I do think Alexander it is a great film, though perhaps with some caveats. Its a personal favorite of mine, partly because Oliver Stone and Warner Bros. have given us 3 different version of the same film over a very short period of time, thanks to the digital age, as we often don’t have access to more than one version of a a film so close to the release, much less 3; and as an aspiring filmmaker, this excites me as you can clearly see the power of the tool that is editing in the medium of film.
Aside from my fascination with how a film can be put together, I do think that the film is far better than it has ever been given credit for, but first let me break down the three versions.
The Theatrical version is the worst of the three. The film was moving along fine, if a little truncated, for a little over 2 hours in a chronological fashion when Oliver Stone decided to give us a flash back to the murder of Alexander’s father. Now, there is nothing wrong with a flashback, even this late in a film, but when that flashback goes on uninterrupted for 20 or 30 minutes after 2 hours of chronological story telling; suffice to say that, for this viewer it completely derailed the film’s momentum and thus the experience fell flat.
Oliver Stone, I think recognized this flaw, and also wanted to play up the sexuality of Alexander more than his theatrical cut and bargained with the studio to make a director’s cut. Now the director’s cut, was something that I think the studio wanted to make up for the lack luster success of the theatrical release, and so rather than being a true director’s cut, they still had final say of what would be in the film and the film’s length. This is a very good cut of the film. He moved the battle of Gaugamela up to the front of the film, which immediately injects excitement into it, as where in the original cut it was toward the middle-putting a lot of exposition at the front of the film and the two big battle scenes toward the end. Now the film moves back and forth between the story’s present and past in a fashion that creates a rhythm and it feels like a completely natural way to learn about the mysterious character that was Alexander-learning about him in bits and pieces, but the editing and pacing has a very good sense of rhythm, and there are extra scenes that are not in the theatrical version, even though probably because of the studio, the ’Director’s Cut’ is actually about 6 or 8 minutes shorter than the theatrical cut-despite the fact that there are something like 17 minutes of previously not seen footage in the Director’s Cut, figure that one out!
The revelation that a film can cut 25 minutes of footage out, and then add 17 new minutes of footage is startling and makes you wonder what the film was really ever supposed to look like in the first place. Well, I suppose that the director’s cut sold well enough, or dvds became cheap enough to manufacture, and there was a big enough cult following for the film that Warner finally let Stone cut his definitive version of the movie.
He called it “Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut”-not a very artistic title, but what ever. The result is a film with something like 40 more minutes of footage never before seen, on top of the 17 added in the directors cut, and in addition to the 25 that had been cut from the theatrical. Stone essentially included every scene that he shot in his Final Cut, and kept the back and forth story telling. The end result is something quite epic, built upon the framework of the director’s cut. I imagine that when Stone originally shot Alexander, he intended it to be in chronological order, but after his first version was cut to ribbons by the studio, and he was given a second chance(and what one would expect to be a last chance to save his movie) he came upon the notion to make his director’s cut with this narrative structure that jumps back and forth between present and past.
Most of the acting in the film is really top shelf for the kind of film this is. Everyone is at the top of their bent, but only Angelina Jolie is really hammy. Kilmer is amazing as King Phillip, all of the bit players are great, and Colin Ferrell is, in my opinion, more than adequate, and gives a performance that never fails to be interesting and worthy of debate. He tries some things as Alexander, and some work better than others, but I think you can see him here, really pushing himself as an artist.
The score by Vangelis is amazing.
The visuals in the film are lush and unforgetable.
The battle scenes are some of the best ever filmed. They show the tactical angle, the brutality, the chaos; and capture the essence of war that is both romanticized and reviled. The scene where Alexander charges an elephant while on horseback is unforgettable.
There are times when the film achieves poetry, and this is exceedingly rare for a film that is either an epic or a biopic. The Final Cut has many extended scenes, and some that never appeared in the previous two versions, or perhaps only in one of the two. One of the extended sequences is the speech that Alexander gives before the battle at Gaugamela and I think that it is one of the best speeches ever filmed for a movie, and certainly one of the best pre-battle speeches ever shot.
“And when they ask you why you fought so bravely, you will answer…with all the strength in your great hearts. “I was here this day at Gaugamela…for the freedom…and GLORY….of GREECE.”
It may or may not be one of the 30 best movies ever made, and I am probably the only person here who would dare even think that, even on a bad day; but it is certainly a film worth seeing.
BUT, if you do, watch the last version “Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut” this is the definitive version. If you like it, I would recommend going back and getting the other two cuts, and watching the three movies again in the order that they were released, if you are interested in how movies are put together in the editing room, it can be quite the eye opener. Also, there are three separate commentaries for the film-one for each cut(although the commentary for the Final Cut is only on the Blu Ray, not the dvd).