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Monday, June 9, 2014

Alexander: The Ultimate Cut Blu-ray Review


The Film

Take a peek at Oliver Stone's resume. One of these things is not like the other, amiright? That thing would be Alexander.

When the film was released back in 2004, it received really poor reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it actually scored a full point lower than Ernest Scared Stupid. Speaking of stupid: Stone just can't seem to stop re-releasing this film. A lot. He keeps tweaking and tweaking and maybe -- just maybe -- he'll tweak to a point where people will actually think that this is a good movie. That's probably not going to be the case with Alexander: The Ultimate Cut.

Oh boy, The Ultimate Cut is long. Like, it's so long, it needs an intermission, which it actually gets at the two-hour mark on this Blu-ray release. In its entirety, Alexander: The Ultimate Cut is a whopping 206 minutes, but it's still not the longest version of Alexander. That would be The Final Cut (which apparently wasn't all that final). That clocks in at 213 minutes. And in case you're keeping score, The Ultimate Cut is the fourth version of the film, but hey -- it's the 10th anniversary and even a film like Alexander can't escape a birthday release.

But I digress. Alexander is a historical drama based on Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia. Despite his young age, he's a warrior and a leader -- and a darn good one, too. As an adult, he's played by a bleach-blonde Colin Farrell. During his childhood, he's seen with his father King Philip II (Val Kilmer) and his mother Queen Olympias (a severely miscast Angelina Jolie), although she claims Zeus to be her real baby-daddy.

The film had a lot of controversy from Greeks, historians and Greek historians. As a film reviewer, I would let all of that pass if it was an entertaining film. At 175 minutes, the theatrical cut was too long and insanely boring. Adding more minutes does not fix this. It flip-flops between Alexander's childhood, his time as a leader, and nods to his love for childhood friend Hephaistion (Jared Leto) and men in general. It's all over the place and tries to fill in the confusion with boring narration by Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins).

And while the cast is oozing with A-list talent, everyone here seems to be overacting a bit. Jolie makes a suitable mom for scenes when Alexander is a young lad, but as an adult? It's sort of awkward. Also, her accent sounds like she just came from a Dracula audition. Besides Farrell, Jolie, Kilmer and Hopkins, the lineup also includes Rosario Dawson, Christopher Plummer and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Despite the small role, Kilmer is the real standout here, which should really tell you something about the rest of the movie.

It's also important to know that Alexander can be uber-violent on occasion. After all, Stone is the same guy that gave us Tommy Lee Jones' head on a stick in Natural Born Killers, so he's not all that squeamish. However, you may be, as there are many people getting impaled, shredded, stabbed and splattered.

Even with a few bloody battles, Alexander: The Ultimate Cut drags. And that's a shame because this is obviously a project that meant a lot to Stone, who is more than capable of delivering an interesting film. This just isn't one of them.

The Picture

In case you missed part of my description above, know that Alexander (in any cut) is a pretty violent movie. However, the 2.40:1 image handles everything nicely, whether it's the blood and guts or the intricate costumes and detailed scenery. The battle scenes are pretty hectic, but also sharp to the point that each one may induce some serious nausea. I mean this in a good way (and as a warning!). Even with a thin layer of grain and the frantic action, those battles are downright graphic! However, when someone isn't being impaled, the film also has a lot of lush imagery. The scenery, the red capes, and the other colors lean towards the warm side, but are very nice throughout. Colin Farrell and Jared Leto's dark eye makeup, the facial hair, and the costumes are all impressive, as are the film's black levels. Despite being difficult to watch, Alexander: The Ultimate Cut is easy on the eyes from an image standpoint.

The Sound

If you're desperately searching a reason to upgrade your copy of Alexander, know that this version includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It sounds pretty great, with clear dialogue throughout. Of course, it's the bloodthirsting crowds, battle cries and decadent Vangelis score that give this one such high marks.


 Angelina Jolie and Colin Farrell play mother and son in Oliver Stone's "Alexander." Photo: Warner Bros.

The Extras

Take a seat; we're going to be here a while. Besides a great AV presentation, Warner Bros. has put together a nice package of extras for Alexander: The Ultimate Cut. First, there's The Ultimate Cut itself, which has its own set of featurettes. However, the studio has also included a separate Blu-ray with the Theatrical Cut, which has several exclusive extras as well. Also worth mentioning is that there's no standard-def DVD, but there is an UltraViolet Digital Copy.

The Ultimate Cut includes a previously released solo commentary track with Oliver Stone, as well as Sean Stone's documentary, "Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's Alexander." The highlight of this disc is "The Real Alexander and the World He Made." At just under 30 minutes, this brand-new documentary includes information about the real-life Alexander the Great.

Otherwise, the theatrical version of the Blu-ray is filled with previously released extras, including Sean Stone's "Resurrecting Alexander," "Perfect Is The Enemy of Good," and "Death of Alexander." The disc also picks up the 4-minute short on Vangelis' soundtrack, as well as a commentary track with Stone and advisor/author Robin Lane Fox.

Besides that new documentary, fans of the film will probably pick up The Ultimate Cut for the extras not on either disc. There's an envelope with correspondence between Stone and his cast and crew, as well as one from Anthony Hopkins to the director. The set also comes packaged with a 40-page hardcover flipbook with sketches, storyboards and photos from the production.

Final Thoughts

Was this release really necessary? It depends on who you're asking. Oliver Stone can do anything he damn well pleases (and usually does). However, it's time he put Alexander to bed already. This is one battle no one can win. This is the fourth time we're seeing this film and I don't think any movie deserves that many chances -- especially not this one. If you already have The Final Cut, it would be hard to pick up this release. That said, if you are a fan (anyone?), the shaving down of the content and the new extras could make Alexander: The Ultimate Cut your ultimate (and hopefully final) purchase of this film.

Product Details
Actors: Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Anthony HopkinsDirector: Oliver StoneAudio/Languages: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English)Subtitles: English SDH, Czech, French, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, SpanishAspect Ratio: 2.40:1Number of Discs: 2Rating: RStudio: Warner Bros. Blu-ray Disc Release Date: June 3, 2014Run Time: 206 minutesList Price: $49.99Extras: Ultimate Cut Commentary by Oliver StoneDocumentary: The Real Alexander and the World He MadeDocumentary Feature: Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone's AlexanderTheatrical Cut Theatrical Version Commentary by Oliver Stone and Robin Lane FoxBehind the Scenes: Resurrecting AlexanderBehind the Scenes: Perfect Is The Enemy of GoodBehind the Scenes: The Death of AlexanderBehind the Scenes: Vangelis Scores AlexanderUltraViolet Digital Copy

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