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 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. 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, especially 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, then 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 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 my mind, 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.) 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 The Final Cut is admirable in intent, and sold a million DVDs, it isn’t the last cut. Stone would be insistent that he do another one—The Ultimate Cut, released in 2014, in recognition of the movie’s tenth anniversary. I haven’t seen it, nor has anyone I know; it’s safe to say we fear another go. So here’s a review from Cineaste, a trustworthy and intelligent source. There is, however, danger in multiple versions of dream epics by directors who can’t let go; they’re expecting otherwise tolerate viewers to extend additional patience and money to watch them correct their mistakes as often as it takes. Am reminded of Darryl F. Zanuck who, when watching the original footage of the battle and aftermath of Pharsalia for Cleopatra, realized how puny and mousy it all was and ordered refilming and discovered that what was achieved was so panoramically, impressively an epic sequence that it made almost everything that followed look under-utilized. Whether most of us ever get to the fourth cut, what’s going to be said by those favorably inclined is Stone’s ambitious vision remains thus far the most estimable roadshow on the great road show that is Alexander. The caveat for viewers who watch more than one of the four talking books is that they’re likely to walk away woozy from experiencing sensory overload.
ROLL OVER IMAGES