Alexander appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many problems emerged during this strong transfer.
The only minor concerns related to sharpness. A few wide shots appeared slightly soft and fuzzy. However, those were infrequent and didn’t create any real issues. Instead, the movie almost always looked nicely detailed and concise. I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement seemed absent. Print flaws also never reared their ugly head, as the movie seemed clean at all times.
Given the arid setting of so much of the story, tans often dominated. Once Alexander headed east through Persia, brighter colors came into play, mostly via costumes. Whatever the palette at the time, the movie demonstrated tones that looked lively and accurate. Blacks seemed dense and firm, while low-light shots presented good clarity and visibility. This was the kind of positive image I expect of a recent, big-budget flick.
While generally satisfying, I thought the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Alexander was a little more subdued than expected. This mix stayed surprisingly oriented toward the front speakers and didn’t make great use of the surrounds. Even the big action sequences continued to focus on the front. Those sequences opened up matters decently but weren’t especially involving. Most of the time, the movie featured general reinforcement of the music as well as ambience in the rears.
At least the front channels worked effectively. The score offered strong stereo delineation, and effects blended together smoothly. Those elements popped up in the appropriate spots and moved cleanly across the speakers. The lack of active surrounds was a relative disappointment, but the overall impression of the soundfield remained good.
I found no problems with audio quality. Speech consistently sounded concise and crisp, and no issues with intelligibility or edginess manifested themselves. The score offered the strongest parts of the mix. The music was bright and dynamic, with good range and definition. Effects also boasted good clarity. Those elements seemed distinctive and lively. Bass response added nice depth to the track. The audio lacked the ambition I expected, but it still worked well enough to earn a “B+”.
For this two-disc package, we get a mix of supplements. On DVD One, we find an audio commentary with director Oliver Stone. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Stone gets into changes between the theatrical and director’s cuts, the cast and working with the actors, themes and story-telling issues, score, the history behind the tale, character choices, the project’s development and very long path to the screen, and production topics like stunts and battle choreography.
As has been the case with some Stone commentaries in the past, the director focuses more on historical topics and story-related subjects than he does the nuts and bolts of actually making the film. Occasionally Stone tells us a little about locations, logistics and whatnot, but those don’t pop up frequently. Instead, he delves into the facts as he understands them. This means he explains a lot of the story. Stone never simply narrates; he actually digs into things and gives us a better understanding for the tale. He also embellishes the on-screen action with information about historical matters.
These open up the film greatly and make it more interesting. Heck, Stone’s such a good speaker that he almost convinced me the movie didn’t stink. Relatively little dead air occurs given the length of the movie, and Stone rarely indulges in happy talk; a smattering of praise pops up, but much less than in most commentaries. Stone’s tracks are usually winners, and this is another very listenable and useful piece.
Over on DVD Two, we get three documentaries that all appear under the banner of Behind the Scenes of Alexander with Sean Stone. Taken together via the “Play All” option, they run a total of one hour, 26 minutes and 40 seconds. We get programs called “Resurrecting Alexander” (26:39), “Perfect Is the Enemy of Good” (28:50) and “The Death of Alexander” (31:11). All were created by Sean Stone, the son of the director.
The vast majority of the program presents footage from the set and other behind the scenes spots. Even the interviews come from those situations. We hear from Oliver Stone, actors Colin Farrell, Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, and Denis Conway, producers Moritz Borman, Thomas Schuhly, Iain Smith and Jon Kulik, executive producer Paul Rassam, co-executive producer Fernando Sulichin, costume designer Jenny Beavan, production designer Jan Roelfs, set decorator Jim Erickson, second unit director/senior military advisor Capt. Dale Dye, armourer Richard Hooper, visual effects supervisor John Scheele, director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, second assistant director Michael Stevenson, and first assistant director Simon Warnock. The documentary starts with information about Stone’s desire to tell the tale of Alexander the Great and then goes through the structure of the story, casting Farrell, finding financing and the roles of the producers, development of the project and locations, pre-production and the creation of various designed items like costumes and props, combat sequences, visual effects, sets and architecture, the flick’s cinematographic and lighting choices, the work of the assistant directors, Stone’s tone on the set, issues during the shoot, a crisis with flawed footage, factual background, and the actors’ work.
“Behind the Scenes” indeed clearly splits into three parts, but it doesn’t use the typical “pre-production/production/post-production” division. If you look at the summary I wrote, most of that material appears in the first portion; “Resurrecting” includes everything through the cinematography. It goes through the nuts and bolts of making the movie and does so efficiently if not with much depth. Actually, the approach seems a bit scattershot and hurried, as we don’t get a great feel for the various jobs.
Matters improve considerably with “Perfect” and “Death”. They concentrate much more strongly on the excellent footage from the set and don’t worry so much about facts and figures. Instead, we simply get a nice feel for the production and how things worked. The occasional comments from the various participants add useful notes and help round out the footage. “Behind the Scenes” starts slowly but more than enough of it works well to make it a solid documentary.
In addition to teaser and theatrical trailers, DVD Two finishes with a short featurette called Vangelis Scores Alexander. It fills four minutes and 28 seconds with comments from the composer. He tells us his goals for the score and what role he thinks music fills in the universe. That’s it – the rest of the program shows movie clips along with the score. We learn virtually nothing of use in this short and pointless featurette.
I guess that’s better than long and pointless, a description I’m tempted to use for Alexander. “Pointless” probably isn’t fair, but “tedious” and “stilted” are apt terms to describe this wooden dud. The DVD presents very good picture and audio as well as a strong audio commentary and a generally intriguing documentary. Warner Bros. did a terrific job with this DVD; I just wish the movie itself worked better.
DVD footnote: in an interesting move, Warner Bros. simultaneously released this Director’s Cut of Alexander as well as the theatrical version of the film. From what I’ve read, both include the same Disc Two of this package, but obviously Disc One differs since it includes the original edition of the flick. Apparently the theatrical rendition comes with a different commentary as well; Stone chats with historian Robin Lane Fox. I like that fans have a choice of with version to watch, though it’s too bad they have to buy two sets to hear both commentaries.