Just a thought: noir happy endings

shock1Watching Shockproof (review coming soon-ish) I was struck by how a few noir just aren’t allowed to stay true to their narrative and intent, instead hijacked by presumably nervous studio execs and saddled with audience-friendly happy endings. In the case of Shockproof, I’ll get into it in more detail within the review, but suffice to say for about 75 minutes its a great noir about a parole officer gone bad because of his love for a beautiful woman who killed someone, and then in its last five minutes, maybe less, it becomes a different film entirely with a stupid ending that practically ruins the film. I mean, literally I was loving it, the cast, the story and the locations (they even filmed at the Bradbury Building!) and then boom, Game Over.

Its an ending that comes out of nowhere and I can’t see how anyone ‘buys’ it. A pretty much identical thing happens in The Brothers Rico, a edgy noir directed by Phil Karson (The Killers, The Dark Mirror) about an ex-Mafia book keeper who thinks going straight means he has left the mob behind. Its a very dark thriller that is totally undone by a happy ending so blatantly tacked on it almost undermines everything that has occurred before (which reminds me, I really need to rewatch that film and post a review).

One of the most beautiful and intoxicating things about film noir, about great film noir, are the grim, ‘downer’ endings that sometimes frustrate and sometimes disturb but yet always feel fitting and right, like  the ending of Criss Cross, which continues to haunt and disturb me, months after having seen it. Real-life is less like traditional Hollywood films and more like film noir; things don’t always go right, things sometimes get out of control and when push comes to shove, we are all far less in control of our fates than we like to think we are. Very often things go bad, very bad: there is a Truth in that. Noir films often get away with grim endings because they are about bad guys or good guys gone bad or good guys who do the wrong thing for the wrong woman- and the Production Code always stated that films should show that crime doesn’t pay, so hey, they get away with grim endings that ordinary flicks couldn’t. But sometimes the studio execs just can’t let it go.

Which allows me the excuse to mention Blade Runner again (oh yes, yet again) as everyone will recall its own abortive 1982 release version and its own tacked-on happy ending in which Deckard and Rachel are literally driving off, escaping to a happy future into the sunset. I just never appreciated at the time that the film had been shockproofed.

There. ‘Shockproofed’ is a thing now.

Just a thought: Raiders 4K

Well, first of all; Happy New Year everyone. I’m one of those who believed 2021 was even worse than 2020, confounding all hopes and expectations, so 2022… its GOT to be better, hasn’t it? Well, the old saying ‘approach with extreme caution’ springs to mind, somehow I get the feeling we’re slipping back into the 1970s: Inflation, high energy prices, clowns in Parliament…

raiders artSo anyway, just a thought: last night on New Years Eve I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark on 4K UHD. The film looks absolutely terrific in 4K, highly detailed with lovely grain and a really fine colour balance. Its never looked better, that’s for sure- something one often resorts to when describing films on 4K, but its so true in cases such as this. Films in 4K, at their best, can look very filmic, losing that video ‘shine’ that other home video formats had, instead looking very close to how a film would when projected in a cinema.

But while watching it, it occurred to me that Harrison Ford made Raiders (released 1981) and then went and made Blade Runner (released 1982), and the difference between the two vouches for just how great cinema can be/used to be. One was a rip-roaring, witty and exciting adventure flick, the other a dark, dystopian (some would suggest turgid) thriller. What struck me though, is that the two seem decades apart in style and sensibility. And when one considers that The Empire Strikes Back was released the year prior to Raiders… Ford’s filmography at the time; wow, he seemed the coolest guy on Earth- at least until no-one turned up to watch Blade Runner, but then again, decades later who cares about box-office, the films stand far removed from all that now.

Raiders is something special though. Spielberg was at the height of his game, every shot is imaginative, the way the camera moves, catches actors face’s reactions which often speak more than the scripts dialogue (and wasn’t that casting great?), John Williams’ score propels everything magnificently, another vivid example of what films today have lost in how music is used in them now. Frankly the film is a masterclass. And its forty years old. Yeah, that last bit… .

