Alexander – The Ultimate Cut Blu-ray Review
The first thing that came to mind when I sat down to watch what director Oliver Stone is now touting as “The Ultimate Cut” of his 2004 film ALEXANDER was a time when I was in the 6th grade preparing to give the class a presentation on Phillip, Alexander’s father. I stood proudly in the front of the room, beaming at the beautiful working aqueduct my father had helped me construct out of old Hot Wheels track. Right before my presentation, my friend David Hirsch came up to me and informed me that he had just read that Phillip was an alcoholic. Armed with the new information, I gave my presentation, demonstrated the aqueduct and concluded by saying “it’s recently been learned that Phillip was an alcoholic.” The class applauded and my teacher, Mr. Daiberl, looked pleased. However, when class ended he took me aside and commented that, though I had done a fine presentation, Phillip WASN’T an alcoholic! I walked home slowly, dejected that I hadn’t gotten it right. Sadly, after ten years and several attempts, director Stone hasn’t gotten it right either.
There are so few epics these days. You have to go back to the 1950s to find a multitude of sword and sandal films that last three hours. Stone’s heart is in the right place here, but somewhere between the page and the screen, the film loses all of its credence. If there is a positive here, “The Ultimate Cut” is actually five minutes shorter than a previously released “Final Cut,” though 3 hours and 27 minutes is still a LONG TIME.
Part of the trouble is with the cast. You have great old lions like Christopher Plummer, Brian Blessed and Anthony Hopkins. These are AC-TORS, with years of stage training among them. Stone has paired them up with a who’s who of the young and beautiful: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto. There isn’t an ugly gene among them. They try hard but pale when compared with the old guys. Jolie comes off the worse, giving a performance that borders on channeling television horror host Vampira or Pavel Chekov from “Star Trek.” She has a habit of pronouncing words that begin with a “w” as if they start with a “v.” Water becomes “vater” and wine becomes “vine.” Also, everyone speaks with that same phony English accent that Kevin Costner used in “Robin Hood.” Except for Farrell, whose phony English accent has a slight Irish brogue to it. Of the young cast, which includes Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Val Kilmer (not as young), only Leto gives a true performance. As Alexander’s “friend” and confidante, Leto appears to be the only one taking his work seriously. Also, it was hard for me to buy Jolie, who is just a year older than Farrell, as his mother.
The main difference in this “Ultimate Cut” versus the theatrical version (which is also included in this package) is that Stone has re-edited the film so that instead of a straight-forward story there are now a lot of flashbacks. I know I wasn’t a fan of the film in it’s original release so I’m going to have to say that this new framing doesn’t really help the film any. Every other scene has Farrell energizing the troops, lecturing them as if he was Bill Murray in MEATBALLS, begging the North Star kids to kick the Mohawk camper’s butts! Also, the new version still doesn’t clarify the whole “are they or aren’t they” relationship between Farrell and Leto, even though it’s causing quite a row back home.
Where the film works best is during the lengthy battle scenes. Sword fighting men and rampaging elephants make an impressive sight on screen and there is no lack of either here. The production values are strong, with the photography and set design earning top marks. The one thing that struck me as odd had to do with the makeup department. Many of the cast members, including Val Kilmer, have lost an eye somewhere along the tale yet, instead of taking a piece of cloth and fashioning an eye patch, it made more sense to show the sewn up socket. Ewww.
ALEXANDER THE ULTIMATE CUT BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Presented in a 2:40.1 aspect ratio, the transfer here is flawless. Stone has always had an eye for detail and every inch of spectacle and battle are beautifully rendered here.
Audio: Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the sound here is loud and clear. The conversations are presented cleanly and the sounds of battle don’t overload your sound system.
The set comes with a 40 page photo book and the following:
DISC ONE – “The Ultimate Cut”
Commentary with Oliver Stone: Everything you might want to know about the film and the man is discussed here. Stone obviously admires his subject and that passion is evident here.
The Real Alexander and the World He Made (29:46): Stone, his old pal Dale Dye (a former Marine, military historian and frequent actor in Stone’s films) team up with a couple of history scholars to discuss the impact of Alexander the man.
Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” (1:16:13): A making of documentary directed by Oliver Stone’s son, Sean.
DISC TWO – “The Theatrical Cut”
Commentary with Oliver Stone and Robin Lane Fox: An informative commentary by director Stone and Oxford University historian of ancient Greece Fox. Both men talk about the decisions made in creating the film and how to deal with fact versus fiction.
The following three extras make up the Sean Stone documentary listed with “The Ultimate Cut” but here are presented separately instead of as one feature:
Resurrecting Alexander (26:41): Highlights the preparation of the costumes, set design, photography and special effects of the film.
Perfect is the Enemy of Good (28:53): The trials of working with Oliver Stone, whose demands for authenticity are unwavering.
The Death of Alexander (31:16): A look at everything that could go wrong during the making of a film.
Vangelis Scores Alexander (4:30): The composer shows us how he creates music.
Trailers: (both the teaser and theatrical trailer are featured)