I’ve come to rely upon the five-star rating system in Netflix. I know there is no guarantee I’ll like a five-star movie nor hate a 2-and-a-half star one, but it is a good guide to at least point me in the right direction. This is somewhat mitigated by Netflix’s decision to give the “for you” rating which differs from the actual rating. Frequently, when I notice a movie is rated much lower than I think it would be, I notice that Netflix has discounted the rating “for me.” Even more frequently they are right to discount a title that, while popular, just isn’t for me.
With Amazon, on the other hand, ratings can be problematic. This is not just a streaming-video problem – similar issues involve all the products on their site – but it seems more acute when it comes to their video offerings. In particular, it seems hard to find a movie, show… what have you… that isn’t rated somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, give or take.
When it comes to Amazon users, it seems there isn’t a product out there that doesn’t have someone who loved it (no matter how bad it would seem to be objectively) as well as someone who had an absolutely terrible experience (again, even if they were the only one). Add to that, there are the users who give one star because the particular shade of blue didn’t match the other appliances in their kitchen. Others might say “the product is fine, but I really didn’t like the packaging. Two stars.” Finally, there are those five-star reviews that say, “I haven’t assembled by product yet, by I was really impressed with the prompt delivery.”
I won’t even go near the accusations of cheating within the product rating system though the use of phony user-reviews connected to the seller. I’ll leave it to the wizards at Amazon to figure that one out. But even if the reviews are “honest,” they are tough to rely upon. But with so much stuff being sold through Amazon, one needs at least some ability to triage the offerings to narrow things down to a reasonable set of choices.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand.
Having missed the “Director’s Cut” of Oliver Stone’s Alexander before it was removed from Netflix, I wanted to look for something to get me into that ancient Macedonian mood. Field of Glory II has extended its reach back to the wars of Alexander the Great. Mare Nostrvm covers a similar period, but on the sea. Both titles are subject to sale prices in the Steam summer sales.
Amazon has a half-a-dozen or so possibilities that are available with Prime video. None of the available choices are particularly well known, so I decided to go with the highest rated. Alexander the Great is a two-part series that seems to fit the bill. Three-and-half stars or so with a number of very positive written reviews (and one terrible one, naturally).
What this show turned out to be was something else.
It is a made-for-TV German production following the standard History Channel formula. The video mixes head shots of various academic experts cut in with sweeping Aegean scenery and a dash of live action reenactment from key points in the life of Alexander. So far so standard.
The problems, however, kick in immediately. The voices have been re-dubbed. For the first “talking head” they didn’t completely remove the German, so you have this odd effect of hearing German softly in the background and English in the foreground. But I can live with that.
The re-dubbing of the narrator seems decent and professional, except where he occasionally slaughters some pronunciation*. The re-dubbing of the various academics is a real mixed-bag. Some of them sound OK and some of them sound just weird. I also have to wonder if the translations are really accurate, or are they skimping on the translations to try to match the words to the video. Part of the way its done makes me wonder if there is an effort to obscure the fact that this is a non-English production.
Then there are the reenactments, which are probably on par with the lesser History Channel offerings. The dubbing, however, is not. If the academics voices seemed weird, some of those ancient Greeks are even more so. Reviewers on Amazon were impressed with the scenery and costumes. The main figures indeed have decent costumes, although given the haphazardness of the rest of the production I don’t know whether to accept them as correct for the period. Several of the background figures, on the other hand, stood out like sore thumbs. They appeared to be wearing t-shirts printed with a shimmery material so as to look like metal breastplates. I guess its better than nothing.
I got so far in Alexander’s life to where he and his mother fled into exile after Alexander insulted his father’s drunkenness. Flee this production, too, shall I.
*The one that killed me is he referred to Alexanders cavalry as “Calvary.” Oddly, that one got hammered into me in public school, I think an elementary grade. I had a teacher that got rather angry when some of us kids were saying “Calvary” when referring to horses. She told us we were wrong, and explained to us what Calvary means. You probably can’t do that in today’s public schools, can you?