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ALEXANDER

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Oliver Stone
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (Director’s Cut), Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1 (Theatrical)
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 167 Minutes (Director’s Cut), 175 Minutes (Theatrical)
Release Date: August 2, 2005

“CONQUER YOUR FEAR…AND I PROMISE YOU WILL CONQUER DEATH!”

Film **** (Both Versions)

Alexander the Great was a man of extreme contradiction. He had accomplished so much at such a young age that the cause of his death at age 32 may have just as well been the overall consumption of his pride, as well as other personal demons that plagued his life. His story has been told before in films, on both the big and small screen, but none has lavish and as exquisite as this.

For Oliver Stone, who has long specialized in making films with high controversial subject matter, tackling that of a historical epic maybe considered a break from the norm. At the same time, Stone has succeeded in chronicling the lives of several complicated real life figures like Richard Nixon and Jim Morrison, making him a most ideal filmmaker to bring the story of Alexander to life.

Stone has said that he has wanted to get this movie made for the longest time, and the passion of his storytelling proves that case on screen. Alexander is a most glorious, visually stunning spectacle of a film. Hollywood has certainly gone bonkers over bringing back the historical epic genre, as illustrated by last year’s Troy and this year’s Kingdom of Heaven. Not only do I find Stone’s film to be the best recent epic film, but I also happen to find it as one of the most outstanding ones since those of yesteryear.

Too bad critics and audiences didn’t feel the same. More on that later…

The film is told through the perspective of Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), who at a younger age was right there with Alexander during the crucial points of his life. It seemed that, ever since his birth, that Alexander was in the midst of a horrendous conflict between his mother, Olympias (Angelina Jolie) and his father, King Phillip (Val Kilmer). She has tried to convince her son that Phillip, a gleeful philanderer, is not really his father, but that he truly is the son of Zeus.

Following a period of learning the teachings of Aristotle (Christopher Plummer), Alexander finds himself destined to one day lead the throne and conquer as many areas of territory that the Gods will allow him. As he grows into a young man, Alexander (Colin Farrell) is still more torn apart than ever between the beliefs of the mother and father. At this point, Phillip is unexpectedly assassinated, and Alexander is quickly named as the new King of Macedonia.

The first big event to take place once he was named king was the great battle of Persia, a battle sequence that dares the viewer not to be awestruck. Alexander, believing that the Persian king was the one that paid gold for Phillip’s murder, leads an army of 40,000 men against a Persian army of 250,000.  Though many of his own men are doubtful of the strategy he lays out, it ends up a success. The King of Persia flees the battle Alexander has had his first taste of victory.

He then takes his men to the beautiful city of Babylon. It is there where he meets an exotic dancer named Roxane (Rosario Dawson). Later, he announces to his men that he will be marrying the woman. She happens to be of Asian descent, which doesn’t sit too well with the men.

This also conflicts his relationship with lifelong friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto), who has also been a source of love and compassion. Alexander insists that although the wedding will take place, nothing will stand in the way of the honesty and support that Hephaistion has provided him since the day he first set foot on the battle grounds. Roxane isn’t too pleased to learn that Alexander is involved with Hephaistion, but the wedding proceeds anyway.

His conquering of the world then leads to India, where Alexander leads his men, which at this point is only at 16,000 up against an extremely vast Indian army. The men resist, but the ruler insists them to fight and be remembered for their conquering or not be remembered at all. His men get an ugly surprise when the army of India charge with the help of mammoth-sized elephants with tusks ready to impail. It’s a marvelously graphic sequence as only Stone could deliver.

Every year seems to deliver numerous films that get their unfair pans and unfortunate box office turnouts. Sadly, Alexander got the worst of both. Critics united is bashing the movie, claiming it didn’t paint a thorough portrait of Alexander, and also felt the need to slam Colin Farrell’s performance. At no point in the film did I feel Farrell did a single sour job. Clearly, those who bashed it didn’t see the same movie as I did.

In addition, I don’t get all the bashing the film got, before its release, about the depiction of Alexander’s sexuality. To set the record straight, there are no gay love scenes, but people need to understand that this IS history. In the time period depicted, it was common for men to have both male and female lovers. Stone made the right choice in including the relationship between Alexander and Hephaistion, and thus staying true to history in general.

And I had never been more peeved at Roger Ebert Though I never expect for all critics to share the same opinion as me, I simply couldn’t understand why he decided that this, and Troy, should tie for the worst movie of last year. For one thing, both Mr. Ebert and I know that there were much worse films to be released last year, and the fact that he would place two well made epic films as the worst films in a list that also included White Chicks, The Grudge and The Whole Ten Yards is simply beyond me. In addition, Mr. Ebert only gave a ** rating to his top bad movie selection, while the many of the films below it were rated much lower in his original reviews. What’s the deal, Roger E.?

Two versions of the film are being released on DVD; an all new Director’s Cut which is actually shortened by ten minutes, and the original, Theatrical version. Both versions are superb, so I can’t really recommend one over the other. Which ever edition you choose, you are in for something grand.

Hopefully, Alexander will gain respect on DVD. If those who stayed away from the film in theaters because of the bad reviews will watch it with a clear perspective, hopefully they can acknowledge the sheer value of its cinematic qualities and acknowledge that it was indeed unfairly and unnecessarily bashed.

Despite the bad rep it got, I am here to state that Alexander is a most glorious achievement. Those who appreciate Oliver Stone’s level of work shouldn’t hesitate at all to discover this amazing historical epic.

Video **** (Both Versions)

This is yet another amazing looking disc provided by Warner Bros. Both versions are equally outstanding. The clarity of the anamorphic picture is as visually amazing as you can come across. The lush cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto results in numerous moments of stunning visual grandeur that the presentation delivers dynamically and flawlessly. Colors are astonishing, in addition. Absolutely one of the best looking discs of the year, and you can rest to sure that it’s in the running for this year’s DMC Awards.

NOTE: While the theatrical version is only available in widescreen, the Director’s Cut is available in widescreen and full screen. If you choose the Director’s Cut, you owe it to yourself to experience it in its widescreen glory.

Audio **** (Both Versions)

Movies of this kind are expected to enthrall with their sound quality, and Alexander is no exception. The 5.1 mix is nothing short of spectacular. From the sweeping poetic sound of the music score composed by veteran Vangelis, to the rousing thunderous battle scenes, all the way down to the exuberant set pieces, this audio presentation excels in dynamic range. The result is one glorious presentation, for sure!

Features **** (Both Versions)

Warner strikes a glorious blow with the 2-Disc release of Alexander. There are only two things that differ between the two releases. The theatrical edition is separated into two parts between Disc 1 and 2, with features spread out between the discs. The second difference are the commentaries. On the Director’s Cut release, there’s a commentary by Oliver Stone himself, while the Theatrical version has a track with Stone and historian Robin Lane Fox.

Both releases include the intriguing documentaries, “Resurrecting Alexander”, “Perfect is the Enemy of Good”, and “The Death of Alexander”, as well as the featurette, “Vangelis Scores Alexander”. Lastly, there is a Theatrical Trailer and Teaser for the film and additional DVD-Rom content.

Summary:

Oliver Stone once again demonstrates his power as a first rate filmmaker with Alexander. A big and bold historical epic that is laced with sharp visuals and an invigorating story of the rise and fall of a brilliant, but flawed, leader is bound to marvel even those who suspected it of being as bad as the reviews would lead you to believe. A great movie, and easily one of the best DVD releases of the year!

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