Like a rich, fruity wine, Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” just keeps on getting better with age. Two years after his director’s cut, Stone has been given an unprecedented third pass at the movie that’s obsessed him for two decades. As he himself says, after the breathing space of “World Trade Center,” he revisited the material and excavated the picture that was always there.
If the 2004 theatrical “Alexander” (175 minutes) was a rough but powerful brew uncorked in haste, and the 2005 director’s cut DVD (166 minutes) a much smoother ride, “Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut” is the whole damned, magnificent vision — a 213-minute journey, complete with intermission, into the heart and soul of a culture and personality. With a freedom he’s never enjoyed, Stone has thrown everything into the pot and shaped it according to the dramatic requirements of the material, period.
In his intro (this version has no director’s commentary), Stone explicitly states he was inspired by the roadshow epics of the ’50s and ’60s, and to that end has now given the picture an official intermission at the point where there was always, effectively, a short pause for breath: after Alexander (Colin Farrell) and the young Ptolemy gaze at the Hindu Kush prior to the push towards India.
Film now has a classic two-part structure (I: 126 minutes, II: 87 minutes), here spread across two discs. In length, it’s now up there with the big boys, nestling neatly between “Ben-Hur” (211 minutes) and the restored, recut “Lawrence of Arabia” (215 minutes).
Biggest change is Stone’s decision to move the first of the two battles, Gaugamela, right upfront, after Alexander’s opening death sequence. Structurally bold move immediately establishes him as a heroic, proactive figure rather than making the audience trawl first through his childhood and adolescence.
Thereafter, with the huge half-hour of Gaugamela out of the way and less fancy cross-cutting, the first act now works according to the principles of epic construction, moving in big narrative blocks, from Alexander’s boyhood, through Babylon, to northeastern Persia. Second act, again following classic epic formulae, breaks down the protag’s psychology.
This half now begins with India and, apart from an improved reordering of the Roxane marriage material, pretty much follows the structure of the first two versions: the flashback to Philip’s murder, the souring of the whole expedition and Alexander’s eventual retreat to Babylon. Here, as in part one, the extra running time comes from tiny additions and restorations to existing sequences, adding breadth and texture.
Only significant chunks of new footage are a touching deathbed scene between Alexander and his Persian lover, plus the aged Ptolemy’s final speech. Latter, now more than double its length in the first two versions, finally makes logical sense and forms a fitting epilogue rather than a final distraction.
Pic still has its faults. The two great battles, despite captions like “Macedonian Right,” still have no sense of geography, and Philip’s drunken revelry — one of three sequences with either Val Kilmer or Angelina Jolie that Stone kept shifting around — still seems to hold up the picture.
Those blips apart, plus a nagging regret that Stone couldn’t find an orchestral composer to do full justice to the material, “The Final Cut” makes the cut. Now all it needs is a philanthropist or an archive to fund a 35mm print so this can be enjoyed as the bigscreen roadshow experience it was always, clearly, envisioned to be.