Lost in Space Season Three (2021)

loasts3Attentive readers will likely recall my glowing reviews of the surprisingly good Season One and Season Two of the Lost in Space reboot.  Season Three is the end of the series (kudos to Netflix for letting the show run its course and not cut it short like they have done the recent Cowboy Bebop) so I guess the question is, did they stick the landing?

Well, that’s a tricky one really. There is some weird expectation -maybe its just a general narrative thing, maybe its a Game of Thrones thing- that a series finale has to be some big epic event, a grand conclusion to leave fans buzzing. Its the way they mostly went with Lost in Space, and I’ll be honest, I could have been forgiven during the last two episodes for  thinking I was watching a Marvel movie: infact, it DID occur to me a few times. There are some big climactic moments, particularly during what amounts to a huge battle between good and bad robots across a desolate battlefield of fire and smoke and destruction, where it looked like something from the climax Avengers: Endgame, complete with ‘hero shots’ of human characters posing in essentially slow-motion moments, that felt very ‘Marvel movie’. And sure, for a television show to even approximate that is achievement in itself, even if it is a show made with what I imagine is an inflated Netflix budget. But was that good for the show?

It just made me question why the showrunners felt the need to go large like that, to go so epic. Personally I see so much CGI spectacle now, it quickly gets boring no matter how well its executed, its just a distraction from what should be more genuine drama. There’s a sense that its just a ticking of boxes- bigger explosions, crazier stunts, noisier music- that ruins so many blockbuster movies now. Blockbuster movies used to be a term referring to movies that had crowds queuing around city blocks, like in the glory days of Jaws or Star Wars in the 1970s, but these days its seems to be describing films as loud and noisy as a city block collapsing in an explosion, and its something increasingly infecting television shows all the time too. One of the most depressing things about Star Trek: Discovery (thank goodness I won’t be seeing that show’s latest season since Netflix dropped it) is how much it felt it needed bigger and bigger spectacle, at the expense of actual ideas (or rather it excused its lack of ideas and good writing by blindsiding viewers with flashy vacuous visuals).

To be sure, season three of Lost in Space is visually amazing, as the show always has been. Its production design -sets, costumes, hardware- has always been top-notch, and I’d argue its visual effects have been some of the very best I’ve ever seen on a television show. Its always been a very cinematic series, very strong indeed. But I also think that, some irritating character arcs aside, the series was at its best with regards its characters, especially the dynamic between the young Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) and the Robot, which is something one would certainly expect from a Lost in Space show and one of the reasons this reboot has been so enjoyable. While that isn’t entirely lost in this series conclusion I think it did lose its way, fell out of focus as the show became distracted by trying to become a big Marvel movie. 

Which is why I had mixed feelings as regards season three. It certainly had its moments and the finale largely worked, minus some major plot-holes that irritated me no end which I guess I was supposed to ignore amongst all the CGI and noise. Maybe I should be prepared for more of the same, maybe its just how things are done now. I hear a live-action Blade Runner series is in the works… must say that makes me more than a little nervous, but perhaps much of this is just symptomatic of increasingly poor writing/box-ticking and maybe studio expectations. 

Just because you can do something, visually with all the tools film-makers have now, doesn’t mean one necessarily should- I think that’s a lesson taught us by George Lucas and his Star Wars special editions back in the late 1990s, but here we are and it still hasn’t been heeded. Character-based drama always wins out, but that relies upon a sophistication of writing seemingly lost to the current generation. An army of Replicants, a series of Spinner-Car chases… is that what Blade Runner in future incarnations is destined to become? Likewise an army of Aliens rampaging the Earth in a mooted Alien series, no doubt. Perhaps Lost in Space got away lightly after all.

