Monday, October 22, 2007

[DVD] Alexander the Great (1956)

DVD Cover

I borrowed this movie with one intent, and that is to see how the subject material was handled in the 50s, compared to the most recent interpretation by Oliver Stone, who gave us an Alexander with Colin Farrell complete with his hair dyed blonde. And while I was lamenting the fact that there were only 2 war scenes on a massive scale included in that version, the hype that surrounded the story of a conqueror seemed to have made way for Stone's very queer depiction on the bisexuality of Alexander, especially with the camera adopting his POV and gazing ever so lovingly at the male species, countless of times until you want to throw up. I guess subtle is never in Stone's books.

Now this version written and directed by Robert Rossen (who also gave us the original Hustler) did away with all that sexuality issues, and neither did it find any need to have gratuitous nudity in watching Alexander make love (in Stone's version, Rosario Dawson went nude in her role as Roxane). Then again it was made about 50 years ago. Anyway, what I found to be a major disappointment, were the battle scenes. Yes, it might be terribly dated by now, and sadly didn't survive the test of time. At certain scenes and angles, it's akin to old martial arts movies, where enemies just circle around you, waiting for their choreographed moves to be executed, or worse, if you pay attention to characters in the background, they surely aren't moving like ferocious warriors, choosing instead to mull around!

Also, we only get one major battle sequence in Alexander the Great, which made the foray into India in Stone's Alexander look like bonus material. In fact, this version took some time to establish key characters, and began with Alexander's father King Philip's (Fredric March) conquests first, interrupted by the birth of his son, and the prophetic signs under which he was born. It took almost 30 minutes before you see any semblance to a fight, and almost one hour before Richard Burton finally takes over the mantle and seeks out his destiny as one of the greatest known world conquerors of all time. However, the film felt like it was in two arcs, the first which dwells on the internal bickering within Greece with its many factions, and the plotting between mother Olympias (Danielle Darrieux) and King Philip, each wanting to win over Alexander's loyalty for their own political purpose. In this version though, which harped on Darrieux's appearance in the credits, I thought she made Angelina Jolie look more formidable in the role. At least Jolie was dripping with evilness and cunning, compared to the more subdued Darrieux.

The latter half dealt with Alexander's conquests through Asia, though most of the facts were glossed over. It was too little too late as most of which are told using montage, intertitles and narration, which made it look like a rush job to end it. While Stone's movie had focused a fair bit over Alexander's obsession with being the Son of God and his increasing obsession over himself and his glories, this version again made those themes look superbly examined in Stone's version. However, one thing's for certain, Richard Burton, even with the horribly blond hair which looked like a wig, was indeed a lot more charismatic and believable than Coliln Farrell. And that also meant when Burton was wearing the horrendous full faced helmet so that the stunt guy can take over!

All in all, a pretty decent effort in telling the story of Alexander the Great, however as mentioned, it didn't really stood up to the test of time. At times, it made Stone's version look like a classic.

The Code 1 DVD by MGM Home Entertainment is the bare bones version, with only the theatrical trailer (2:50) included, and scene selection available in 16 chapters. The audio is in English Stereo Surround, or French and Spanish mono, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish. Anamorphic widescreen transfer is crisp and pristine, with only a particular scene 3/4 of the way into the movie which looked a little soft and blurred.

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