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Blu-ray Reviews

Nicholas and Alexandra Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 36 Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 11 2013 - 11:43 AM

Nicholas and Alexandra is an epic historical film which is based upon a 1967 best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert K. Massie. The film had a troubled production, as two directors dropped out of the project before producer Sam Spiegel finally settled upon Franklin J. Schaffner, who had won a Best Director Oscar® in 1970 for Patton. In the meantime, box office stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave were considered for roles in the film, but financial constraints forced Spiegel to limit his use of well-known actors to supporting roles. The film was released to mixed reviews, but it nevertheless received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It is now available in a stunningly gorgeous Blu-ray release courtesy of Sony and Twilight Time.





Nicholas and Alexandra  

Studio: Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures
Year: 1971
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 189 minutes (including intermission)               Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English 1.0 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English SDH

The Program

The Russia that my father gave me never lost a war. - Czar Nicholas II

Nicholas and Alexandra is an epic historical film which is based upon a 1967 best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert K. Massie. The film had a troubled production, as two directors dropped out of the project before producer Sam Spiegel finally settled upon Franklin J. Schaffner, who had won a Best Director Oscar® in 1970 for Patton. In the meantime, box office stars such as Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole and Vanessa Redgrave were considered for roles in the film, but financial constraints forced Spiegel to limit his use of well-known actors to supporting roles. The film was released to mixed reviews, but it nevertheless received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It is now available in a stunningly gorgeous Blu-ray release courtesy of Sony and Twilight Time.

The year is 1904 and Alexandra (Janet Suzman), the wife of Czar Nicholas II of Russia (Michael Jayston) is about to deliver her fifth child. The previous four are all girls, so Nicholas ("Nicky" to his wife and relatives) is thrilled when she presents him with a male heir, Alexei. However, their joy is muted when it is discovered that Alexei was born with hemophilia, a condition for which there was no treatment. The other immediate concern facing Nicholas was the Russo-Japanese War, which was going badly for Russia. His top advisors were suggesting that he cut his losses and end the war, but Nicholas balked at the thought of being the first Russian Czar to lose a war (a message which surely resonated with American audiences in 1971).

In the meantime, there was considerable unrest in Russia. The Bolsheviks - among them Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin - were agitating for revolution as the workers and peasant farmers of Russia were suffering under the Czar's autocratic rule. Nicholas obstinately resisted overtures to implement political reform, refusing to give up any of the power which the Romanov Dynasty had wielded for 300 years. His stubbornness and inexperience in military matters reached a critical point in 1914, when an ill-timed strategic decision by Nicholas led to war with Germany. Russia was ill-prepared for World War I, and it led to tragic consequences for Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, and the people of Russia.

At the center of Nicholas and Alexandra is the relationship between the two principal characters, and unfortunately it also is the film's weakest element because those characters are not particularly compelling. Their marriage is politically significant because Alexandra is German. She is regarded with mistrust by many Russians, an important point which the film takes too long to make. Nicholas is a mediocre leader who was unprepared to rule Russia when his father died. Alexandra repeatedly pushes him to be more forceful, and his desire to appear strong clearly plays a role in some of the poor decisions he makes. One of the more interesting characters in the film is Rasputin (Tom Baker), the mystical and debauched monk who wins Alexandra's confidence through his apparent ability to help Alexei recover from his bleeding episodes.

As epics go, Nicholas and Alexandra is unusual because most of the action takes place indoors, albeit in wonderfully sumptuous surroundings. There are a few scenes of soldiers in the field, but no battle scenes. Even the Russian Revolution takes place mostly off-screen. Nevertheless it is a highly literate film, and even at three plus hours it keeps the viewer's attention.

The lead actors were relative unknowns to filmgoers, but as noted many of the supporting roles are filled by famous actors, including Jack Hawkins, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, and Curt Jurgens (Rex Harrison reportedly turned down a minor role in the film). Michael Jayston is convincing as Nicholas, and Janet Suzman received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her portrayal of Alexandra (she lost to Jane Fonda, who won for Klute). The film also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (Freddie Young) and Best Original Score (Richard Rodney Bennett). It won Oscars® for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

The packaging for Nicholas and Alexandra lists a running time of 189, which I clocked at 188 minutes and change. The running time includes a three-minute intermission at the film's approximate halfway point. In spite of its shortcomings, the film has many devoted fans and they will be thrilled with this wonderful Blu-ray release.

As is the case with all Twilight Time releases, this Blu-ray is a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Click here for ordering information.

The Video

As noted, this Blu-ray has been created from a spectacular, beautiful transfer from Sony. The colors, in particular the deep and vivid reds, burst off the screen without bleeding or noise. The image is free of dirt, scratches, or any other problems. It appears to be properly framed and it is very sharp and detailed. The exterior filming was done on location in Spain and Yugoslavia, and Freddie Young's outstanding cinematography has never looked better.