Blade Runner: Black Lotus

While I’m a sucker for anything Blade Runner, and appreciate the efforts that Alcon are making to keep their investment in the property alive (the Titan books, comic spin-offs etc) this trailer for an anime series titled Blade Runner: Black Lotus just feels so woefully generic (it also disturbingly looks too much like that old Westwood Blade Runner game). For me it is just a cautionary reminder of how bad BR2049 could have been- it would have been so easy just to make a Blade Runner sequel with steamy, wet, rain-swept streets and superhumans beating the shit out of each other. Hell, maybe that would have been more successful at the box-office than BR2049 proved to be, and maybe closer to what many would have actually preferred but really, that tired old aesthetic is not what makes Ridley’s film so great for me, and there is surely more to the franchise/IP than that. Its not about countless neon signs and throwing Coca-Cola logos into the background. At least BR2049, while it made nods to that, actually went with a brutalist look of its own.

Perhaps this trailer is not indicative of what the actual series will be like- maybe it will be more intelligent than it looks and have some decent ideas behind it, but it does look so woefully generic that I fear the worst. I’m not confident about the CGI anime style either; to me I don’t see the point in this semi-cartoony/semi-reality ‘look’: you either go stylised art or photo-realistic (there’s plenty examples of both in Netflix’s excellent Love, Death & Robots series). Oh well. Mercifully I may not be able to watch the thing anyway, as its being made for Adult Swim and Crunchyroll in the States so I rather hope it doesn’t get sold over here in the UK at all.  Ignorance is bliss.

If you ever watch this again, you never saw it before

some1Last night I watched Someone To Watch Over Me and The Front Page, a double-bill like in the old days when I used to have plenty of time for such things. There was no calculated decision regards which two films would make a good double-bill (i.e. Jaws and Alien = two films about Killing Machines!) – this was one of those accidental things, simply two of my recent purchases. Someone To Watch Over Me on Blu-Ray came in a box alongside with Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator a few days ago (yes folks more noir reviews coming soon-ish), and The Front Page on Blu-ray came from Amazon Germany (‘ExtraBlatt“). I’d noticed the latter had come back in stock at last, and as its one of the few Jack Lemmon films available on disc that I don’t own (and a Billy Wilder film at that) I thought it was past time I bought it, especially as it was just about £7.00. Now that I think I’ve pretty much caught up with these Lemmon/Wilder films available only in foreign territories (The Fortune Cookie last December and Avanti! sometime before that) no doubt Arrow or Eureka! will announce UK releases shortly.

I remember watching Someone To Watch Over Me back in 1987 when it came out at the cinema, and later on VHS- yeah the ‘old days’ indeed. At the time it was a very odd film for Ridley Scott, coming after Alien, Blade Runner and Legend and at a time when Scott was claiming he wanted to be the ‘John Ford of genre films’ or something of that nature. It was obvious even at the time that after the financial and critical drubbing of both Blade Runner and Legend, Scott was in the movie industry sin-bin and was having to find lower-budget, less-ambitious film projects in order to get a gig. Its funny now, with the hindsight of his later filmography to put things in better perspective, how at the time Someone To Watch Over Me seemed to me such a betrayal of Scott’s promise and ability. Its one of his weakest films, as low as any of his films are regards ambition or originality, and was clearly so at the time. Sure, it looked pretty, but it was more pretty vacuous, and even though Scott would later make worse films these days Someone To Watch Over Me is pretty low in the list of his movies that people even remember.   

I hadn’t seen the film myself in maybe twenty years, so I was pretty shocked when watching it how much came back to me, even being able to predict what characters were about to say (I could recall some dialogue verbatim) and elements in the plot and shots etc. What can I say, I must have had a better knack of committing films to memory back then. Its unfortunately one of those films that doesn’t really improve with age, so there’s no re-discovery of a lost classic here. Indeed, I had one of those moments when watching this last night that I wondered if I would ever watch the film again, which is a bit disconcerting when I’ve just plumped down money for a new Blu-ray edition, but being an Indicator release it does come with a few special features, including a new audio commentary (by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which will give me reason for at least one more watch). Anyway, I’m certain I’ll watch it again someday regardless of commentary track; its a Ridley Scott film, isn’t it? There’s a certain fun in spotting Blade Runner-lite shots in the location shooting and the cast is pretty great; I never understood why Tom Berenger didn’t have more success (although I guess maybe flops like this one did more harm than good) and Lorraine Bracco is quite terrific. Mimi Rogers is great too; its not a bad film, but its Ridley Scott, you know? Its my own personal baggage from when the film originally came out, I just can’t shake off the feeling, even after all these years, of comparing lightweight stuff like this to Alien and Blade Runner.

