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Blu-ray Review HTF Blu-Ray Review: Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (1 Viewer)

PatWahlquist

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Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (Blu-Ray)

Studio: Warner Home Video
Rated: NR
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: VC-1
Audio: Dolby Digital: English 5.1
Subtitles: English; Spanish; French
Time: 213 minutes
Disc Format: 2 SS BD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2007
Blu Ray Release Date: September 25, 2007


Revisionist history is all the rage these days thanks to the rapid pushes into the possibilities of our disc based mediums for the home video market. Once directors figured out there was a market for their commentary, laser discs took off as THE place for the true artist to paint his picture freed from the constraints of “the suits”. DVD only sought to encourage this further, and with more disc space came more supplements and different versions of the same title on a disc or two. While I’m not too sure who may have released the first re-cut of a picture to spurn this trend (probably wayyy before laserdisc), it seemed to really make a public splash when George Lucas released the special editions of the Star Wars pictures, both theatrically and on DVD. These special editions had bonus footage, new special effects and (and don’t jump on me for this) minor story changes to get the movies to where Lucas had always envisioned them. Oliver Stone has utilized the potential for this type of re-re-release of his 2004 historical bio-(e)pic Alexander by re-cutting the film twice for its DVD releases, and now, once again, a third cut of the film is on Blu-Ray, entitled Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut. I will preface my comments on this edition by saying I have not seen the other versions for comparison.

Stone says in the introduction to the disc the movie peters out if it is show in a linear fashion, that there are too many fireworks at the beginning, as was in the original draft. He decided when the time came for a home video release the story was better served by a parallel chronology of the young and old Alexander (Colin Farrell) to see how the past set up and impacted the future. In this version, we are introduced to an older Alexander as he is about to go into battle against seemingly unbeatable forces. The movie then inter-cuts back and forth across time to emphasize Stone’s intent. I’m choosing not to go into too much detail of the plot since this is the third home video release and many of you have probably already seen the movie to know what it’s about. For those who don’t, this is the story of one of the arguably greatest historical figures of all time: Alexander the Great. The picture is set during Alexander’s somewhat brief life time in the third century B.C. We are introduced to an Alexander who is caught between the machinations of his scheming mother Olympia (Angelina Jolie) and his boisterous father, Philip (Val Kilmer). Alexander soon ascends to the throne of the king of the Macedonians and he takes on an epic quest to expand his empire, where many epic trials and battles occur. Due to his ego, his longing for the love of those loyal to him and his drive just to move west, Alexander is shown to have a hard if not rewarding life.

I found Stone’s decision to re-cut this picture from a chronological narrative to what is presented here as annoying. This version has the two big battle scenes as pillars to the beginning and end of the movie. While it does a good job of anchoring the movie, it also leaves a lot of down time through the rest of the story. Stone seems to recognize the inherent problem with this new narrative flow since he puts an on-screen note as to where we are in time at each jump. While this is helpful, I still had a tough time keeping track of where the story was and what was going on at that time. Further, you must then remember who was doing what to whom (or what have you) at that point and how that has/ had repercussions in another time. Stone obviously demands strict attention from his audience, but I found myself distracted from some of the larger themes in the picture, as well as not having time to pay close attention to a given actor’s performance. His use of this narrative seeks to constantly reiterate Alexander’s mommy and daddy issues to the point where I wanted to scream, “I get it, already!”

That being said, if you can get through that, the movie certainly falls into the “epic” category due to its shear size and scope. The $155 million budget is very evident on screen in the amazing sets, costumes and other such decoration. The two battle scenes, one in the desert at Gaugamela, and the other in India, are both visually and emotionally exciting. Stone uses some excellent camera work (thanks to DP Rodrigo Prieto) during the battle in India that shows just how hard the film is trying to be more than it really is. While it qualifies in that certain way as epic, it is just as quickly defeated by its cast: Farrell comes off as overwhelmed at times (particularly playing the younger Alexander), Sir Anthony Hopkins Ptolemy seems to just be earning a paycheck, and Jared Leto isn’t quite sure what to do. Jolie chews through her scenes as the villainess Olympia, easily upstaging the ill-equipped Farrell. Farrell only seems to lock into Alexander when he is most down and defeated, rising through the gravitas of Alexander’s given dilemma to make it convincing. This time cuts also made jumps that would lessen the impact of a highly charged scene, down shifting me from anxious and excited to contemplative and thoughtful, and not liking the transition.

