PictureIf Alexander infuriates, and possibly even disappoints, then the visual transfer will let the film down still further. Despite being flagged as being 4:3, the image on this edition actually appears to be in anamorphic 1.85:1, but to me this still looks viciously pan-and scanned, squashing the action in far too tightly and giving us a bit of a fish's-eye view of the characters. Worse yet, the level of detail is just too inadequate for a vision of this size and scope and the thin veneer of grain on a movie this recent is just unforgivable. Edges lack clear definition, playing havoc with backgrounds - landscapes and crowds suffering particularly. The scene when the conquering Alexander and his Macedonian army enter the city of Babylon and form a harem should be all glittery, lustrous and full of sparkling jewels and beads, a literal riot of colour, yet the whole affair looks flat, dull and lifeless. Interiors may be full of warmth but look at the flaming torches - muted and subdued. Eyes may shine and swords may gleam but only when compared to the murk that often surrounds them. Overall, the colour tones are natural - skin, clothing, blood etc - but the spectacle is missing the vitality and sheen that it possessed at the cinema. This movie needs to drip colour from the screen, not leach it away as if embarrassed by its own glory.
Digital defects flare up occasionally, too. When Stone's cameras track across the vast deserts or rolling hills, vertical or horizontal banding will often accompany them. Shimmering can sometimes glitch out a peripheral character, or building. Yet, thankfully, the battles are actually served up quite well indeed with the disc managing to hold onto the enormous violence with comparative ease. Despite the sand swirling around for the first set-to, detail and image integrity are remarkably good. But, for the most part, this transfer is not what we want. The vast majority of people are going to plump for an edition with the correct theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 over this, anyway.
SoundIf you thought that things couldn't get any worse, guess again. This edition is saddled with one of the worst sound mixes I've heard on a recent film. Although containing an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, you will immediately notice the horrible fact that the lip-synching is out by a second at best. This lasts throughout the entire movie with some sequences becoming just farcical - Philip's drunken spat with Alexander during an early marriage celebration is an audio mess, with words comically tossed to the wind and flying from anywhere other than the mouths that are actually moving. Quite appalling.
Oh well, at least you can enjoy the totally immersive soundscape transporting you back to ancient times. Oh, sorry, no you can't actually, because the rears only come into play with any real conviction during the second battle - the one with the elephants. But here, at least, there is some good stuff to mention. Steerage is very well delivered with arrows finally zipping past you from speaker to speaker and the enraged elephants really do trumpet and shriek from all around the room. There is also a tremendous input from the sub whenever the horses or elephants charge, shaking the floor and your ribcage quite vigorously. The squelching sounds of the many nasty stabbings are captured effectively, as well. But all this thunder only makes you weep for the other two and half hours of subdued reticence. Dialogue always comes across very clearly but, as I've already mentioned, hardly ever from the appropriate lips.
And, lastly, Vangelis' awesome score - perhaps the best thing about the movie - is treated with respect and allowed to surge in all the right places, filling the room with pomp and aural majesty. His music is not to everyone's taste - in this movie, particularly - but this is a powerhouse combination of electronica, ethereal voices and orchestra that paints the tale of Alexander with more passion, heroism and glory than Stone, Farrell and a cast of thousands could ever do. And without his forceful, driving percussion relentlessly pounding out, the charge at Gaugamela would just be a donkey derby on Blackpool beach.
ExtrasThe downturn continues unabated with the selection of extras offered here on the second disc. First of all we get a terribly jumbled Behind The Scenes collection that runs for about 49 mins. This actually presents us with about 15 mins of completed widescreen clips (yes - widescreen, folks, showing us what we've been missing all along) of key scenes for no apparent reason before segueing into a selection of very short soundbites from Farrell, Jolie, Leto, Hopkins, Kilmer, Dawson and Plummer pondering on their characters and on working with Stone. Then Stone and a couple of producers and have their very brief say. Press junket stuff and totally un-rewarding. Even poor old Vangelis only gets about 90 seconds. This all finishes up with another 15 mins of actual behind-the-scenes stuff - some of which are the finished sequences we'd seen earlier but none of this is remotely interesting.
Then we have a 2 mins love letter from a tired-looking Stone to the people of Thailand for all their help during the making of the film. Ho-hum. Then a TV spot and two Theatrical Trailers - one the huge English one and the other for Thailand. Overall - a lousy set. But we all know that the R1 and R2 versions will feature a huge raft of extras with some pretty weighty documentaries. There's even a 3-Disc version about to surface, too. Bit of a no-brainer, isn't it?
VerdictWell, it's definitely a film that fuels debate, and that is always good. It certainly does not deserve the ridicule that was so gleefully heaped upon it. In time, it may even see many re-evaluations but I sense it will always remain a challenging misfire. But a feast for the senses, it most certainly is. The soundtrack is a gem - indelible, gleaming and treasured. The visuals are breathtaking and the performances are a riot. Even if it could have done with a few more battles - he did conquer a huge portion of the world, after all - there are still some adrenaline-pumping moments of blood and thunder. This Thai version is pitiful in every department, though. If a terrible transfer with an unsurpassable lip-synch error is not enough to discourage you then just compare the meagre extras offered here to what's coming soon from other territories. Oh yes, they've got DTS mixes, too.
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