But whenever I do re-watch this film, it always reminds me of those days when Blade Runner was such a flop and critical failure, before it was ‘reappraised’; these days people forget how badly that film fared and how disastrous Legend was with its heavily-delayed American release and soundtrack change and how it was so badly edited. I so clearly recall the years when Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘cult film’.

Here’s another thing: when I first watched this film in 1987, it was way before Babylon 5. Andreas Katsulas, having to make do with a badly underwritten part here as bad guy Joey Venza, would be magnificent under lots of make-up as Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5, usurping expectations over a number of seasons turning a villain into a deeply nuanced hero. Its difficult to watch this film knowing, now, just how good an actor Katsulas was and how he deserved a better script here. Venza is terribly one-dimensional; there’s no attempt to add any depth or substance to him: he’s simply background noise, a plot mechanism to get Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers together. Its not that Someone To Watch Over Me is lazy film-making… or maybe it is, maybe its indication that Scott was just working as director for hire, here, because usually however simple a Ridley Scott film can be, usually there’s some nuance and depth, some sleight of darkness in his better films. 

Films are of their times and when examined on that criteria alone, something like Someone To Watch Over Me makes sense when considering Scott’s film career-path. I wonder what might have been had audiences been ready for Blade Runner and had Legend been given a decent chance (you can see Blade Runner‘s failure all over Scott’s second-guessing regards Legend, even in its European cut). Would Scott really have turned towards more low-key, real-world character drama, or would he have been off making another sci-fi or historical epic? I remember James Cameron commenting (I believe it was after T2) that he was weary of big blockbuster film-making and wanted to turn to a smaller, more intimate film and he never did (unless Titanic was his twisted idea of ‘intimate’). Likewise George Lucas always went on about making smaller, more experimental films after Star Wars, and he never did (well I guess one could describe Howard the Duck as an experiment). But Ridley Scott did, even if it wasn’t actually wholly by choice or totally successful. His road back to genre films was a long one and itself not wholly successful (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant)- it was too long a road, perhaps, over too many years. Maybe I should have guessed that back in 1987 when I watched Someone To Watch Over Me with such puzzled frustration- I can make my peace with the film now; its not a bad film, really, but it does have whiff of DTV/ ‘cable movie of the week’ about it, and for a Ridley Scott film that is… well, that’s about as bad as it gets.

 

The Good, the Bad & the * Ugly True Romance

true4kversOh dear, what has happened to my beloved Arrow Films? Is the boutique Blu-ray/DVD market suddenly on a slippery slope? A 4K release of True Romance, of both cuts and with a raft of extras making it pretty much definitive, is surely something to be championed and praised loudly, considering where physical media is going lately, but this release is blighted by some of the worst artwork I’ve had the misfortune to see in all my many years. It also appears to signal a cautionary note regards possible future 4K releases of The Thing (and maybe, even, Ridley Scott’s Legend if the rumours are valid) if they follow a similar release path to this one.

Zavvi (yeah, boo hiss, everyone) bought Arrow Films recently and its pretty clear now how things are going to pan out. Announced for release mostly as Zavvi exclusives True Romance will be released as a 4K limited release steelbook with lots of tat, a 4K steelbook minus the tat with a slimmed-down 30-page booklet (both of these the Zavvi exclusives), and seperate 4K and Blu-ray limited editions (with the ‘proper’ 60-page booklet) which will presumably turn up on Amazon for pre-order next week. Luckily I couldn’t care less for the £40 and £30 steelbooks but even the tat-less 4K set is £30, and with cover artwork as ugly this one’s got they are perhaps pushing people into the direction of the steelbook, but only braver than I risk ordering from Zavvi (not renowned for the best mail packaging around).

