Alexander Nevsky (1938)

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Released 11-Apr-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Menu Animation & Audio
Notes
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1938
Running Time 107:40
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Sergei Eisenstein
Studio
Distributor
Sovexportfilm
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Nikolai Cherkassov
N. P. Okhlopkov
A.L. Abrikossov
V. O. Masalitinova
V.S. Ivasheva
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $32.95 Music Sergei Prokofiev


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Once again we return to the quietly understated work of the great Sergei Eisenstein for the last of the recent batch of releases from Force Video comprising the great master's work. Quietly understated? Yes, well, clearly Sergei Eisenstein had absolutely no concept whatsoever of the meaning of quiet understatement, and so we once again have an epic of monumental proportions that few, if any, have been able to approach let alone top. This film just oozes Sergei Eisenstein from start to finish.

    This time the story starts way back in 1242 when Russia was the whipping boy of the world, subject to invasion by just about any power who dreamt of world domination: well, at least the world as it was known in 1242. Having suffered raids by the Mongol hordes repeatedly, news comes of an impending invasion by the Teutons. The wealthy of the land decide to enter into a pact with the Germans but this does not sit well with the proletarian masses. Enter into the picture one Alexander, now a gentle fisherman but once the revered leader who defeated the Swedes in battle. Upon hearing that the town of Pskov has fallen to the Germans, the masses in the town of Novgorod call upon Alexander to lead them into battle. After meeting a delegation of soldiers from Novgorod, Alexander agrees to lead them in battle, not to save Novgorod but to save Rus (pretty much the current Russia), despite the feeble protestations of the Lord of Novgorod. Naturally Alexander leads his band of predominantly peasants into battle with great success and returns to Novgorod after routing the German army and capturing their leaders. Along the way, we also have a rather amusing sub-plot of two soldiers who are trying to curry the favour of a lovely local girl as far as marriage goes. She decides to choose to marry the one who displays the greatest valour in the upcoming battle. A little twist in the end sees her having the choice made for her by one of the soldiers in favour of the other, since he happens to have taken a fancy to a warrior who fought well in the battle.

    It has to be understood that this was made during the early part of the repressive years of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and clearly Sergei Eisenstein had to work very closely with what the government wanted to see in film. Accordingly, this really smacks of blatant propaganda at times with a whole horde of clichés to contend with - the Soviet woman fighting alongside her male comrades, the Soviet masses rising up in opposition to the wealthy few, the under-trained and under-equipped Soviet army overcoming overwhelming odds to secure a glorious victory, and so on and so forth. Still, if you can accept these obvious propaganda clichés, there is much to enjoy here.

    Obviously Nikolai Cherkassov was a great talent in Soviet film of the era as he gets plenty of exposure in the work of Sergei Eisenstein, and for good reason. He has a commanding presence on-screen that, like the previous films in this little series of Russian films, pervades the entire film. He is the focal point and we certainly cannot forget it. He gets decent support from the rest of the cast although their abilities are not in the same league in general. Vera Ivashova for instance really does not carry off the role of the coy young lady too well at all, but in many respects that is part of the charm of this film. What really stands out here though is the magnificent vistas that Eisenstein tried to bring to the screen: just look at the setting of Novgorod for instance and you will see what I mean. This is not a film shot in some little pokey studio somewhere - this is outdoors in real-life vistas. In that regard Eisenstein's films make a very interesting comparison with, for instance, the quite cozy, intimate surroundings favoured by Alfred Hitchcock in his contemporaneous films. And, just as Hitchcock favoured small intimate casts, Eisenstein does not let us down with his almost signature crowds: once again he has assembled an army of real size and scope to fill out the vistas that he creates. Indeed in many respects this film is closer to something of the ilk of Dances With Wolves in scope rather than the films of his English contemporary.

    Once you get past the propaganda, this is actually quite a pleasurable romp through very early Russian history and there is much to enjoy here. Rated quite highly by the voters on the Internet Movie Database, I fully understand why and this is probably the best of the films of Sergei Eisenstein that I have seen, barring Bronenosets Potyomkin. This is well worth the effort of a viewing, even with the inherent problems with the transfer. Of interest though is the fact that this has a G rating - whilst acknowledging that despite all the killing going on there is no actual blood in sight, nor any actual wounds, I am a little surprised that the strong hints of the tossing of children into a burning fire did not attract a higher rating.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    After having watched the mess that is the transfer for Jamaica Inn immediately prior to watching this film, bearing in mind that the Hitchcock film is actually a year younger than this film, I was rather anticipating the worst here. Surprisingly, this is a lot better, which may have reams to say about the relative merits of Soviet archiving and appreciation of the worth of these films, as opposed to British archiving and non-appreciation of the film medium.

