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Alexander: Director’s Cut DVD Review

Alexander: Director’s Cut

January 30, 2006

Director: Oliver Stone, ,
Starring: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Rhys Meyer, Brian Blessed, Tim Pigott-Smith, ,

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DVD Review

Oliver Stone has never been afraid of controversy. Films like JFK (1991) and Natural Born Killers (1994) attracted an incredible amount of media attention, dividing critics and audiences alike. Love or hate his films, Stone can never be accused of making a dull one. Even his failures are fascinating cinematic train wrecks of epic proportions. Case in point: Alexander (2004), a long-gestating project that Stone had been working on for years, beating out a rival production that was to be directed by Baz Luhrmann. Stone was once again embroiled in controversy for playing fast and loose with historical facts—criticism also leveled at JFK and Nixon (1995).

Alexander is Stone’s take on legendary historical figure Alexander the Great (Farrell), one of the greatest warriors and rulers the world has ever known. At 18 years of age, he set himself an ambitious goal: to the rule the known world. He started with Persia and began to work his way east towards India. Along the way, Alexander is torn between his love for his best friend, Hephaistion (Leto), and his desire for a son with his barbarian wife, Roxane (Dawson).

Angelina Jolie portrays Alexander’s mother, Olympias, as some kind of vampish snake charmer/soothsayer with an outrageous accent straight out of a bad Dracula movie. Val Kilmer plays Alexander’s father, King Philip, as if he’s still trapped in Stone’s Doors (1991) movie but one in which Jim Morrison never died instead time traveling back to 350 B.C. He and Jolie’s first scene together is a contest to see who can chew up more scenery with Kilmer winning by an eye, or rather the lack of one.

Colin Farrell gamely immerses himself in the role but is miscast and it’s not because of his obvious Irish accent—there are already many dueling accents so any consistency is shattered early on. Like Clive Owen in King Arthur (2004), Farrell is out of place in a period piece like this one. He also spends too much time crying and angst-ridden to be a truly charismatic figure.

As befitting of the sword and sandal epic genre, there are plenty of solemn speeches, bloody battles on a grand scale, lavish costumes and sets, and heated arguments with lots of shouting and pontificating. The battle scenes are effectively visceral as Stone wisely doesn’t try to copy Gladiator (2000) but going for a more straightforward, classical style, like Troy (2004)—only with more blood and gore.

The problem inherent with tackling a subject like Alexander the Great is that much of his life is shrouded in mystery and myth. Stone’s film is destined to become a camp classic with its hammy acting and laughably pretentious dialogue that evokes his Conan the Barbarian (1982) screenplay but without John Milius’ muscular direction. On some level, you have to admire the dedication of the cast. They spout Stone’s sometimes ridiculous, over-heated dialogue with conviction and aren’t afraid to let it all hang out. Sadly, Alexander is still a mess of a movie but a fascinating one nonetheless.

Special Features:

The first disc features an audio commentary by director Oliver Stone. He talks about the differences between this version and the one that played in theatres. He also touches upon the challenges of bringing Alexander’s life to the big screen because much of what we know was learned third hand by scholars who read texts long lost by people who knew the man. Stone addresses much of the criticism leveled at the movie (i.e. the heightened dialogue a la Cecil B. DeMille’s classic, Biblical epics) and also speaks candidly about the problems he has with the critics in this excellent track.

The second disc features a feature-length documentary entitled, “Behind the Scenes of Alexander with Sean Stone,” which is broken down into three separate segments that can be watched together. Stone’s son takes us through the filmmaking process with a fly-on-the-wall approach. There is a lot of on-the-set footage that shows the cast and crew at work. Far from being a puff piece, this doc shows some of the problems that Stone and his crew ran into. A week left to go in principal photography in Thailand, several cans of film were ruined and with three days left Farrell fell down a flight of stairs and broke his wrist and ankle. It helps that being the director’s son Stone gets total access to everyone for a fascinating insider’s perspective of making a movie on an epic scale.

“Vangelis Scores Alexander” features the legendary composer who hadn’t composed a score for a movie in over ten years. This featurette gives a brief look into his creative process.

Finally, there is a teaser and theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 77%

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