Alexander the Great (1956)

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Released 9-Jun-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 130:14
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:05) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Rossen
Studio
Distributor

MGM
Starring Richard Burton
Fredric March
Claire Bloom
Danielle Darrieux
Barry Jones
Harry Andrews
Stanley Baker
Niall MacGinnis
Peter Cushing
Michael Hordern
Marisa de Leza
Gustavo Rojo
Rubén Rojo
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Mario Nascimbene


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
Italian
Spanish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    This film tells the story of Alexander the Great from cradle to grave. Born to Philip of Macedon (Fredric March) and his wife (Danielle Darrieux), who thinks he is a god, Alexander grows up to be the golden-haired, sun-bronzed Richard Burton.

    The first half of the film deals with his relationship with his father, and the machinations of his mother to deliver the throne to Alexander. The unification of the Greeks is covered, and in the second half of the film Alexander, now King of Macedon, invades Persia to defeat the locals under King Darius (Harry Andrews).

    This film was made by Robert Rossen, who not only directed but stood triple duty as producer and screenwriter as well, on location in Spain. Much of the film is shot outdoors, but despite the open-air settings, the presence of a large and distinguished cast, and some battle scenes, the film lacks the epic touch. Too much time is spent on dialogue-driven scenes of the struggle for and effects of power, and there is little of the sweep and grandeur of other similar films of the period. Even the battles, with very small-looking armies, seem unconvincing. Three years into Hollywood's second attempt at producing widescreen films, the use of the larger canvas does not seem to have been mastered by Rossen, with some good framings punctuated with poorer ones.

    The final section of the film glosses over the later career of Alexander, and his relationship with Memnon's wife (Claire Bloom) is not believable. One moment she is screaming righteous abuse at him, the next she seems to have just finished spending the night with him. It almost seems as though a chunk of the film is missing, or at least a chunk of the screenplay was not filmed. Perhaps they ran out of money.

    Little too is made of Alexander's sexual proclivities, apart from surrounding him with young devoted men most of the time, and the suggestion that he was a mother's boy. There's not much that could have been said openly in 1956, but more subtle hints could have made that would have passed the censor. The 1959 Ben-Hur is a good example of what can be said about these things without saying anything directly.

    The acting varies in quality. Burton has presence as Alexander, but Darrieux is wasted in the ill-defined role of his mother. Incestuous desires on her part are suggested but nothing much is made of this. March is hammy as Philip, overacting a lot of the time. Peter Cushing stands out as Memnon, and there are a number of familiar British actors in minor roles. A pity that Stanley Baker does not have much material to work with; nor do Michael Hordern and Harry Andrews.

    The film is not especially deep or impressive, and does get a bit tedious and dull at times. The upcoming Oliver Stone film Alexander may be a better option, though you will have to wait until 2005, and Colin Farrell is no Richard Burton.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This film was originally released in CinemaScope and Technicolor.

    The print quality is variable, looking as if it has been put together from several different sources. This means that sharpness and clarity is different from scene to scene. Some sequences are very sharp and clear, and have a considerable depth to the image that make it look almost three-dimensional. Other sequences are fuzzy or blurry, an extreme example being at 91:19. Shadow detail is satisfactory.

    Colour is likewise variable. For the most part, colours are bright and vivid, with some good looking reds and blues, and there is no evidence of colour bleeding. In some sequences though the colour changes. For example, sometimes Burton's wig is golden, sometimes it just looks reddish. Flesh tones are sometimes accurate, sometimes not lifelike at all.

    Apart from some minor aliasing towards the end of the film, there are no film to video or compression artefacts in evidence.

    Film artefacts abound. There are white and coloured spots and flecks, which vary in frequency depending on the condition of the sequence. There is a flickering red stripe down the centre of the screen that appears briefly from 94:40. The opening explanatory title at 2:00 flickers severely. There is a lot of grain visible in some sequences.

    Subtitles are provided in several languages. The English subtitles are quite clear and easy to read, and seem to match the dialogue.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 67:05. My player seemed to have some trouble negotiating the layer change, with the screen frozen for more than a second. Even so, the change is not that disruptive, even though it is noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The default audio channel is Dolby Digital 2.0, with dubbed versions available in several languages.

    The audio track is an early stereo effort, which means that the use of the stereo sound field is somewhat primitive. If an actor appears on the right of the frame, then the voice comes from the right speaker. If the next shot has the same actor in the centre of the frame, the voice is centrally placed. This gets a bit disconcerting at times.

    There is surround encoding present. In Pro Logic mode, some of the music and effects are directed to the rear speakers. However, this is at the expense of the loss of the stereo front soundstage, where the dialogue is now entirely centrally placed. I would not recommend listening to this soundtrack in Pro Logic mode.

    Dialogue is quite clear throughout. I suspect some of the actors were dubbed, but the dubbing is quite good. Helmut Dantine, who appears in the opening scene as an Egyptian, seems dubbed to me, even though judging by his lip movements he was speaking his lines in English. The audio sounds quite good in the lower ranges, with some realistic bass. Burton's mellifluous voice comes across well. However, dialogue in the upper ranges, either female voices or some of the louder male voices, seems thin and strident, with some harshness. The absence of noise and hiss suggests that noise reduction has been applied, which has unduly emaciated the higher frequencies.

    The music score is by Mario Nascimbene. To be honest, apart from the opening music and some heavily beaten drums towards the end of the film, I did not notice the score very often. This is probably a good thing. It does sound like the definitive spear-and-sandal score, from what I noticed.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Theatrical Trailer (2:42)

    This is quite funny, though not intentionally. It reminded me of those gag trailers that cropped up on comedy shows, like Monty Python's Flying Circus for example. It is 16x9 enhanced and in similar condition to the feature.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is a Region 2 release which appears to be identical to the Region 4.

    A Region 1 release is scheduled for September 2004, but apart from being 16x9 enhanced like this release, I have no information as to what will be included.

Summary

    Not a bad film, but unfortunately not a good one either.

    The video quality is variable, though the problem is with the source materials, not the transfer.

    The audio quality is below average.

    The sole extra is a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, August 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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