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Alexander: Director's Cut

Normally, when an auteur undertakes a "Director's Cut," it's often the sign that he's been allowed to return to the film and add footage that the studio excised, either for length or content. But in the case of Oliver Stone's Alexander (2004), his updated version is shorter and labeled "action packed." Such is a sign of our times — with the stateside box office failure of the title (it cost a reported $155 million and grossed only $34 domestically), those looking at a lot of red ink on the balance sheet are hoping that DVD sales will push the film into something nearing profitable returns. Which, with the staggering — though mostly unreported — numbers that DVD sales generate, isn't as pie-eyed as it might appear. Theatrically, the Alexander was a meandering, near-interminable 175 minutes. Stone has managed to fix some pacing issues with the Director's Cut (which runs eight minutes less), but he still never finds his narrative hook. Told in flashbacks by an aged Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), the film follows the life of Alexander the Great (played as a teenager onwards by Colin Farrell) from childhood to his early demise at 33. Of major influence over his life are his father King Phillip (Val Kilmer) and his mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie). Both fight for possession of their son's soul, with his father offering discipline mostly for the boy's own good, while his mother is smothering and plots to help her child become king. Alexander proves himself at the battle of Gaugamela, and thus begins his uninterrupted streak of military conquests for which he became legendary. But while he expands his empire, in marriage Alexander chooses a commoner named Roxanne (Rosario Dawson), and he also has a relationship with Hephiastion (Jared Leto) — although in the Director's Cut their relationship becomes even further obscured.

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One of the uniting themes of Oliver Stone's work is chaos — he's fascinated by the bedlam that surrounds his protagonists, from Salvador to Nixon. And as Stone's career has progressed, he's extended this chaos to his audience, pioneering a technique he calls "lateral editing" wherein the dense visual imagery (in JFK and Natural Born Killers) creates a sense of heightened paranoia. Unfortunately, in Alexander this swirl of disorder mostly concerns the narrative — Stone seems at a loss when it comes to telling the story. The core of the drama ties into Alexander's relationship to his parents, and Stone's fascination with Oedipal issues is palpable. In this case it's implied that Olympias killed Phillip, while Roxanne's character bears more than a passing resemblance to Olympias, and Alexander's desire to keep conquering new worlds is tied to his distaste for, and attraction to, mommy. Colin Farrell is commanding as the renowned emperor and he leads well, but he gets lost in the middle of the movie — it's Val Kilmer who walks away with the picture. Stone still has a talent with the visuals, and there are moments (such as the horses vs. elephants battle towards the end) that are impressive. But even in the first major battle of Gaugamela, it's hard to tell who's winning or losing, and why. Alexander shares its greatest appeal with its historical-epic predecessors in that it's most enjoyable for the costumes, the scale, and the unintentional camp. Like Scorsese's Gangs of New York, Stone's film was a personal, long-desired project. And like Gangs, it may have been worked over too many times in the director's head to allow a coherent story to emerge. Warner's two-disc DVD release of Alexander: Director's Cut presents the film in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Disc One offers a commentary by Oliver Stone, which is more engaging than the film proper. Disc Two features the three-part documentary "Behind the scenes of Alexander with Sean Stone" (87 min.), the featurette "Vangelis Scores Alexander" (5 min.), and the teaser and theatrical trailer. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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