The return of the historical epic hit Hollywood hard in 2005/2006. Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, King Arthur and the two Colin Farrell vehicles, The New World and Alexander, all hit theaters pretty close to each other… and all flopped. The basic complaint was the same about all these films; they were too long, the pace was too slow and they were hard to follow. As much as these huge pictures cost, the studios quickly looked to the DVD cash cow to try to recoup some of the production co…ts. The first to hit was King Arthur, which was released in the theatrical PG-13 format (full screen only), and the director’s preferred extended unrated cut (presented in widescreen). Antione Fuqua’s fighting with the studio over the final cut of the film was widely known, so it was nice to get to see the director’s original, more violent, vision. Audiences were pleased too, as this new cut was widely regarded as superior to the original.
A very similar thing happened with Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. The theatrical release was regarded as average, as it was on DVD. When Scott re-cut the film and released it as a four-disc special edition, however, consumers and critics went wild, declaring this new extended cut far superior to the original theatrical version. In fact, this new vision was named the DVD of the year last year by many critics. Scott has since said that this new cut represented more of his original vision for the story, but that the studio feared that it was far too long for theater audiences. (Remember, these are the same audiences who had complained that the film was too long to begin with, proving that filmmakers’ would be best served creating their films on their own terms, without the input of the general public.)
As this trend moved along, we saw that Oliver Stone’s Alexander was released in a theatrical release, then again in a (shorter) director’s cut, and it has now been re-edited a third time in Alexander Revisited – The Final Cut. Stone has recently stated that, “for me, this is the complete Alexander, the clearest interpretation I can offer.” I will have to take his word for it, as this is also the only version of the film that I have ever seen. That fact can be good or bad, depending on your take on it. On the one hand, I will not be able to speak to if this new extended cut is “better” than previous versions. However, I am also not coming into the film with any extra baggage or expectations. My opinions will apply to this cut of the film alone.
While Stone has created a film like the ones he undoubtedly saw in his youth, this is still most certainly a modern interpretation of a classic genre. The film is amazingly violent, making the battle scenes more realistic than many such scenes seen in previous films. However, they are also presented with the air of surrealism that Stone is so famous for. Soldiers growl like tigers, and the fierceness of the battle is sometimes interspersed with surprisingly beautiful moments of clarity.
For my money, however, the true story here is the women that weave themselves in and out of Alexander’s life. Both his mother and his eventual wife are the only mortals that have any real pull on Alexandr’s life, and what a twisted pull that is. While his mother is a sorcerer, his wife is a masochist, and between the two of them, his belief in his own Oedipal deity is unparalleled.
As with almost all of Stone’s films, he has managed to present a story that can really only be told on film. The goal of some scenes is clearly not to tell a story as much as it is to evoke a feeling. The audience is meant to experience the story through all their senses, not just through language. This is a film that you just have to accept as it comes. If you start to get lost, Anthony Hopkins’ narration will soon return to put you back on track. It is the thread that holds this ambitious film together.
I was really glad to see that Warner Brothers decided not to compress this film onto a single disc, instead option for two discs to hold the film. The result is a audio and video presentation that has room to breathe. The audio track sounds fantastic here, taking advantage of the very wide sonic range that has been made available to it. Of course, the bass tones are powerful, and the sound palette is varied, but what I was especially impressed with was the fantastic use of the surround speakers. They really give an amazing sense of ambiance to the proceedings, masterfully matching the correct timbre to each scene’s location.
I was so thrilled to find that stone had hearkened back to the golden age of cinema by presenting this film in an amazingly broad 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Film this epic in scale deserve to be seen in a larger-than-life format. Viewers should watch this film on the biggest screen you can find. You will be glad you did.
In addition to the breathtaking scope of the film, the colors also look quite fantastic. Browns do not blend into each other, and the occasional colorful set or prop really pops against the hot, stark background. Nighttime scenes are especially impressive, a stone has found a way to make the scenes look as if they were lit by flame only, yet details are present that come only from artificial lighting. The images on the screen are as powerful as the film’s namesake.
As this is the third release of this film on DVD, there’s really not much left to say to fill up some extras. Sure, Warner Brothers could have made this a four disc set like they did with Kingdom of Heaven, but when you really think about it, this cut of the film itself is a supplemental feature; a companion piece to one of the first two releases that you have presumably already purchased. This cut does include a three-and-a-half minute introduction by Director Oliver Stone, where he discusses why he chose to re-cut and re-release this film yet again. Hearing the reasoning come from his own mouth, I found myself easily agreeing that this third release was the right thing to do.
For a limited time, each package will also include a pass to see the film 300 in theaters. This little bonus alone may be enough to make this purchase worthwhile, at least as a curiosity.
Should those that already own this film buy it yet again? In the introduction to this DVD, Oliver Stone says that those that already liked the film will like it even more, and those that hated it will hate it even more. Having not seen either of the previous versions, I could certainly see how that could be true. This is the full epic, spanning three-and-a-half hours and two packed discs. The best take of every scene shot is included, making the story more completely told than ever before. The audio and video quality are fantastic, allowing the viewer to concentrate solely on the film itself. Clearly this is not a film for the masses, but fans will undoubtedly be very pleased with the reimagining of this monster of a film.
Special Features List
- Introduction by Oliver Stone
- Free movie pass to see 300