REVISITING ALEXANDER (Again)
Similar to the very insistent mode that JFK used to try to cover all the bases, The Final Cut also tries to be all inclusive: the screenplay by Stone, Christopher Kyle and Laeta Kalogridis packs in so much ancient Roman-inspired info they’ve decreed indispensable that most of the supporting characters don’t become integrated into or integral to the story of Alexander so much as they become (albeit impassioned) conveyors of purported historic fact and gossip. Most crucially, the script doesn’t tell the tale of Alexander linearly; in order to show the development of the great young warrior-king without having to spend the first third of the picture on his adolescence, Stone and his writers charted a line of sight with broad time-span jumps, multiple flashbacks and connective narration by Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy. The first two films, coming in at less than three hours, were edited to speed up the narrative—for those who weren’t into the genre of roadshows, who didn’t have an ear for lengthy discourse, who would be taxed and bewildered by the goings-on. There was thought to be enough action to get over the word heaps. (The box office response proved otherwise.) But the roadshow exacerbates the problems: not only are there fresh piles of verbosity, there’s more jump-cutting, which instead of clarifying matters actually increases viewer intolerance for the nonlinear method. The least-needed of the new jumps is with Roxane: in the first and second, we are introduced to her via Rosario Dawson’s twirling entry, accompanied by her dancers unravelling in red to Vangelis’s exotic Bactrian music during a circus-like bacchanal. Edited sharply, it not only entrances but also gets the job done. Now, she abruptly enters the story as the bride of Alexander and we later flashback (at least I think it’s meant to be a flashback) to her dancing, only this dance is longer and shows the clumsiness previously and rightly cut.
Of course, given the freedom to finally present the version he always wanted, Stone has done some daring restructuring, and the best of the shifting comes shortly after the beginning. In the prior edits, we get a truncated death scene of Alex, then Hopkins’ in-library narrative and then to Angelina Jolie’s Olympias playing with the child Alex, but now we get an expanded death scene, Hopkins and then the battle of Gaugamela. Stone says he made the change because he wanted the audience to see early on Alexander as history wishes to recall him. He’s right to a degree; we really do need a sense of Alexander in victory (before we’re mesmerized by Jolie, before we recoil at Val Kilmer’s Philip), but it’s the two mini-blabfests that get in the way: Stone inserts moments with Alexander and his men prattling about the coming battle, and then a night gab with his great friend Hephaistion. To viewers unaware of the chronology of the other two versions, this might be okay for a while; to those of us fully aware that an avalanche of chatter is to follow, it’s already too much.
Stone indulges with other extras: Dawson is shown in the opening sequence of Alexander’s passing and she’s less than stellar; there are several expansions of scenes between Alexander and his eunuch Bagoas; there’s Philip screwing a young man at a wedding; we get an extra sequence inside the Babylon royal palace and, unless I losing it, a few more brief peeks of the city; a bit more savagery in the battles and a graphic shot of an elephant stomping on and smashing into bits one of Alexander’s infantrymen. The Gaugamela (Arbela) scenes are a bit clearer now, thanks to more titles on the screen informing us of what flanks we’re watching through the sand storms the armies are creating, and all close to being accurate to the historic record. (Darius had assembled 250,000 warriors, with losses between 40,000 to 90,000; Alexander had only 47,000 soldiers, with deaths estimated to be no more than 500.) Before the battle with Darius, Alexander sacrifices an animal but only now do we see its intestines being examined for omens. (Judging by the reaction, they’re not favorable.) In all three renditions, there’s the totally unnecessary scene of Stone dressed as a soldier. It has no connective reason to be there, except for ego.
Though we can see that The Final Cut is admirable in intent, it nevertheless reaffirms the belief that directors making their dream epics often need to have judicious editors to prevent the dreams from becoming close to nightmares. Whatever version, Stone’s vision remains the most honorable roadshow on the subject; viewers might walk away woozy from the talking book literacy but definitely not empty-headed.
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