Many can argue on either side for the various cuts to Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, comparing this to its previous home video and theatrical releases. Stone acknowledges the film, in all of its states, has usually polarized its viewers to a “love it/ hate it” opinion. While I didn’t hate it, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this version of Alexander any time soon. I find this to be a bit of shame since such work went into it, but the picture seems to suffer by the director’s unsteady cutting hand.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Play Station 3 Blu-Ray player and utilizing the HDMI capabilities of both units.

The picture is in VC-1, encoded at 1080p and it is framed at 2.40:1. This new Blu-Ray edition bursts to life thanks to a near flawless HD transfer. The picture is filled with rich and lush colors to highlight the exquisite sets, costumes and locations. There is a scene where Alexander and his father are in an arena. Olympias walks in wearing a deep red dress; her dress absolutely illuminates the screen, with its near crimson hue sharply standing out from the white and cool Mediterranean backgrounds. Flesh tones are healthy and accurate and it was great to be able to tell the differences in skin tones between the multi-ethnic cast. Detail is excellent, both in the foreground and the background, again, allowing us to truly experience the world that was created for the film. Black levels are deep and inky, but occasionally crush, thus, shadow detail may fluctuate from scene to scene. This seemed especially apparent in the scene with young Alexander and Phillip in the caves. I did not notice any film dirt or debris, nor was there any video noise and only a minimal amount of edge enhancement. There are several scenes that have excellent depth and it truly looked like a 3-D image. This is an excellent video presentation!


Audio:
For some reason, Warner’s did not see fit to give us a soundtrack in a higher audio codec. What is presented is a lone Dolby Digital 5.1 track. While it is more than passable, it is unfortunate Warner’s did not choose to provide us with a TrueHD, or even a lossy Dolby Digital Plus enhancement. The soundtrack is a very well balanced track, using the fronts primarily and rolling out to the surrounds with great effect, especially in the two major battle scenes. Arrows, animals and warriors voices came from all over the place leaving me ducking for cover. During the scene with young Alexander and Aristotle, you could hear the birds chirping and breeze blowing behind you. Fidelity in all the channels was excellent, with accurate vocals and effects. LFE effects were equally is good, especially the stomping elephants during the battle in India. The soundtrack was clear and free of any hiss. Having now become accustomed to the enhanced HD soundtracks, I’m starting to notice the thinness of a regular Dolby Digital track.


Bonus Material:
With the advent of Blu-Ray, we are faced with several different audio and video codecs being used on each disc. Due to this, I have begun adding the encoding details as part of the explanation of bonus features when applicable and relevant. For this release, the extras are in MPEG-2, 480p unless otherwise noted.

Introduction by Oliver Stone: Stone does a short introduction to this new version to explain why he re-cut the picture.

Two Feature Length Commentaries: Due to the length of this picture, I spot listened to several places in the two commentaries. First up is the new one with Stone, recorded especially for this version of the film. Stone covers an equal mix of history of Alexander, his beliefs about Alexander and the film making process. Listening to this track after watching the docs shot by Sean Stone help to make a near complete picture of the production of Alexander. In Sean’s docs, we see the production with Oliver at the center, but in the commentary, his thoughts are now given voice to contribute to what we only saw him thinking elsewhere. The second commentary is by Alexander biographer/ historian Robin Lane Fox. Fox sticks more to the historical aspects of this story and he describes working with Stone on the picture. Fox appears to have become one of Stone’s biggest fans as he praises him throughout the commentary. Both pause quite a bit through their respective track. There were other, different commentaries recorded by Stone for the other DVD versions of Alexander, but they are not included in this edition.

Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone’s Alexander (1:16:10): Stone’s son Sean filmed and compiled this documentary about his father and the struggle he went through to make the picture. Shot on handheld video camera, the younger Stone portrays his fathers demanding schedule as grueling and unrelenting, drawing parallels between Alexander’s life and this production. Most of the primary cast contributes and this provides a very real look at how a huge film like this gets made. When I watched the feature itself I wondered how certain things were done and how a picture on this scale is actually created. Stone does a very good job in presenting answers to these questions. Farrell, who constantly comes off as a bit of a punk (both on screen and off) jokes with both Stones, but he still reveals little of himself, instead constantly reinforcing our image of him as a bit of an Irish lad. In the last third of the doc, Oliver turns the tables on his son eventually in asking his son why he dropped out of school to shoot this doc. Both soon wax poetic on the heroic and creative journey, and arriving at new conclusions of the relationships between father(s) and son(s). This part diverts to some history on Oliver and his education, his other films, his relationship with his mother, and his time in Vietnam, arriving back with father and son achieving what seems to be a new phase to their relationship. In having seen several of the docs on other Stone pictures, this one and the one where Stone tours the New York of his past on the World Trade Center disc are the most revealing into the person as opposed to the celebrity.

Next up is a three part documentary called Behind the Scenes with Sean Stone.

Part One: Resurrecting Alexander (26:41): Sean uses the above doc as a springboard to allow Oliver to discuss his process to get the picture to shooting. It is shot on the same hand held, home camera, but it is more traditionally paced and focused, allowing Sean to interview cast and crew on the movie. Oliver and the producers talk about story specifics, the charm of Farrell, financial sources, how the past combat situations are far more grueling than their on-screen representations, the differences between fact and fiction, and how digital effects help to bring it all to life. Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto explains how he used different film stocks and lighting to help Stone achieve his vision of Babylon and the rest of Alexander’s world. Prieto explains how he shot the purple and red high contrast images towards the end of the India battle and why they were done this way.

Part Two: Perfect Is the Enemy of Good (28:51): This phrase is brought up in Sean’s Fight Against Time in a argument between Oliver and Prieto as they clash on how to get a specific shot while battling clouds and rain. Stone makes an interesting comment on how this entire production is based on our modern ideas of the past, and maybe a piece of antiquated pottery and bone fragments to help us along. The doc then springs from this comment to show how several aspects of the production have to figure out how things may have been done and how they can represent it on screen. This film benefits from its lush and exquisite set design and decoration, so I’m happy to see this work in detail. Also spotlighted are the camera operators who are on the front lines trying to capture Stone’s vision, and some in-depth coverage of Alexander’s confrontation with the Indian king.

Part Three: The Death of Alexander (31:13): This part starts out with what a crew does when they believe they’ve lost rolls of film in the processing phase and what to do with the lead star who breaks his wrist and ankle with three days left to film. For the first time in these pieces, Stone and the crew finally make some comments on Farrell, but it still leaves out any commentary on the actors. Stone is seen directing them and talking about the scene, but I would have liked to have heard some thoughts on Kilmer, Jolie and Jared Leto. We do, however, get some interviews with the actors to discuss their roles.

Vangelis Scores Alexander (4:29): Musical composer Vangelis discusses his approach to the score and what his contribution can help elevate a film.

Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer: Both trailers are for the films original release, not this extended edition. Both are in standard definition.


Conclusions:
A film with numerous edits by the director seems to indicate someone using trial and error to achieve a breakthrough result, but in this case, not achieving that exact result. Alexander, in this incarnation, may do well with some editing, but certain performances still can’t elevate it above a certain level. The Blu-Ray provides an exceptional picture and some great extras, but lacks in the audio department.
 

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