Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Alexander! Collectible 10th-anniversary edition includes the never-before-seen Ultimate Cut, The Art of Alexander photo book and insightful filmmaker correspondence. Based on the life of Alexander the Great, the epic historical drama is directed by Oliver Stone and features Colin Farrell in the title role. Two versions of the film will be included in this release – the theatrical cut and the forthcoming “Ultimate Cut.” Also included is the brand New documentary The Real Alexander and the World He Made which reveals how Alexander the Great’s vision of uniting East and West helped shape our modern world, and illuminates how different our lives might have been had his empire not fractured upon his untimely death at the age of 32.
"There's no glory without suffering."
In the ten years since he first released his lavish, expensive historical epic 'Alexander', director Oliver Stone has suffered plenty for it. The film was a box office failure in the United States (though it did better internationally) and was disproportionately torn to pieces by critics all too eager to knock the blowhard filmmaker down a peg for daring to experiment in a genre outside his comfort zone (or outside the critics' comfort zone for subject matter they considered him suitable to direct). The movie became such a target of ridicule that even the late Roger Ebert, who initially gave it a reasonably balanced if ultimately negative review, couldn't resist piling on and named it the very worst film of 2004. He was not alone in that. In the year of such cinematic atrocities as 'Catwoman' and 'White Chicks', numerous critics gleefully pronounced 'Alexander' the very worst piece of garbage they'd endured.
This reaction was entirely ridiculous, unjustified and frankly shameful.
The truth of the matter is that 'Alexander' is a very ambitious, intelligent and cinematically daring attempt to tell the story of Alexander the Great, an incredibly complicated man who conquered and ruled almost the entire known world in his very short lifetime. Its script has more psychological depth and complexity than just about any other sword-and-sandal epic ever made, interspersed with plenty of startling images, a stirring musical score by Vangelis, and a couple of huge, brutal, bloody and dazzling battle sequences of astounding scope. In many respects, 'Alexander' is bravura filmmaking from a master bringing the full force of his talents to bear.
Yet it's also a flawed movie, and unfortunately some of those flaws are very pronounced. The main problem is casting. Colin Farrell is simply not right for the role. I would argue that he actually does a fairly good job portraying the character as an adult, showing his fiery passion as a leader and his eventual descent into megalomania and misguided obsession. However, he looks kind of ridiculous in the scenes of Alexander as a young man, and he overplays the melodramatic storylines with Alexander's father (Val Kilmer) and mother (Angelina Jolie). The notorious lothario also looks visibly uncomfortable having to play the homosexual overtones in the scenes with Alexander's best friend and love interest Hephaistion (recently anointed Oscar winner Jared Leto, whose doe-eyed mooning for Alexander in this film is rather embarrassing).
As mentioned, Angelina Jolie plays the mother. In real life, the actress is only one year older than Farrell. Although most of her character's time is spent with child actors playing the young Alexander at a couple of different ages, she has several scenes with Farrell and the film's makeup artists haven't made nearly enough attempt to age her appropriately. Jolie plays her character as a vindictive she-devil, gypsy snake charmer with a bizarre accent, and pitches her performance way over the top. I almost can't fathom how Stone failed to recognize this or rein her in.
To its harshest critics, these issues were insurmountable. Personally, I have never felt that way. The movie has far more positive qualities than negative. Though imperfect, 'Alexander' is a worthy, literate historical epic, and a work of great passion and vision.
Disappointed with the film's box office failure and critical reception, Oliver Stone has remained convinced that he can fix 'Alexander' if he keeps tinkering with it. Warner Bros. has been extremely gracious in giving him the leeway to create no less than four different versions of the movie so far. Their lengths break down as follows:
The original Theatrical Cut of the movie is told almost entirely in chronological order from the character's childhood to his death, with the exception of a big chunk of story (the death of Alexander's father and his ascendancy to the throne) which is skipped over at first and held for an extended flashback later.
Overreacting to complaints about the film's length and some of its homosexual content, Stone created a Director's Cut for DVD that chopped out a bunch of footage and dramatically rearranged the order of scenes into a non-linear structure that constantly jumps backward and forward in time ("10 Years Earlier," "9 Years Earlier," "1 Year Later," "9 Years Earlier" again, etc.) in a confusing manner that makes little dramatic or tonal sense. This was done largely for the sake of amping up the pacing (the packaging described it as, "Newly inspired, faster paced, more action packed!") and moving the first big battle sequence closer to the beginning of the film. The Director's Cut really didn't work at all and was widely regarded as inferior to the Theatrical Cut, even by viewers who hated the Theatrical Cut.
