re left at a distance. The film fails to engage us and it never makes us want to know more about Alexander and his activities. My mind constantly drifted and I found it nearly impossible to get involved in the tale.

In no way is that the fault of the source material. Indeed, it seems tough to imagine that a veteran director like Stone could mess up such thrilling history. The story of Alexander the Great should be riveting drama. With all the intrigue and action, how could the movie possibly be boring?

I don’t know, but Stone managed to talk the material into submission. Even when we finally get a battle sequence, Stone can’t resist his urge to over-explain the action and make it stiff and technical. They feel like they were designed by some grognard over a strategy boardgame and show little passion. Nothing visceral happens, and all the jerky camerawork, aggressive score and quick cuts don’t change that.

Stone being Stone, he can’t resist a little Freudian analysis of Alexander. That means lots of flashbacks to see how events earlier in life influenced the adult Alexander. These come across as silly and without much real import; they attempt depth but fail to work as anything other than gimmicks.

While Alexander boasts a fine cast, many of them seem wrong for their parts. Farrell is the most notable example of a miscast actor. He comes across as more of a working class brawler than a member of the ruling class. And what’s with all the Irish accents? I assume Stone had the actors adopt those tones so Farrell could speak in his natural voice, but it’s still weird to hear all the Macedonians take on the Irish inflection. Oddly, Jolie goes for a broad Greek accent, which makes little sense alongside all the Irish brogues.

All of these problems make Alexander a disappointment. It’s a great story, so why is the result so stilted, chatty and boring? Perhaps another director could mine the material appropriately, but Oliver Stone’s version is a dud.

Note that this DVD presents a “Director’s Cut” of Alexander. In an unusual step, this 167-minute version runs about eight minutes shorter than the 175-minute theatrical edition. Stone cut some bits he felt confused audiences during the film’s big-screen run, though he reinserted elements like the accurate use of “BC” dates; apparently crowds didn’t understand that 350 BC is before 330 BC. Apparently Stone also tightened up matters and made the movie leaner and quicker.

I didn’t see the theatrical cut, so I don’t know if this one improves upon it. Since I didn’t like this version of Alexander, I find it hard to believe it’s significantly superior to the theatrical edition, but who knows? Maybe that one was even more boring than the director’s cut.

I do have to quibble with one of Stone’s thoughts. In his commentary, he comments that modern audiences lack the attention span to watch movies longer than about 160 minutes. He seems to blame the viewers for Alexander’s poor commercial showing. Hey Ollie – ever heard of Titanic? It ran about 20 minutes longer than the theatrical cut of Alexander and I think it did okay at the box office. Audiences skipped Alexander because it wasn’t a good movie and few wanted to see it – don’t use poor attention spans as a scapegoat.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Alexander appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many problems emerged during this strong transfer.

The only minor concerns related to sharpness. A few wide shots appeared slightly soft and fuzzy. However, those were infrequent and didn’t create any real issues. Instead, the movie almost always looked nicely detailed and concise. I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement seemed absent. Print flaws also never reared their ugly head, as the movie seemed clean at all times.

Given the arid setting of so much of the story, tans often dominated. Once Alexander headed east through Persia, brighter colors came into play, mostly via costumes. Whatever the palette at the time, the movie demonstrated tones that looked lively and accurate. Blacks seemed dense and firm, while low-light shots presented good clarity and visibility. This was the kind of positive image I expect of a recent, big-budget flick.

While generally satisfying, I thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Alexander was a little more subdued than expected. This mix stayed surprisingly oriented toward the front speakers and didn’t make great use of the surrounds. Even the big action sequences continued to focus on the front. Those sequences opened up matters decently but weren’t especially involving. Most of the time, the movie featured general reinforcement of the music as well as ambience in the rears.

At least the front channels worked effectively. The score offered strong stereo delineation, and effects blended together smoothly. Those elements popped up in the appropriate spots and moved cleanly across the speakers. The lack of active surrounds was a relative disappointment, but the overall impression of the soundfield remained good.

I found no problems with audio quality. Speech consistently sounded concise and crisp, and no issues with intelligibility or edginess manifested themselves. The score offered the strongest parts of the mix. The music was bright and dynamic, with good range and definition. Effects also boasted good clarity. Those elements seemed distinctive and lively. Bass response added nice depth to the track. The audio lacked the ambition I expected, but it still worked well enough to earn a “B+”.

