When I first viewed Alexander in 2004, it didn't make a huge impression on me. I was surprised by the harsh criticisms of the movie, but didn't care a whole lot one way or the other. I thought it was a decent movie, but nothing special. I suspect, at least to some extent, that many of those criticisms came from the involvement of conspiracy-obsessed Oliver Stone and his need to focus on the weird or outlandish aspects of any subject-matter he tackles.
With Alexander, it was the less-than-subtle allusions to Alexander's leanings towards homosexuality. For me, that wasn't so much a problem as Angelina Jolie's embarrassing performance as Olympias. Her Count Chocula-esque accent combined with the fact that she's only about a year older than Colin Farrell made it hard to take her, or her relationship with Alexander, very seriously. But I digress.
I had no interest in the "Director's Cut" of Alexander that was released on DVD shortly after a disappointing theatrical run. Like most, I scoffed a bit upon hearing the news that Stone was again issuing yet another re-working of the film on DVD this year. When I heard that it was supposed to be a radically different cut, with 45 minutes of new footage and a complete re-editing, I thought it might be worth at least a casual perusal, although I doubted I'd make it through the entire 220 minutes.
Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is a vast improvement. Is it the masterpiece that Stone intended? Well, no, of course not. But it does manage to take a movie that was met with disinterest and even hate and turn it into a competent and engaging tale of one of history's greatest leaders.
Perhaps it helped that, before viewing Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut, I watched an interesting Discovery Channel documentary on the Battle of Gaugamela which analyzed the forward-thinking battle strategies employed by the 26-year-old king, many of which remain in use today. As it so happens, Stone chose to open with this great battle for this latest reworking of the tale. Instead of the slow opening we had the first time around, now we get into the meat of the story right away. Alexander's childhood is now interspersed throughout the film.
The battles, which have been amped up and expanded, are nothing short of spectacular. Gaugamela in particular, which follows the historical tales (and the Discovery Channel documentary) to a T, is amazing to watch play out. Stone's take is detailed and accurate, chronicaling each of Alexander's strategic moves and every bloody moment, right down to the spiked chariots de-legging some unfortunate Macedonians during a gory battle.
Other battles have been extended and the gore has been increased, possibly straying into NC-17 territory. It's not quite on the level of Braveheart for battleground action intensity, but it's not far off.
Farrell's moments opposite Jolie still grind the film to screeching halt. Unfortunately, Stone didn't choose to edit these down as he was adding in all the cooler footage. Also, if you were disturbed by the allusions to homosexuality the first time around, well then, be warned that this one leaves even less to the imagination. It's nothing really graphic, but it's just even less subtle.
What Stone has improved most significantly is the overall flow of the material. Now featuring an intermission at the midway point with booming crescendo score, this version of the Alexander is best digested like a TV mini-series, viewed over two or more nights.
Stone should be proud of what he's accomplished with this "Final Cut." He would be best to let the project rest at this point and leave this version stand as the definitive one. Unfortunately, the original movie took away most of the goodwill and few (especially those who already sat through the original) will take the plunge on this revision. For the lucky few that see this without ever having viewed the first cut, they may wonder what all the criticism was about in the first place.