In 2007, Stone took another stab at the movie in a new version then called 'Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut', which added back all of the scenes that had been removed for the Director's Cut and threw in a bunch more brand new material. Stone described this as his "clearest interpretation of Alexander's incredible life" and insisted, "Rest assured this is my last pass, as there is no more footage to be found." For this version, the director continued and in some ways even worsened his jumbled restructuring of the movie, which undercut its sense of rhythm, momentum and character development. Although the Final Cut was better than the Director's Cut overall, and was much better received by reviewers at the time, I still preferred the original Theatrical Cut.
It turns out that the Final Cut wasn't so final after all. With another seven years passed, Stone has gone back one more time to create yet another new version now called the Ultimate Cut. This one is largely a subtle refinement of the Final Cut. Stone has excised a small amount of footage that he considered unnecessary and once again played around with the ordering of scenes ("20 Years Earlier," "7 Years Later," "13 Years Later," 10 Years Earlier," "10 Years Later"...) Of the Ultimate Cut, Stone says, "It's the most beautiful version yet and it gives me great satisfaction, because I can go to my death bed and feel good about this." We'll have to check back with him in a few years to see if he still feels that way.
Even as a fan of the movie, I once again find myself disagreeing with the director. I just don't understand the narrative logic behind the ordering of scenes. Moving the battle of Gaugamela up to the front of the movie may throw viewers into the action quicker, but the film fails to establish the character's motivations or the reasons for the conflict. Later scenes almost haphazardly flip back and forth in time for a purpose I can't discern at all. Some of the footage that Stone removed was a great help in explaining Alexander's brilliant tactical mind that would allow him to become one of the most formidable conquerors the world has ever known. Without that, he seems to just throw himself into battle and come out on top because he's crazier than his opponents. I think this does the character (and the real historical figure) a disservice.
I don't dislike the Ultimate Cut, but I also don't see much need for yet another new version of the movie. In my opinion, even three drastic re-edits later, I believe that the original Theatrical Cut is the best and most effective telling of this story. With that said, I must acknowledge that I seem to be in a minority for liking the movie at all.
'Alexander' was previously released on Blu-ray only in the so-called Final Cut version (214 min.) known as 'Alexander Revisited'. Since the Final Cut turned out to not be so final, the new Ultimate Cut arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video in your choice of two options. The less expensive of the two has just the Ultimate Cut (207 min.) itself on a single disc in a basic keepcase.
The copy under review here is a 10th Anniversary Edition 2-disc set that contains both the Ultimate Cut and the original 2004 theatrical cut (175 min.), each on a separate Blu-ray. The discs are stored in a fold-out digipak inside a box the width of two standard Blu-ray keepcases. As far as Warner's overpackaged special editions go, this one is reasonably space-conscious. Also in the box are a picture book with production photos and storyboard art, reproductions of memos sent from Oliver Stone to his cast, a short printed essay defending the movie by Classics professor Ivana Petrovic, and a redemption code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy.
With this release, the only version of 'Alexander' not yet available on Blu-ray is the Director's Cut (167 min.), which debuted on DVD in 2005.
When I saw 'Alexander' in the theater in 2004, I was struck by the vibrancy and clarity of its photography, as well as its vivid colors. This is one of the few historical epics of the modern cinematic era that wasn't shot through a dingy brown filter, nor was it given the clichéd teal-and-orange treatment. Unfortunately, previous DVD and even Blu-ray editions of the film have all disappointed in one respect or another – either from poor colors (some foreign DVD releases smothered the movie in a strange yellow tinge) or distracting Digital Noise Reduction and Edge Enhancement issues. I was never satisfied with 'Alexander' on home video and held out hope that this new Ultimate Cut Blu-ray would finally deliver a definitive presentation for the movie.
For this review, I started by watching the Ultimate Cut disc. Frankly, it looks terrible. Although the colors are fine, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is very heavily filtered. The 2.40:1 image lacks detail, frequently smears during motion, and occasionally suffers bad compression artifacts like the following. (Click to enlarge.)
Thankfully, the Theatrical Cut disc is a lot better. While I still think it's a little soft and not quite perfect, this version of the movie is much less filtered and has a respectable amount of high-definition detail throughout.
