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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alexander - Director's Cut DVD


(NOTE: this is a review of the 1st re-cutting of this movie. Stone has since re-cut it into "The Final Cut.")

Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.)
20 minutes into this movie I was thinking that it had real potential. We get to see the ugly details of Alexander's childhood. We get an understanding of his need to conquer, the need to achieve more than his father and his fascination for the non-Greek world (thanks to his mother).

An hour into the movie I was confused and disappointed. Confused because of the incessant flashbacks. I knew what was going only because I teach this stuff for a living.

How could the average movie-goer possibly understand why Alexander invaded the Persian Empire based on the feeble information supplied by Stone? Stone has an oblique reference to Phillip's murder, but the average movie-viewer does not know even know who Alexander the Great is, let alone that his father was murdered(he shows it in detail in a flashback - at the end of the movie - so the uninformed viewer will stay confused for nearly 2 more hours). A casual viewer might think that Alexander invaded Persia because he was following an eagle, since it was used so much in this battle scene (and mostly dropped for the rest of the movie).

On an historical note, I think it is disingenious to blame the entire invasion on Alexander's need for revenge when the Greeks and the Persians had been fighting off and on again for nearly 2 centuries before Alexander's invasion finally put an end to it. Stone ignores all of that history and puts it all on Alexander (In my opinion, Stone is looking for conspiracies again -shades of 'JFK')

My disappointment stemmed from the casual skipping of most of Alexander's campaigns - from the destruction of the Persian navy to the conquering of the unconquerable Tyre to the Egyptians and their declaring him a god - all was covered in one paragraph from Ptolemey. One of the greatest military campaigns in all of history - possibly the greatest of all - dismissed like it was just so much garbage in the way of the true story.

***Note to Oliver Stone - the difference between Alexander the Great and every other mentally disturbed egomaniac with a Messiah complex, an abusive father and an over-protective mother with a snake fetish is those battles. They made him 'The Great!' Dismissing them with a wave of Ptolemy's hand over an ancient map is disrespectful to the story and to the viewer!

Stone's battle sequences are busy, noisy and confusing. Those are appropriate adjectives for any movie's battle scenes. However, they are also cold, distant and fail to convey the true genius that Alexander had as a battlefield commander. This is where it would have been useful to include those early campaigns - to show the viewer that Alexander was flexible, ruthless, personally brave and in many ways the ideal of a soldier and a general. He comes close when he shows Alexander speaking to the men before the Battle at Granicus. He alludes to a common history, but the viewer knows nothing of it and really cares very little for the people invlolved. Mostly, it's 10 minutes of Alexander riding his horse very fast.

Oliver Stone's re-creation of Babylon is very nice. He does a good job of showing Alexander's fascination with Asian culture and of demonstrating the tension between his desire for a united Greek-Asian empire and his men's desire to just take Asia's riches and return home to Macedon.

However, there's almost no development of the supporting cast of Macedonian characters. Alexander's male love interest has one main scene while they are in Asia and otherwise lurks in the shadows with sultry looks for Alexander. His men just become a part of the scenery so there is little emotional punch when Alexander starts to kill them off for mutiny.

The constant flashbacks were irritating. Some might think that they are sophisticated. I think they were insulting. Stone shows Phillip accusing his men of disloyalty in a flashback and then show Alexander doing the same. He shows Phillip bringing in a second wife in a flashback and then shows Alexander ignoring his wife in favor of his boyfriend. Phillip's second wife is dealt with as is the boyfriend. Phillip is assassinated as is Alexander (historically shaky...) Are we too stupid to make these connections without having them paired up for us in back-to-back scenes?!?

For those that blame the failure of this movie on Alexander's bisexuality and America's prudishness I would say that as a history teacher in America, not 1 American in 100 knows who Alexander the Great was, let alone knowing his sexual preferences. Rather, what everyone heard was that it was a long, bad movie.

Too bad that Oliver Stone took this topic that was so rich in potential for a great movie and ruined it for this generation of movie-goers. I suppose we'll have to wait for 20 more years before someone will be able to get the financing to try again and do it right.

I rate this DVD 1 star out of 5.

Reviewed on  October 8, 2005.

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