3.06.2007

REVIEW: Alexander: Revisited (Oliver Stone, 2007)

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Alexander , so it should come as no surprise that I was thrilled to hear there was a new, longer and reimagined edit coming out. At three and a half hours, Stone has said that there is no footage left that he could have put in, and this version now features an intermission.

The drastic difference in this cut is the film's overall structure. Instead of starting with a young Alexander who has yet to see battle, we plunge into a scene that compiles several of Alexander's battles against King Darius of Persia into one. The tweaked proceedings give us two major improvements. First, we are introduced to Alexander's entourage as adults, so when we see them as children in the young scenes, their presence holds more significance. Second, we are given titles whenever the scene changes focus between the Macedonian center phalanx and the left and right flanks so we can much more easily understand the implementation of Alexander's strategy that was laid out in the previous scene. Losing its power a bit is Aquila, the golden eagle of Zeus (famous for feeding daily on Prometheus' liver). Throughout the film it is a powerful representation of Alexander's strength and determination but with its biggest moment happening so early in the proceedings I didn't feel the same chills I usually feel when watching the director's cut.

After the first few scenes had gone by, I was wondering why the new structure had such a different feel to it. The two conclusions I arrived at both involved Ptolemy. The story is framed by Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of Ptolemy during his years as the Pharoah of Egypt as he dictates the story of Alexander to a scribe, but the frame is used to a different effect this time around. The lesser of the two points is that his voice-over comments seem a bit History Channel Documentary-ish at times (I.E. the monkey bit, which is indeed interesting but frivolous). More importantly, however, is the new placement of the "one king" speech he delivers comparing Alexander to Prometheus. The director's cut gave it to us at the beginning, setting things up in a more emotional and inspirational (adjectives that barely do it justice) fashion. Here it is given in the finale as more of a retrospective lament to Alexander's failure (which, as Ptolemy puts it, towers over some peoples' successes). The new placement gives a more dry feeling to the entire piece, making it occasionally feel like a visualization of the facts we know, but either way you look at it you've got a fantastic speech that reminds us of the importance of our hero's grand quest and how none thus far have either rivaled his feats or dared to execute the means by which to attain such a dream.

The most impressive aspect of this new cut is the way Stone has juxtaposed certain scenes to influence our thinking and subsequently bring new ideas to light. Some of the previously unseen footage was clearly cut for a reason originally, but it's fun to see and occasionally expounds upon subjects that returning audiences might appreciate such as the marriage to Roxanne and the relationship with Bagoas the eunuch. The intermission comes at a perfect time, allowing us to reflect on what we've seen and prepare for the second part of the journey when the army starts to fall out of line.

I highly recommend that everyone check out at least one version of this film despite the unwarranted barrage of bad reviews it is still receiving. If you have a choice, though, definitely go with the director's cut. While I really did like Revisited, I think it's more for folks who already love the film's previous incarnations or are interested in the Alexander story in general.

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