The Audio

Sadly, composer Richard Rodney Bennett died this past Christmas Eve and he is not able to hear this fine reproduction of his score. There has been some discussion about the decision to release this Blu-ray in 1.0 DTS-HD, but by all accounts that is how it was recorded and released. The soundtrack is fairly strong (although the level is set low and I had to turn up the volume on my receiver) and the dialogue is clear and understandable. I heard some slight hiss in a few of the more quiet scenes, but nothing that would be distracting to most viewers. Mr. Bennett's score is powerful and I am sure that he would be quite pleased with the way it is presented here.

The Supplements

There are just a few extras here. In addition to the usual isolated score track, we have the original theatrical trailer and three vintage, standard-definition featurettes.

"Changing Faces" is a 6-minute look at how the principal actors were made up to look astonishingly like their historical counterparts.

"Royal Daughters" chronicles that work done by the four actresses who play the daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra. It is narrated by Lynne Frederick (Tatiana), who six years later gained notoriety as the fourth and final wife of Peter Sellers.

"The Royal Touch" examines the process of designing authentic fashions for the film.

The isolated film score differs from the main soundtrack because it spreads the film's music across all three front speakers. I do not detect any stereo separation, however.

The on-screen catalogue of Twilight Time releases shows that The Fury, Christine, and The Song of Bernadette are scheduled to be released in March. The Song of Bernadette will be a late March release.

Included with the disc is a typically excellent and informative 8-page illustrated booklet written by film historian Julie Kirgo. She gives many insights into the film's pre-production issues, including the failed attempt to sign Peter O'Toole to play Rasputin.

The Packaging

The single disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

Nicholas and Alexandra is a beautiful epic film which boasts a literate script and excellent acting. As noted, the film's major drawback is that the title characters are rather banal - at one point Nicholas is derided as "a man of no imagination," and indeed he seems to be quite clueless as his empire falls apart around him. The first half of the film may be a bit confusing to viewers who are not familiar with the history of early 20th century Europe and Russia, but overall this is a very interesting film about a highly significant historical period.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: February 12, 2013


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#2 of 36 ahollis

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Posted February 11 2013 - 12:58 PM

Great review. I watched this Saturday night and was blown way with how great this looks. I also found the story intriguing and saw the lack of chemistry between the leads. It would have been interesting to see what Peter O'Toole could have done with the role. If you have a day with nothing much to do then double feature it with Doctor Zhivago. Then you would have fought the Russian Revolution. .
"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman


#3 of 36 Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 11 2013 - 01:49 PM

Good idea. I have Doctor Zhivago on Blu-ray but haven't gotten around to watching it yet.


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#4 of 36 battlebeast

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Posted February 11 2013 - 02:58 PM

Where can I buy this before it runs out?


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#5 of 36 Steve Tannehill

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Posted February 11 2013 - 03:01 PM

Where can I buy this before it runs out?

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#6 of 36 TonyD

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Posted February 11 2013 - 03:01 PM

Where can I buy this before it runs out?

Runs out of what? Never mind I forgot this was a TT.

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#7 of 36 Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 11 2013 - 03:28 PM

Originally Posted by battlebeast 

Where can I buy this before it runs out?


Click here for ordering information.


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#8 of 36 DP 70

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Posted February 11 2013 - 08:40 PM

When this was released in 70mm in London in 1971 the sound was Mono.

#9 of 36 Richard V

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Posted February 12 2013 - 02:33 AM

Watched part of it last night, and agree, it looks magnificent. Has always been one of my favorite movies, glad to have it on Bluray at last. Great Work TT!!!!
See you at the pah-ty, Richter.

#10 of 36 Richard Gallagher

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Posted February 12 2013 - 08:33 AM

Originally Posted by DP 70 

When this was released in 70mm in London in 1971 the sound was Mono.


IMDB says it was 6-track in the UK but everyone seems to agree with you that it was Mono.


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#11 of 36 Twilight Time

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Posted February 12 2013 - 10:19 AM

Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher 


IMDB says it was 6-track in the UK but everyone seems to agree with you that it was Mono.

All of Sony's record-keeping, paperwork, and vaulted 70mm prints, indicate the film was never shown in stereo anywhere in the world.


";s:7:"insider

#12 of 36 Paul Rossen

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Posted February 12 2013 - 10:20 AM

IMDB says it was 6-track in the UK but everyone seems to agree with you that it was Mono.

There are people who swear that they saw N&A in stereo. Can't argue with them as there are too many who state this... Personally, I saw N&A early in its roadshow run in NY and it was in mono.

#13 of 36 Malcolm Bmoor

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Posted February 12 2013 - 10:34 AM

It just shows how wrong one can be even if you think you know what's going on. I saw N&A in 70mm at The Odeon Leicester Square and certainly thought it was 6 track all that time ago but imagine that I was fooled the same way as everyone else by (I'm presuming) the mono sound using all five front tracks of the installation and giving the big effect one expects from a proper 70mm presentation. No, it wasn't a wonderful script and it was renowned at the time for a line something like: 'Excuse me Lenin - Stalin, do you know Trotsky?' The question then emerges of why, considering the budget and scale of the film and the decision to make 70mm blowups for special presentation, it was decided to make only a mono mix. I suspect that Mr Speigel's usual complex deals and sleights of hand might have been responsible.
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#14 of 36 Robert Harris

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Posted February 12 2013 - 11:06 AM

Originally Posted by Malcolm Bmoor 

It just shows how wrong one can be even if you think you know what's going on. I saw N&A in 70mm at The Odeon Leicester Square and certainly thought it was 6 track all that time ago but imagine that I was fooled the same way as everyone else by (I'm presuming) the mono sound using all five front tracks of the installation and giving the big effect one expects from a proper 70mm presentation.