true4k5Of course what’s on the discs is what matters but I do wonder who’s in charge of the art direction on this release and greenlit the poster art. Likenesses are pretty poor and worst of all I don’t think any of the designs -even the steelbook, which is the least ugly one of the bunch- actually feels right for the film. It rather seems something of a fudge and a surprising one, as Arrow in the past has been pretty good with their packaging (although their Blu-ray of The Thing was borderline bad, now that I think about it). The thing (sic) that concerns me (other than the Zavvi exclusivity, which was inevitable really) is the sudden tendency to load the releases with tat in order to justify a higher price-tag (their American Werewolf in London was another example of this). Is this just a refection of a last-ditch effort to save physical media?

Can’t imagine Indicator going that way with Columbia Noir tee-shirts and badges etc but I suppose this is the influence of Arrow’s new owner: Zavvi is infamous for re-packaging the same old discs with all-new ‘premium’ packaging, especially regards steelbooks which for some reason seem to drive fans/collectors into a buying frenzy. I’ve bought the odd steelbook in the past but have never second-dipped a film just for the new packaging (I’ve not been in the slightest interested, for instance, in Zavvi’s recent steelbooks for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, as the discs are just the same as I already have and you’d have to be out of your mind (or under the influence of too much Soylent Green) to spend £25 just for fancy re-packaging, no matter how much of a die-hard fan you might be – and believe me, few are as die-hard regards Blade Runner as I). Its surprisingly easy to part fools with their money, maybe, but I fear for where this indicates physical releases going.

As far as True Romance goes, its possibly my favourite Tarantino flick (if only because it was directed by a better director) and I’m really pretty chuffed about it, especially in 4K, and the extras look really fine. I never bought the film on Blu-ray so that’s a nicer bonus as it will be nice to watch the film again for the first time in quite awhile… but man, this artwork…. 

 

Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards

br2049storybAnother Blade Runner 2049 artbook. The irony doesn’t escape me- if any film ever deserved an ‘art-of’ book it was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; even its fiercest critics would admire its visual strengths and production design (whilst also damning it for it, usually). Back in 1982 a strange publishing deal had some weirdly-fashioned tie-in books for sale, paperbacks of the screenplay with accompanying storyboards, and a sketchbook, but each was fairly lacklustre compared to the ‘art-of’ books that the Star Wars films were getting. By the time Blade Runner recovered from its dismal release and was reappraised as a classic with a sizeable audience, the rights issues with the Blade Runner Partnership and the creatives involved (Syd Mead etc) had grown so complicated that attempts to publish a genuine ‘Art of Blade Runner’ always hit a licensing brick wall, or so I’ve been led to believe.

But here we are, just over four years after that unlikeliest of sequels, BR2049 was released and we have a third BR2049 art book. Following on from ‘The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049’ and last year’s ‘Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked – The Art’ we get ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards’ which is a pretty much self-explanatory title. All three books are handsomely sized and presented hardbacks; BR2049 has certainly gotten plenty of love from the publishing side. Indeed, my one major issue with this storyboards book is that it really is missing  the films screenplay, if not part of the storyboard presentation then certainly as an appendices at the rear of the book, so my natural suspicion is that a ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Screenplay’ book is almost inevitable. Titan Books, I’m leaving room on my shelf.

On the one hand, I am reassured that there is still interest in BR2049 sufficient enough to warrant these books, various comic tie-ins and an anime series, so that while a third film in the franchise is unlikely in the extreme there is still yet some life in it. As someone who well remembers that post-1982 wilderness when I used to name Blade Runner as my favourite film and always get puzzled blanks in response, it still feels like I’m now in some alternate reality worthy of Philip K Dick (The Man in the Blade Runner Castle, anyone?). The very existence of BR2049 alone has me sometimes reacting with a ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming.’

