Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut
March 10, 2007
Not satisfied with the theatrical cut of Alexander (2004), a long-gestating project that he had been working on for years, or even happy with his own director’s cut in 2005, Oliver Stone has revisited his film a third and final time with an expanded and re-edited three and half hour cut. The most obvious question being is this new version really worth checking out. Is the third time really the charm?
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.
The first significant change in this new version is that Stone has moved the battle of Gaugamela to the beginning of the movie. This sets up Alexander as a brilliant tactician early on and also establishes his bravery in battle and his devotion to his men. After this visceral spectacle, the film takes a breather and flashes back to Alexander’s childhood.
However, this new cut doesn’t fix the film’s other flaws, like the miscasting of Colin Farrell, Jared Leto and Jonathan Rhys-Meyer who all look lost in Stone’s bloated, gonzo epic. They don’t sell their lines with the same kind of conviction as Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkins who seem to have a better understanding of what Stone is after. Farrell gamely immerses himself in the role but he is out of place in a period piece like this one. He also spends too much time crying and being angst-ridden to be a truly charismatic figure. This new cut does fix this latter problem by giving him more screen time.
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. This new cut also spends more time exploring Alexander’s complex relationship with his parents (especially his manipulative mother) and restores more of his bi-sexual nature that was cut out for conservative North American audiences.
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. This new cut offers more of the same and definitely plays better with this longer running time. The story is given time to breathe and to develop without the constraints of a typical theatrical running time. Sadly, Alexander is still a mess of a movie but a fascinating one nonetheless.
Just an introduction by Stone who justifies this cut of the film’s existence.