No, it wasn't a wonderful script and it was renowned at the time for a line something like:

'Excuse me Lenin - Stalin, do you know Trotsky?'

The question then emerges of why, considering the budget and scale of the film and the decision to make 70mm blowups for special presentation, it was decided to make only a mono mix. I suspect that Mr Speigel's usual complex deals and sleights of hand might have been responsible.

Most likely a late decision to go blow-up.  Have to check notes, but I believe only two prints were struck.   And those were most likely to get better screen illumination, having little to do with audio.


RAH


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#15 of 36 JoHud

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Posted February 12 2013 - 11:47 AM

'Excuse me Lenin - Stalin, do you know Trotsky?'

I'm pretty sure no one says anything like that in the film. Probably referring to the scene 10 minutes in the film during 1904/1905 where Stalin enters a Bolshevik conference, sits next to Lenin and starts some small talk involving this being his first meeting and that he just got out of Siberia. Shortly after Lenin speaks to the woman representative Slain is sitting next to and states "He wants to introduce himself", Stain states his name, and she shakes his hand saying "Oh yes, I've enquired about you." Shortly after, Trotsky walks in and Lenin gets up and says to him that he's been avoiding him. Stalin is never asked about Trotsky specifically, though I suppose Stalin knows who he is since Stalin says later on (after Trotsky says he'd vote against Lenin's proposal) that he would vote for Lenin's proposal, but can't because he's not a delegate. After the scene is over, Stalin is never seen in the movie again and is only briefly mentioned once a while later. If that quote really was published around the time this movie came out, it was probably making fun of that scene since Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin are improbably in the same room.

#16 of 36 rsmithjr

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Posted February 12 2013 - 11:47 AM

I always thought that this film suffered unfairly in comparison to Lawrence. The cast, crew, and whole approach to a historical epic suggests that Spiegel was trying to make a combination of Lawrence and Zhivago (the latter of which he did not produce) and of course came up a bit short. How often can lightning strike? Taken on its own, this is a fine film, with excellent performances throughout and a reasonable grasp on history based on a good book. A sad accounting of lost opportunities. I especially like the scene near the end where Nicholas explains to his jailers how he now feels about things. They are of course skeptical, having seen so much of the effects of his decisions. This may be one of history's biggest stories of human regret and self-inflicted loss. Nicholas was not an evil man, merely a weak one, incapable of seeing beyond his own local issues. As to the Blu-ray transfer, this is the best I have seen this since original release, which was only 35mm for me of course. The sadly mono soundtrack isn't great, but the musical score isn't that great either so it is not a huge loss. My guess is that if Sony/Columbia could have made it stereo in some reasonable way, they would have done so. Note that Experiment in Terror did have a very welcome stereo soundtrack for the superior Mancini score.

#17 of 36 OliverK

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Posted February 12 2013 - 02:49 PM

Most likely a late decision to go blow-up.  Have to check notes, but I believe only two prints were struck.   And those were most likely to get better screen illumination, having little to do with audio. RAH

There was also at least one 70mm print struck for screenings at the German Royal Palast.

#18 of 36 DP 70

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Posted February 12 2013 - 10:45 PM

As i said in another thread my brother showed this at the Columbia Cinema in Shaftsbury Ave in London and remembers it being in Mono, the same for The Bridge on the River Kwai 70mm print.

#19 of 36 24fpssean

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Posted February 13 2013 - 09:47 AM

Great film, and an austere and (mostly) accurate historical epic. Too many have compared it to Zhivago, which is ultimately a fictional story. Goldman's script for N&A is marvelous and any shortcomings are because Nicholas and Alexandra themselves were pretty boring. They were also coke-heads, which the film doesn't portray. What it does portray with horrific accuracy is that a country so heavy with trouble makes the weakest link in its chain of leaders snap, and Nicholas was that weak link. It's beautifully shot, unlike Zhivago, which is deliberately stark and bleak (Zhivago is a direct descendant of Lean's Great Expectations and especially his Oliver Twist). Very glad this is on Blu. Now if only Sony would release TESS and THE REMAINS OF THE DAY... :)
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#20 of 36 RM Eastman

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Posted February 13 2013 - 03:13 PM

Richard Rodney Bennett's music score is excellent, and Bennett was one of the finest composers of film music. Schaffner wanted his favorite composer Jerry Goldsmith to do the music but apprently Sam Spiegel protested, heaven knows why??? and Bennett was assigned the project.





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