So forgive me for just going with the fact that we now have three artbooks for BR2049 and that we dare not discount more books in the future (we already have a few collections of essays etc). Maybe before physical media shuffles off this world we might get a BR2049 SE on disc with documentaries and commentaries: hey Charles de Lauzirika are you busy these days I have a project for you (well, one can dream, but as I’m possibly living in a Blade Runner Castle-alternate reality lets go with it).

How NOT to watch Blade Runner, Part Two

blade-runner-76Clearly these ‘reaction videos’ on YouTube are not for me. On the one hand, I cannot understand peoples fascination for them, albeit there is clearly an audience for them and those that put them up must evidently get some financial reward for doing so. I just don’t get it- why watch someone watching a film? What thrill does one get from seeing someone over-react in shock/horror at what they are watching? Do people really believe these YouTubers have never seen some of these iconic movies? And if they somehow haven’t seen the films or heard anything about them (I mean, The Empire Strikes Back and Vader’s ‘identity’- have they been buried under a rock or something?) then doesn’t that mean they are EXACTLY the least likely to be worthy of making a reaction video?

Anyway, regards Blade Runner: running (sic) through some more various reaction videos I’m just more disheartened about how people watch the movie and what it possibly means re: how people watch films in general. I’m sure its no definitive example but goodness it made me think. Actually, it didn’t just make me think, it made me rant in various texts to my old friend Andy who watched Blade Runner with me back in September 1982. Andy just seemed amused at my sense of insult and affront, possibly winding me up with his texts back, but at one point I was like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction quoting his ‘furious anger’ speech. Some of these YouTubers seem very pleasant and all, but the Nexus 6 bit refers to a model line, not a supervillain team (imagining a team of Reps calling themselves the Nexus Six is very Marvel, maybe) and one very nice guy totally missing the point of the movie when he was absolutely convinced throughout the film that Rachel was human (and everyone in the film referring to her as a Replicant apparently lying) – I don’t understand it. 

My suspicion is that its all part of the deep fake of these reaction videos. In this day and age, how do you avoid spoilers for old movies even if you’ve never seen them? So maybe these guys getting confused or missing the point is a deliberate ploy to make it seem like they genuinely haven’t seen what they are watching. When they surely, obviously, have: even some of the ‘Oh My Gosh!!’ reactions seem so wild they have to have been rehearsed (watch some of the The Empire Strikes Back reaction-videos of no doubt, ahem, ‘aspiring’ actresses being horrified by who is Luke’s father). I think some of my horror is just.. its all madness out there, you know? Social media is just so INSANE. 

I have the digital footprint of a gnat. Clearly I’m from some other century.

(Actually, I really am, now that I think about it. That possibly explains things a little).

The Absurdity Of Everything.

I sometimes wonder… on one of my texts to Andy, I asked him what he thought Philip K Dick would think, had he lived to see the world we live in today. Even ignoring all things Covid, the political landscape in America alone… well, Andy balked at that (No! Thats too much!” he replied, refusing to even give it consideration and adding that he was reaching for a drink instead). Sometimes though, I really feel like I’m living inside a PKD novel that I haven’t read yet. And yes, its probably titled The Absurdity Of Everything.

Godzilla vs Kong must wait

godzillakongI want to watch Godzilla vs Kong (released this week on home rental) but I think I’ll save my £16 to put toward the 4K release in mid-June. The studios just haven’t got their rental pricing right for these new hybrid-release movies: the only film I could conceivably be suckered into paying that price for a rental for would be Villeneuve’s Dune if I absolutely can’t see it in a cinema come October.

I understand some premium level of pricing is inevitable and even necessary but I can’t see how its really going to work regards recouping the mounting costs these films have while waiting for release. How can they possibly break even whatever they charge, so shouldn’t they be aiming for something more towards the impulse-rental level? Maybe something like £10 would be sweet spot enough to tempt those like me in to giving it a rental and get sufficient rentals enough to be worthwhile. I don’t know.

