Alexander appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not a flawless image, the movie consistently looked good.
Sharpness seemed positive. A smattering of wide shots could be a smidgen soft, but those didn’t create notable impairments. Instead, the majority of the flick came across as well-defined and accurate. 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. The image proved to be pleasing.
While generally satisfying, I thought the DTS-HD MA 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+”.
In this Blu-ray release, we get two different versions of Alexander. Disc One includes a 2014 Ultimate Cut (3:26:47), while Disc Two features the original 2004 theatrical cut (2:55:44). I allude to the variations among various versions in the body of my review, so I won’t repeat those notes here. I did want to indicate that the two cuts show up in this package, and I believe this marks the Blu-ray debut of the theatrical edition; while it was found on DVD, I think that only the 2007 “Final Cut” made it to BD.
Alongside the “Ultimate Cut”, we find a new audio commentary from director Oliver Stone. He delivers a running, screen-specific look at changes among the various cuts, the cast and working with the actors, themes and story-telling issues, score, the history behind the tale, character choices, 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 rarely 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 and make it more interesting. We do get a fair amount of dead air along the way, unfortunately, and given Stone’s tenuous grasp on facts from the 20th century, I remain skeptical that he knows “the truth” about events that occurred millennia ago. Nonetheless, Stone covers the tale and topics fairly well and makes this a mostly enjoyable piece.
Disc One also provides two additional new programs. The Real Alexander and the World He Made goes for 29 minutes, 45 seconds and includes comments from Stone, University of Oxford Fellow in Ancient History Robin Lane Fox, University of Cambridge Professor of Greek Culture Paul Cartledge, Durham University Department of Classic and Ancient History’s Barbara Graziosi, Wellesley College Professor of History and Classical Studies Guy Maclean Rogers, Institute for Advanced Study Ancient History and Classics Professor Angelos Chaniotis, Swansea University Department of History and Classics’ Maria Pretzler, author/military historian Dale Dye, Cornell University Department of Classics’ Verity Platt and Open University Lecturer in Classical Studies Joanna Paul. As expected, they offer a biography of Alexander. This becomes a reasonably tight, informative program.
Created by director’s son Sean, Fight Against Time: Oliver Stone’s Alexander runs one hour, 16 minutes, 13 seconds. It delivers notes from Oliver Stone, Robin Lane Fox, director of photography Rodrigo Prieto, producers Jon Kilik, Iain Smith, Moritz Borman and Thomas Schuhly, executive producer Paul Rassam, and Stone’s mother Jacqueline. “Fight” gives us some details about the film’s creation, but it mostly tends to deliver a “fly on the wall” look at the production. Even the interview comments come from the sets; we hear a lot of these remarks, but the emphasis on behind the scenes footage gives the program a certain immediacy.
Those become the strongest aspects of “Fight”, as it lets us see a lot of aspects of the shoot. It lacks great focus, though, as it doesn’t tend to follow a logical path over its subject. I don’t demand a clear “A to B to C” progression, but I think “Fight” might’ve been more effective if it followed an obvious route.
“Fight” also takes a weird detour into a psychological look at Oliver Stone toward its end. This lacks much meaning and doesn’t fit the “production diary” of the rest of the show. Nonetheless, it includes more than enough useful material to make it worth a look.
When we head to Disc Two, we locate another new audio commentary to accompany the theatrical cut. This one gives us a running, screen-specific chat with Oliver Stone and Robin Lane Fox. They discuss topics similar to those brought up in Stone’s track for the “Ultimate Cut”. This means we learn a little about production areas but mostly get notes about the historical background for the story and characters.
And that leads to a lot of redundancy, especially since Stone tends to dominate. Fox gives us a reasonable amount of material, but since he’s the expert on Alexander, I would’ve liked more of him and less of Stone. The director repeats much of the same material from the other track, so those moments get tedious. We still learn a bit along the way, but a true “historians commentary” with Fox and others would’ve been more useful than this compromise.
Found on the original DVD, we get three featurettes. These essentially form on long piece, so I’ll discuss them that way. We get programs called “Resurrecting Alexander” (26:41), “Perfect Is the Enemy of Good” (28:53) and “The Death of Alexander” (31:16). Director’s son Sean Stone created all of these pieces..
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, Disc Two finishes with a short featurette called Vangelis Scores Alexander. It fills four minutes and 31 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 piece.
Two non-disc-based elements show up here. A 40-page art book shows storyboards, concept drawings and photos from the film. We also find six cards with correspondence memos; five show notes from Oliver to cast and crew, while the sixth gives us a text from Anthony Hopkins to Stone. I like all these components, but the memos are the most interesting, even though they’re not especially revealing.
The first two versions of Alexander were chatty and boring. Like “The Final Cut”, this 2014 “Ultimate Cut” manages to become fairly entertaining and effective. It’s still a flawed film, but at least this one’s watchable. The Blu-ray brings us very good picture and audio along with a strong roster of bonus materials.
To rate this film, visit the original review of ALEXANDER