For this two-disc package, we get a mix of supplements. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary with director Oliver Stone. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Stone gets into changes between the theatrical and director’s cuts, the cast and working with the actors, themes and story-telling issues, score, the history behind the tale, character choices, the project’s development and very long path to the screen, and production topics like stunts and battle choreography.

As has been the case with some Stone commentaries in the past, the director focuses more on historical topics and story-related subjects than he does the nuts and bolts of actually making the film. Occasionally Stone tells us a little about locations, logistics and whatnot, but those don’t pop up frequently. Instead, he delves into the facts as he understands them. This means he explains a lot of the story. Stone never simply narrates; he actually digs into things and gives us a better understanding for the tale. He also embellishes the on-screen action with information about historical matters.

These open up the film greatly and make it more interesting. Heck, Stone’s such a good speaker that he almost convinced me the movie didn’t stink. Relatively little dead air occurs given the length of the movie, and Stone rarely indulges in happy talk; a smattering of praise pops up, but much less than in most commentaries. Stone’s tracks are usually winners, and this is another very listenable and useful piece.

Over on DVD Two, we get three documentaries that all appear under the banner of Behind the Scenes of Alexander with Sean Stone. Taken together via the “Play All” option, they run a total of one hour, 26 minutes and 40 seconds. We get programs called “Resurrecting Alexander” (26:39), “Perfect Is the Enemy of Good” (28:50) and “The Death of Alexander” (31:11). All were created by Sean Stone, the son of the director.

The vast majority of the program presents footage from the set and other behind the scenes spots. Even the interviews come from those situations. We hear from Oliver Stone, actors Colin Farrell, Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, and Denis Conway, producers Moritz Borman, Thomas Schuhly, Iain Smith and Jon Kulik, executive producer Paul Rassam, co-executive producer Fernando Sulichin, costume designer Jenny Beavan, production designer Jan Roelfs, set decorator Jim Erickson, second unit director/senior military advisor Capt. Dale Dye, armourer Richard Hooper, visual effects supervisor John Scheele, director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, second assistant director Michael Stevenson, and first assistant director Simon Warnock. The documentary starts with information about Stone’s desire to tell the tale of Alexander the Great and then goes through the structure of the story, casting Farrell, finding financing and the roles of the producers, development of the project and locations, pre-production and the creation of various designed items like costumes and props, combat sequences, visual effects, sets and architecture, the flick’s cinematographic and lighting choices, the work of the assistant directors, Stone’s tone on the set, issues during the shoot, a crisis with flawed footage, factual background, and the actors’ work.

“Behind the Scenes” indeed clearly splits into three parts, but it doesn’t use the typical “pre-production/production/post-production” division. If you look at the summary I wrote, most of that material appears in the first portion; “Resurrecting” includes everything through the cinematography. It goes through the nuts and bolts of making the movie and does so efficiently if not with much depth. Actually, the approach seems a bit scattershot and hurried, as we don’t get a great feel for the various jobs.

Matters improve considerably with “Perfect” and “Death”. They concentrate much more strongly on the excellent footage from the set and don’t worry so much about facts and figures. Instead, we simply get a nice feel for the production and how things worked. The occasional comments from the various participants add useful notes and help round out the footage. “Behind the Scenes” starts slowly but more than enough of it works well to make it a solid documentary.

In addition to teaser and theatrical trailers, DVD Two finishes with a short featurette called Vangelis Scores Alexander. It fills four minutes and 28 seconds with comments from the composer. He tells us his goals for the score and what role he thinks music fills in the universe. That’s it – the rest of the program shows movie clips along with the score. We learn virtually nothing of use in this short and pointless featurette.

I guess that’s better than long and pointless, a description I’m tempted to use for Alexander. “Pointless” probably isn’t fair, but “tedious” and “stilted” are apt terms to describe this wooden dud. The DVD presents very good picture and audio as well as a strong audio commentary and a generally intriguing documentary. Warner Bros. did a terrific job with this DVD; I just wish the movie itself worked better.

DVD footnote: in an interesting move, Warner Bros. simultaneously released this Director’s Cut of Alexander as well as the theatrical version of the film. From what I’ve read, both include the same Disc Two of this package, but obviously Disc One differs since it includes the original edition of the flick. Apparently the theatrical rendition comes with a different commentary as well; Stone chats with historian Robin Lane Fox. I like that fans have a choice of with version to watch, though it’s too bad they have to buy two sets to hear both commentaries.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.0937 Stars Number of Votes: 32
4 3:
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