(NOTE: Film review contains comments from the review of the prior "director's cut" release, then "Revisited" comments are afterward.)
Although certainly flawed, I found myself greatly enjoying "Troy", the Brad Pitt epic that hit theaters several months before "Alexander". While I'm sure "Troy" probably played fast and loose with history, the picture did not take itself overly seriously, was structured well and moved along at a rapid clip. I wouldn't call the picture a classic by any means, but I was entertained by it and appreciated the tone (in acting and otherwise) - just short of over-the-top - that it hit.
Oliver Stone's "Alexander" is a different picture entirely - not subtle, either, but also rather jumbled in its storytelling and miscast in some roles. Colin Farrell (speaking of miscast, although I've appreciated Farrell's work in the past) stars as Alexander, who eventually went on to conquer much of Asia and Europe at a young age. Raised by a nutty father, King Philip (Val Kilmer) and an even nuttier mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie, in a performance that goes over-the-top and then down the other side), the film opens with a look at some of Alexander's early years.
Narrated from years later by a colleague of Alexander, Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), the movie frequently bounces around in time (seemingly even a bit moreso here) for no particular reason and has the Hopkins character, Ptolemy, narrating in a failed attempt to tie things together. The other main issues of the film are how Alexander was torn between his love for his friend, Hephaistion (Jared Leto) (and some of that material is gone from this director's cut) and his marriage to Princess Roxane (Rosario Dawson), as well as his taking over various chunks of the landscape (although, oddly enough, there are really only two battles in the picture, neither of which are particularly impressive as epic movie battles go these days.)
Alexander's shifting loyalties between his parents doesn't make for an interesting subplot here, simply because Jolie and Kilmer chew scenery like they're out of another movie. As mentioned before, we don't get much of an idea of Alexander's strength in battle because the battle scenes seem so average. In a goofy move, one of the battles is looked over by a CGI eagle. Is the director's cut more "action packed", as the cover states? Not really, as there are no additional action moments and only slight additions to the existing battles.
Farrell may not have been a bad choice for Alexander, but the role certainly doesn't work for him here. He needed a little touch of the psychotic nature that he brought to the Bullseye character in "Daredevil", or at least a little bit of general madness. As he plays it here, he's just too bland to be believed in the role. The other performances are a mixed bag, as Jolie and Kilmer seem like they're coming from a different movie, and both Leto and Dawson make little impression. As for the technical side of things, I didn't the movie looked quite like the entire $150m reported production cost was on-screen, but I did find Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography to be mostly enjoyable and the film's production design and locations are often visually engaging.
The biggest issue with the movie is the length - theatrically, I kept looking at my watch as the movie became more and more tedious as it slowly strolled into the second half of the nearly three hours, which felt like nearly five. This director's cut, which takes out about 18 minutes and adds around half that, doesn't really have a different "feel" to the pace, as the film still seems overlong (not surprising, given that there's only about eight minutes less here in the overall running time.)
The movie still feels without a strong focus (or point) and a director's cut of the film isn't going to fix the fact that Farrell doesn't make a strong enough center of the picture. I didn't dislike "Alexander" as much the second time around - and that isn't due to the director's cut, which didn't seem like an improvement or really, that vastly different than the theatrical cut - but it's still a miscalculation and a real disappointment. There's very little of the intensity usually found in Stone's movies in "Alexander"; it's not nearly as bold a film as it needs to be (making matters worse is the fact that the movie is quite self-important), and the fact that the movie unnecessarily jumps around instead of telling a straightforward narrative hurts it considerably. Stone even shoots a late scene with infared film for no particular reason, turning the entire sequence red - and not just red, but VERY red.
Director Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge") was going to stage his own "Alexander" with Leonardo Dicaprio in the role, and after watching Stone's version again, I'm only more curious as to what Luhrmann would have done. As is, Stone's "Alexander" is certainly an ambitious project, but several main mistakes really take the whole enterprise down.
After the success of "Alexander" the international market and on DVD, Stone was allowed to go back and make the film that he wanted, with no interference and no restrictions on length. (from the DVD liner notes: "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’s been haunting me since the theatrical version first appeared in November 2004 in the U.S., 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 ½ hours) is my clearest interpretation of Alexander’s incredible life.") Stone has added in an intermission here, giving the audience a chance to reflect a moment on the events of the prior two hours or so.
The film has been extended here, clocking in at about 214 minutes versus the 176-minute original cut and 165-minute "director's cut." This edition puts back all of what the director considered essential footage (again, from the liner notes: "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.")
This time around, the movie has also been re-structured quite a bit; instead of Alexander's early years at the start, we start off with Alexander as an adult and preparing for/fighting in the battle in Persia. Afterwards, we then go back to see Alexander's early years. Taken from the "Alexander Revisited" Myspace page (where Stone is reading & responding to questions) (http://www.myspace.com/alexanderrevisited), Stone's response to what has been added is this: "The front of the movie is restructured and 40 minutes have been added, involving: battle scenes in Persia and India Alexander’s (Colin Farrell) relationship with his mother (Angelina Jolie) a fuller picture of Alexander’s relationship with the eunuch, Bagoas additional moments with Roxanne (Rosario Dawson) and Hephaistion (Jared Leto) Ptolemy’s (Anthony Hopkins) character is elucidated."
The third time is somewhat the charm for "Alexander", as while I thought the film still has some core issues (Farrell's performance, length), the redone structure of the film tells the story in a clearer, more straightforward manner and, as a result, while the film still feels overlong, there is at least a bit more momentum during more stretches of the picture than there was previously.
While the picture does seem to move a bit more at times here, the running time still seems excessive; while some of the new footage helps to further develop characters and story, other footage could have been left out to keep the film to a more reasonable length. There are still core flaws here that keep me from being won over by "Alexander", even in this new cut. However, I did find some aspects of this "Final Cut" to like, including a lot of restructuring that does help the film. I'm still not a fan, but I did find this edition more watchable.
VIDEO: "Alexander" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen once again here, and the image quality here seems similar to the prior release. The presentation is of very high quality, and thankfully, the supplements have been moved to a second disc to give the nearly three-hour running time breathing room. Sharpness and detail are generally excellent, as the picture consistently appeared bright and well-defined, never showing any softness or other definition issues.
No edge enhancement or print flaws are present, but there were a couple of minor traces of pixelation, which certainly didn't cause any real distraction. Colors appeared rich and bold, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: "Alexander" is again presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is perfectly satisfactory, although slightly less "epic" than one would think, considering the size and scope of the picture. Surrounds are used during the battle sequences and at times during the rest of the film to deliver effective ambience, but given the on-screen events, I felt like the audio could have been a little bit more aggressive and taken one step further. Audio quality was quite good, as dialogue seemed crisp and clear, effects sounded dynamic and the score sounded crisp and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Sadly, all we get here is an intro from Oliver Stone. While the director has provided commentary for the film on previous releases, it would have been welcome here to hear more about choices that were made in editing the new cut, new footage and other issues. It would have also been nice to have the new footage available separately on the second disc (and maybe Stone could have commented over that.) Additionally, the very nice "making of" documentary and other features from the prior releases are not carried over here.
Final Thoughts: I'm still not won over by this new cut of "Alexander" as there are still issues here that aren't going to be fixed. However, the changes in structure are for the better and some of the footage does help develop subplots and characters. Overall, I'm still not positive on the film, but I did find this cut of the film more involving. Fans of the film will want to pick up this new edition of the film, but keep the original copy if they still want to watch the extras.
The Film C+