My worry is where all of this leaves these franchises once the dust clears. How in the world Dune Part Two ever happens is quite beyond me, and I’m rather worried about the gap in time between the productions if they even get Part Two greenlit next year (Dune was completed last year). Will Villeneuve be enthusiastic following the HBO Max nonsense, or will he jump ship as Christopher Nolan is rumoured to have done?

You know, all this actually makes me thankful, in a weird way, that BR2049 proved a box-office failure back in 2017. Had it been successful enough to warrant a third entry in the Blade Runner franchise, it would possibly have been caught up in all this, even had it been still in pre-production. How do ‘big’ films get made in times such as this? 

Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut (2004/2007)

alex1…except that it wasn’t really a Final Cut at all, because Oliver Stone followed up with another cut (‘The Ultimate Cut’) a few years later, which was actually little shorter. In all, I think there are four different cuts of this film and only one of them, the theatrical cut, is currently available on Blu-ray here in the UK (I imported this ‘Final Cut‘ several years ago since when its languished on the Shelf of Shame until now). I think the theatrical version was 175 minutes, the Directors Cut several minutes shorter, the Final Cut is the longest version some 45 minutes longer than the theatrical  and the Ultimate Cut several minutes shorter than that- the biggest difference between all the versions (other than additional violence and gore) seems to be the sequencing of scenes and how Stone juxtaposes those sequences within the internal chronology of the film. 

I’m sitting here reconsidering how I started this post and where I’m going with it. Maybe it would be especially apt to revisit this post and post alternate versions, reordering paragraphs, remarshalling my train of thought. Stone himself would possibly appreciate the irony of that. 

It would be especially interesting to sit down with Stone and discuss this film and his experience making it and re-making it. As a movie lover, I think there is something almost endearing about a film-maker’s fascination with a project driving him to rethink himself, and not quite let go of something. I think Oliver Stone didn’t quite succeed in making the Alexander he dreamed of, and his frustrations drove him to return to it, trying to perfect it. It is clearly a passion project, and such films are not always the best films but they can be the most interesting. Sometimes I’d rather watch passion-project failures than formulaic by-the-numbers successes. Alexander Revisited: The Final Cut is quite superior to the theatrical version I saw in the cinema- Stone was under immense pressure to trim the film down to a manageable length and he discusses this in the opening section of his commentary on this disc. Its indicative of the friction between the artist and the businessman, and clearly one of the boons of the home-video market of the past few decades on VHS/DVD and Blu-ray was the opportunity for film-makers to release longer cuts of the films, most of which are superior (but not always). Whether such opportunities will continue in the shift towards streaming is questionable.

I will say I really enjoyed this version of the film. How much of a success the film is, is probably a subject of some debate; there is always a sense of Oliver Stone reaching for something and not quite getting there- some sequences are breath-taking and others feel ill-judged, but you always feel an immense passion behind the film, for good or ill. I recall at the time the film came out in 2004, much criticism of Colin Farrell in the title role, but funnily enough, all these years later it doesn’t seem such a problem at all (how incongruous Kirk Douglas as Spartacus or Richard Burton in his own Alexander film? After awhile does it really matter?). I think Farrell does very well here and his Alexander lingers in the mind afterwards, so does Val Kilmer as his father, King Phillip- perhaps it is something to do with additional scenes or their sequencing in this version: its been so many years since I saw the theatrical cut that I cannot really vouch for any differences between the cuts. Maybe its just a case that Revisited works better, that Stone got the edit right. 

There’s some big names in this film (Angelina Jolie, Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Rosario Dawson and Anthony Hopkins) and while its really a European film rather than an old-style Hollywood epic, it does seem something of a throwback to the big epics of the old days with such big names attached. It results in an odd tension within the film, of the old and the new: the incongruity of all those accents and Western actors of various nationalities appropriating Greek characters and the English language and text in scenes in ‘an enlightened, modern film’  feeling wrong: albeit inevitable, while attempting to visually be as authentic as it possibly can the film flounders on the edge of farce. While opening the film to criticism, I guess the old adage “its only a movie” holds so very true, and certainly, one could not expect someone like Oliver Stone to make some dry historical epic; this is Cinema.

