Alexander the Great (1956)Overview -
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Before the likes of '300', 'Clash of the Titans', or 'Troy', or even Oliver Stone's 2004 film 'Alexander', there was a 1956 film called 'Alexander The Great', that told the story of the ancient Greek king. Director Robert Rossen took on this project in his late career after a turbulent past. Rossen was a prominent filmmaker in Hollywood in the Golden Age of film in Los Angeles. Perhaps his most successful film was 'All The King's Men', but his involvement and support of the Communist Party in this particular time in the United States had him blacklisted and set in front of a council to give up names of known communists.
It was this film 'Alexander the Great' that was supposed to be his name back on the map, but that wasn't really the case here. It wasn't until 1961, where Rossen gained praise again for 'The Hustler'. There have have been a number of stories, books, and movie adaptations over the years that have tried to tackle 'Alexander The Great', and not one project or person has ever really made a successful attempt or effort. More recent was Oliver Stone, who made his version, which was about three hours in length, but is infamous for the number of times and releases that Stone has gone back and changed or added new scenes. Each change or addition has seen its own release.
Luckily, Rossen didn't have the time nor the money to go back and fix his work, or maybe it was because he was an unknown genius and he knew back then that no matter how much money you throw at this story of 'Alexander The Great', you won't be able to tell the full or needed story that encompasses every aspect of this historical figure's life. It's true, that Rossen wanted to make an epic of all epics up until that time with this film, but nothing quite transferred to film all that well. There are some great attention to the historical detail here with some excellent performances by Richard Burton (Alexander) and Olympias (Danielle Darrieux), but the way the film is shot, edited, and told is very stale.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of 'Alexander The Great', the synopsis goes that a young teenage man named Alexander was a charming, very bright, and devoted young man. His father, Phillip II was a fierce and brutal King, while his mother Olympias poisoned the minds of those close to her, in order for her to seek more power. She was basically like the Cersei Lannister from 'Game of Thrones'. After Phillip II was killed, Alexander took over power in his early 20s and at first was a noble king, but became blinded by his mother's advice and became the conquerer he is known for today, because he was undefeated in battles and is one of the most successful military leaders in all of history.
This film tries to tell this story, but never quite gains any steam. There really isn't any character development with Alexander himself, as far as his personal life goes, and his mother Olympias is mostly left on the back burner. There are some battles in the film, but most of them are in the form of short montage sequences, without any big choreographed fight scenes to really immerse yourself in the heat of battle or the film itself. Not only that, but there are many instances where there are throw away shots that last only a few seconds then fade to black as if to transition from scene to scene in a very odd way. It's a strange and uneven way to segue into forwarding the story.
The final climax of the film just fizzles out as well and seems wholly rushed as if director Rossen was forced to cut his film short, which was the case, because Rossen indeed did want to make a three hour version of 'Alexander the Great', but the production company stopped him. There is some good here though. The set pieces and on location shooting looks great and the performances are all solid. The one or two fight sequences that are not in montage form are actually decent, but there is nothing that is completely satisfying here, but rather underwhelming from start to finish.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Alexander The Great' comes with a 25GB Blu-ray Disc from Twilight Time and is Region A Locked. There is a booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo about the film inside, but no download code. The disc and insert are housed in a hard, clear plastic case.
'Alexander The Great' comes with a 1080p HD transfer and is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I would say that this Blu-ray from Twilight Time is the best this film has ever looked, but still has some issues. Due to the age of the film, there are still some signs of this being from the 1950s in terms of still having dirt, debris, scratches, and some warps throughout. Detail is improved upon, but there aren't any super sharp or vivid moments with the exception of some closeups that are well lit.
There are varying degrees of grain here, some of which spike to the heavy side, where others look natural and filmic. Colors look decent, but look a tiny bit vague and muted. These colors should have popped right off screen, but unfortunately, a lot of it looks pale. The black levels aren't as deep and inky as they could be and the skin tones look a little brighter than they should be. All of these issues won't necessarily hinder your viewing experience, but they are noticeable, but again, this is the best this film has ever looked, unless you were alive in the 1950s to see this on the big screen.
This release comes with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix and for being a big action epic, even in the 1950s, this sound isn't all that impressive here. The sound effects of horses, swords clanking, and the battle sequences all sound full, but never reach their full potential in a historical epic such as this one.
The score by Mario Nascimbene sounds decent as well, but never robust or sweeping. Dialogue is crystal clear and easy to follow though with some good directionality and balance. This isn't the worst audio presentation I've heard, but it isn't the best either.
Claire Bloom on 'Alexander the Great' (HD, 18 Mins.) - Actress Claire Bloom who plays Barsine in the film talks about her time making the film, giving us some fun information and anecdotes from the set. She is a sweetheart.
Isolated Score Track - You can listen to the score only of the film if you choose this option.
Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - Trailer for the movie.
Twilight Time Booklet - Julie Kirgo's essay about the history and production of the film.
'Alexander The Great' is one epic story to be told, and I'm not sure if there is anyone out there to get the entire story out in one film or project. There is just so much to cover, including themes, characters, relationships, and epic battles, that I just don't think it could be done in the span of two hours. Rossen's version here, just loses itself and never sticks to the main plots at hand. The visual aspects of the film are great, everything else minus a few performances are less than stellar. The video and audio are average at best and there is one decent extra here. If you're a fan of this genre or Alexander The Great, rent this first before purchasing.
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