    The transfer is presented in a full frame format.

    The first surprise for me here was that the transfer does not suffer much in the way of inconsistency in the visual aspect of the transfer. This is generally quite sharp and well detailed, with barely a glimpse of any softness or murkiness in the transfer. The second surprise was that the transfer has a quite bright tone to it and a better than respectable clarity as well. Detail is generally quite good, and this really helps those wide-open vistas that Sergei was trying to let us see. Shadow detail is not especially great, but that is to be expected in a film of this vintage. There does not appear to be any low level noise problems with the transfer.

    Whilst it would be lying to suggest that the film has a gorgeous depth to the black and white tones, this is nonetheless a nice looking transfer with some rather nice definition to the grey tones. They come up looking quite well and there is very little problem with delineation of the grey tones at all. This is partly aided by the bright tone of the transfer, which really prevents anything descending too far into the depths of murkiness and indistinction.

    There did not appear to be any significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer. As usual, the problem in this transfer is the film artefacts and whilst quite significant chunks of the film are surprisingly clear of artefacts, others are positively riddled with them - in particular there are some rather gross scratches and other unsightly blemishes here. Overall, though, I would have to say that the artefacts were far less intrusive than I expected, and they were ultimately only minimally disruptive to the enjoyment of the film.

    It would seem that the film has been subjected to some restoration of sorts as the opening credits are distinctly cleaner than the rest of the film. As is usual for these films, the English subtitles are not selectable, but rather are burned into the picture. Compounding this however is the fact that the subtitles are again in white lettering which is difficult at times to read against the light background of the film. The subtitles were apparently done in 1982 by the Soviets, and a pretty funny lot they are too. Very antiquated in their phrasing, they border on being Russlish as opposed to English. They add a quite unintentional comedic scope to the film.

Audio

    The audio transfer is virtually identical to that of the other films in the series, and really is pretty poor.

    There is just the one audio track on the DVD, a Russian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. You should note that the track is flagged as an English track but it is definitely Russian. Again, I would not be surprised to discover that this is the very original sound recording for the film, as it is again a quite muffled effort. Another poor example of a mono soundtrack. It is a very constricted sounding effort and suffers noticeably from mild distortion and drop-outs virtually throughout. At times, it was a little difficult to listen to the dialogue. There did not seem to be any significant problems with audio sync.

    Like Ivan Groznyj I and Ivan Groznyj II, the musical score comes from Sergei Prokofiev. The result is something of a quasi-operatic style at times, which would suggest to me that this is either derived from, or was the basis for, his rather wonderful cantata of the same name (of course, it may well be the same piece too). The audio really does not help the music at all here and you really miss out on an awful lot of the detail in the score: had the soundtrack been a lot better, this score would have positively shone, as there sounds as if there is some quite wonderful singing here.

    To be honest I have heard better sounding stuff from an over-stretched cassette tape. The vocal track is very recessed in the mix and quite frontal, and this sounds as if it is coming from a sound source about ten metres behind the video source. The reality is that this is coming at you straight from the centre speaker with nothing from any other channel, and the overall constriction in the sound is what gives this the poor co-ordination of the audio and visual experiences. Toss in the mild distortion and this really is something decidedly unspectacular indeed. Whilst I am not asking for nor expecting a full 5.1 digital remastering, I would have thought that a cleaning up of this constricted effort would not have been asking too much. As a note for those who enjoy foley work - you will hear some pretty poor efforts here, especially with the sound of horses hooves.

Extras

    The extras are another rather limited effort, but at least they are consistent with previous efforts from this source.

Menu

    The audio enhancement is dubious at best as it suffers from the same constricted, mildly distorted sound as the main feature. The big problem though is that the selection indicator is barely visible against the background grey.

Notes

    This offers a brief history of Alexander Nevsky, so again you get a bit of historical context about the man. It is presented as another of those scrolling efforts in common with other Force Video releases, but once again it is one of those efforts that once it gets to the end of the notes does not stop unless you select the menu option.

R4 vs R1

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

    It would appear that the Region 4 release is pretty much identical to the Region 1 version, at least as far as the package is concerned. If the transfers are much the same, then Region 4 is the region of choice.

Summary

    After Bronenosets Potyomkin I would suggest that Aleksandr Nevsky is the best of this short series of Sergei Eisenstein's films from Force Video. A fine film, once you get past the propaganda, and a decent enough transfer in the circumstances, unless you are a real stickler. Well worth indulging in a rental of this one, although what The Criterion Collection would do with this one would be worthwhile seeing.

    A reasonably decent video transfer.

    A poor audio transfer.

    An uninspiring extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Tuesday, May 30, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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