Even though I'm not a believer in using screencaps to judge Blu-ray picture quality, the differences between the two versions of the movie are fairly evident by comparing the next two stills. (I did my best to capture the same frame, but it was very difficult to be precise because the shot occurs at different time codes in each cut of the movie. I think this is close enough for a valid comparison.) I recommend opening the pictures in side-by-side browser tabs. Notice the amount of fabric texture in Anthony Hopkins' robe, as well as detail in his hair and the liver spots on his skin. The image seems to pop into focus when you look at the Theatrical Cut.
My first assumption was that the problems with the Ultimate Cut may stem from the studio's decision to squeeze a 3 ½ hour long movie onto a single Blu-ray disc. However, I went back and checked the prior 'Alexander Revisited' Blu-ray (which splits the movie onto two discs at the intermission break), and that one looks just as bad as the Ultimate Cut despite having more disc space to breathe.
Whatever the root cause of these problems, the filtering seems to be endemic to both the long versions of the movie, while the original Theatrical Cut comes across much better. Since the shortest version of the movie, the 167-minute Director's Cut, has not yet been released in high-definition anywhere, I can't tell you how that one would fare.
Upon opening this Blu-ray package, I assumed that the new Ultimate Cut would have received the most care and attention in its presentation. In fact, the Theatrical Cut is the real showpiece here.
Rating them individually, I would give the video quality of the Theatrical Cut 4 stars and the Ultimate Cut 2.5 stars. That leaves me with a composite average of 3.25, which I'll be generous and round up to 3.5.
The 'Alexander Revisited' Blu-ray from 2007 offered the movie's soundtrack only in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 format. The 10th Anniversary Edition upgrades both the Theatrical and Ultimate Cuts to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Evaluating the audio of these two cuts of the movie is the most difficult part of this review, and may be the hardest review I've ever had to write.
I started the process by watching the Ultimate Cut in its entirety. Although the soundtrack has a fair amount of surround activity and throbbing bass (both especially aggressive during the battle sequences), I found the audio overall to have a harsh character. It sounded thin and brittle, and left me very fatigued long before the movie was over. (You'll notice that I'm using the past tense here deliberately.)
The next day, I switched to the Theatrical Cut and expected much the same. After all, even though the movie had been re-edited, it's still basically the same soundtrack, just with the ordering of scenes jumbled around. It wouldn't surprise me if new footage exclusive to the longer cut were less refined, but those scenes the two versions share in common should sound pretty similar, right?
Well, I don't know. I watched the Theatrical Cut and wasn't really bothered by the audio. Maybe the Theatrical Cut actually sounds better than the Ultimate Cut, or maybe I was just in a better mood a day later. I tried to swap back and forth between the two versions to compare specific scenes, but even the delay to change discs and cue up the same scene left my auditory memory confused. The results of the comparisons were inconclusive. I cannot state with certainty that I could tell them apart.
Judging audio quality is always a subjective process, one incredibly prone to Placebo Effect and perception bias. Reviews that make definitive proclamations about how a disc sounds are very often completely full of crap. You could have a totally different experience listening to the same disc on your own equipment in your own home theater.
All I can tell you is what I experienced. I wasn't impressed with the soundtrack when I watched the Ultimate Cut, but I thought the Theatrical Cut sounded OK when I watched that one on a different day. Take that for whatever it's worth.
The 10th Anniversary Edition box set contains a mix of content pulled from earlier DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Theatrical Cut Disc
Ultimate Cut Disc
I may be an outlier, but I've liked Oliver Stone's much-derided historical epic 'Alexander' ever since I saw the theatrical release in 2004, and I still think that the original cut remains the best version overall. The new Ultimate Cut does not seem too substantively different from Stone's last (not so) Final Cut, and I doubt it will win over any new fans who weren't yet sold on the movie.
On the other hand, for those few like myself who do consider ourselves fans, the Ultimate Cut provides yet another opportunity to revisit the movie from a new perspective. The 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray also includes a very nice presentation for the Theatrical Cut, and is worth buying for that alone. (Sadly, the Ultimate Cut itself falters in comparison.)
Oliver Stone claims that the Ultimate Cut is his favorite version and his last word on the film, but of course he said that with the last version as well. Let's see what he gives us in another seven years or so. If I had my druthers, I'd like to see a complete cut of the movie that consolidates all of the footage from every existing version, arranged into strictly linear chronological order with no flashbacks or flashforwards (aside from the bookends with elderly Ptolemy telling the story). That would play the best for me. I guess we'll have to wait until the 'Alexander: Definitive Cut' for that.