To fully understand and ‘know’ such a complex character as Alexander and his achievements, you really need a time machine. In that sense, the real meaning of the film is in its tensions between West and East, in how Alexanders generals feared that Alexander had ‘gone native’ and forgotten his Greek origins, and how that makes Alexander seem to us, unconsciously in his part or not, a very modern individual. That might well be a Western, twentieth-century interpretation that gets it absolutely wrong, but Stone seems to paint a picture of Alexander of a man out of time. He’s us, in the Ancient World. Trying to bring modern sensibilities to it, trying to assimilate West and East. But there is also the sensation that’s just us appropriating Alexander, and one of the complexities of the film that nettles at Stone. Alexander and the Greeks were Pagans, who absolutely believed in their Gods and believed  that there was a limit to their world, physical as well as intellectual, that was a much smaller world than the world we know. We cannot really get into that mindset. Some things are human and universal, but other things are alien and unique: as I have written before, the distant past is as much science fiction as any story of the far-future.

Perhaps oddly, I think my favourite scenes of the film are those featuring Anthony Hopkins’ aged King Ptolemy that pretty much bookend it; Ptolemy’s reminisces of his old friend Alexander, trying to grasp who/what Alexander was or what his achievements meant, so likely mirror Oliver Stone’s struggles, and indeed those of historians for centuries. In some ways its trying to understand the human condition, our mortality and the impermanence of everything we create. Ptolemy in Alexandria of 285 BC, some forty years after Alexander died, is one of the last people to have lived in Alexander’s time and to have known him, so his thoughts would be the most definitive, but of course Alexandria itself would eventually fail, and the memoirs Ptolemy put down for posterity would themselves be eventually lost. In just the same way as Ptolemy’s effort failed, its impossible for Stone’s film to properly define who Alexander was;  all things fade, except Alexander himself, or certainly the myth of him that remains.

alex3Visually the film is quite amazing- I think the battles are gritty and brutal and give us a sense of what it must have been like, and the landscapes are wonderful: I have always been quite enchanted by the film’s representation of Babylon. What an astonishing place; one can understand how Alexander might have been so intoxicated by the East. Imagine a Greek, or anyone from the West, entering Babylon having conquered it and then himself becoming conquered by its unique beauty, its smells, its colours.

I love the Vangelis soundtrack. Like many of his scores, it lives differently within the film, his soundtrack album following his method of being a listening experience alternate to that music heard in the film. I think his music works better in the film; there is a romanticism brought to the film by Vangelis’ customary style that lifts the film up, and indeed makes some moments of the film quite transcendent. Its possibly why I enjoy the film so much, that I’m a huge fan of Vangelis for so many decades now that I cannot seperate my enjoyment of his music from the film itself, but certainly he brings a great deal to Alexander and it would be a much lesser film without this score. Being electronic it works against the pre-conceived notions of what a period film should sound like, in just the same way as his scores for Chariots of Fire and The Bounty do. Vangelis has a gift for keying into the ‘soul’ of a film- in Blade Runner it was the bluesy, electronic jazz of a future seen through the old, mirroring the films future noir sense of being caught in between two worlds . Here in Alexander he seems to capture the lyrical, almost classical romanticism of the story, the myth beneath the reality that has allowed the story of Alexander the Great to be so… ageless. Stone seems to have been frustrated by the episodic nature of film, trying to evoke some meaning or message in the sequencing of the it, feeling it lacking in a conventional chronological telling, hence all these different cuts, but Vangelis seems to have it at hand in his keyboard. Its the meshing of Western and Eastern and the ethnic music of each, while each transformed by his mostly electronic orchestration. I think the story of Alexander is too big for one film, or one film-maker (or classical historian for that matter) to really encompass but I think perhaps Vangelis comes closest to nailing it. Maybe Stone and Vangelis should have made Alexander as some great opera; in some ways, its almost there.