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 nicely structured 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).
Narrated from years later by a colleague of Alexander (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.
VIDEO: "Alexander" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. 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 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: Oliver Stone offers a commentary for the film on the first disc. Stone is mellow and thoughtful in his commentary, in which he spends some time discussing the changes that were made for this new cut of the movie and his reasons behind doing so. Stone's commentary runs throughout the nearly three-hour track, and provides to be consistently informative and insightful - definitely worth a listen.
The second disc contains a 90-minute, 3-part (which can be played altogether) documentary directed by Stone's son, Sean. The documentary does take a little while to get going, but once it gets into the core of the production, it does start to get more interesting, as Stone has to handle such issues as one shot being missed that instantly cost the production $30,000 and another incident where a large chunk of footage was ruined. The actors give their opinions of the goings-on and their characters, while Stone discusses his feelings on filmmaking, changing over the years and his overall thoughts on the project. It's a little dry, but certainly an interesting piece that I found mostly quite interesting and enjoyable.
Also found on the second disc are a score featurette ("Vangelis Scores Alexander") and the teaser/theatrical trailer. Some DVD-ROM features are also available
Final Thoughts: "Alexander" is not among the worst movies I've seen in recent years, but it is a flawed picture that suffers from some lack of focus and casting faults. As a result - among other things - the film feels slow and draggy, especially in the middle. I've quite liked a lot of Oliver Stone's work, but I still feel that "Alexander" is one of his weakest efforts.
The DVD edition provides very good audio/video quality, along with a very nice helping of supplements. There are certainly some differences in the director's cut, and those who enjoyed the movie theatrically that are curious may want to try the director's cut as a rental. Otherwise, not recommended.
The Film C-