Oliver Stone’s Alexander straight to DVD release Director's Cut is a vast improvement on the theatrical cut that was unanimously panned single handedly by every critic. But while eight minutes have been trimmed and some major structural changes have been made, the film is still a big mess of good and bad ideas that never blend into a true cohesive vision. Oliver Stone has excised approximately 17 minutes from the old version and reinstated 9 minutes of new footage, improving the dramatic logic and progression of the story and editing out most of its fat. But even with the new changes the film still lacks a strong center and at times it is hard to follow. I still wonder if all the critical outrage would have been diminished if this would have been the cut released upon its opening. My guess is... probably so.
My biggest dilemma when originally reviewing the theatrical cut months ago was with the uneven rhythms of the film. The film’s structure was a big mess; jumpy without the slightest sense of cohesion, uneven in some sections, dragging on with no end in sight, others times glossing over important incidents. Stone tried to add clarity with the running narration by Ptolemy using him as a road map through decades of history, attempting to bridge gaps in the disjointed narrative. The original theatrical cut also featured a misguided decision to skip past an important part of Alexander's early life and flash back to it later, creating confusion and not adding anything meaningful or dramatic to the story. It felt as if Oliver Stone had fallen asleep and suddenly awaken, dropping this key scene as an after thought without any connection to the otherwise linear, if jagged progression of his original narrative.
After all the horrible press received, Stone announced for this DVD release that his director’s cut would give a new life to Alexander and that critical issues pointed by the press would be corrected. And what a surprise to see that this version has defiantly been restructured with even more flashbacks and parallel actions, making the film a lot less linear than the original but resulting in a much more improved and dramatically cohesive version of the story. The narrative now jumps backwards and forwards through Alexander's life all the time; and in this particular film, it is a good thing.
The intent of the restructuring, drawing parallels between Alexander's early days and the events that happen to him later, now make more dramatic sense in illustrating how the political highs and lows of his father Philip's reign, with all of its psychosexual drama and political scheming, molded, paralleled and influenced Alexander’s latter successes and downfall. Stone has tightened up his narrative, eliminating the confusing and static scenes of endless war talk, eliminating most of the corny and awkward melodramatics of Angelina Jolie’s incestual momma scenes and limiting Ptolemy’s narration to a minimum. He has toned down some of the more openly gay elements, but not completely shied away from them, and has eliminated some of the odd, kinky elements with Alexander’s wife that resulted in unintended comedy in the theatrical version.
It is true that Stone has made some irreparable mistakes. Even though I enjoyed Colin Farrell's performance, he is clearly miscast as Alexander. Angelina Jolie’s performance is fun to watch but also is a mystery for the ages for what purpose was intended to serve this story. And the script is still weak and lacks drive, even with the new improved structure.
And yet, there are so many good things on this film worth recommending. The film no longer feels padded or dull. It is beautifully photographed, the wardrobe and production design are lavish, the picture is filled with many startling images, the score by Vangelis is evocative and majestic and the battles are huge, epic, brutal and primal. The first battle has been tightened by removing the excessive use of close-ups and given more focus. The final battle in India is an inspired and artistic mini-masterpiece by itself and Alexander’s entrance to Babylon rivals Elizabeth Taylor’s entrance in Cleopatra.
Oliver Stone's Alexander is neither the masterpiece that the director wanted it to be nor the disaster that critics called it. It is a worthy historical epic, made with more passion, and more vision than anything seen on screen since the last installment of Lord of the Rings.
Disc 2 contains a 90 minute-long documentary by Sean Stone (Oliver’s son), who followed him around on location. The piece is broken into three half-hour sections: Resurrecting Alexander, Perfect is the Enemy of Good, and The Death of Alexander. Other features: a 4-minute featurette titled Vangelis Scores Alexander, a theatrical teaser and trailer, both in anamorphic widescreen. DVD-Rom content includes a link to the official Alexander web site and 3D QuickTime explorations of some of the movie's sets.
Didactic, aggressive and in-your-face American writer-director who, after directing a couple of horrors (Seizure and The Hand) and writing Midnight Express and Scarface, settled into his own brand of political state-of-the-nation films like Salvador, the Oscar-winning Platoon, Wall Street, Talk Radio, JFK, Natural Born Killers and Nixon. Slightly out of character were The Doors and U-Turn: respectively, a celebration of the late sixties and a sweaty thriller. In 2004 he experienced his biggest flop with Alexander, a historical epic, but followed it with the reverent World Trade Center and a biopic of then just-leaving President George W. Bush. A belated sequel to Wall Street and gangster movie Savages were next. Say what you like, he has made his mark and loads of people have an opinion on him.