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on 31 March 2017
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on 5 January 2014
Released in 1938 to enthusiastic Russian audiences, this film depicting the battle against the Germans invading Russia in 1242 was whisked straight off the cinema screen when Russia and Germany signed a non-aggression pact at the start of World War II. I suppose it's only slightly surprising that the director, Sergei Eisenstein wasn't shot for his impudence in making the film, at all.

However, when the pact collapsed in 1941, Alexander Nevsky was straight back in front of cinema audiences who greeted its re-emergence with almost hysterical enjoyment and with the Russian people fighting back against the - initially - inexorable advance of the German army, it's clear to see why.

Eisenstein's direction is excellent, as is Eduard Tisse's cinematography and as for Prokofiev's tremendous score for the battle on the ice, it really is rousing.

The patriotic theme of the film is very much in evidence and understandable - although the quaint Russian homilies, jocularly cackled in the middle of battle by the old greybeard, do get a bit much.

It's said that Laurence Olivier pinched the idea of the French charge at Agincourt in `Henry V' from the film - maybe, although he used a dolly shot and Eisenstein's filming was static - but whatever the case, it was arguably the best Russian film of a generation.
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on 10 August 2008
Eisenstein's first sound film retells the battle of the ice of 1242, when the Russians under Alexander Nevsky defeated the Livonian knights, eager to bring Russia under Roman Catholicism. Made in 1938, Nevsky can be seen as a piece of propaganda: the Germanic knights, with their sinister (and somewhat goofy) helmets are obvious stand-ins for the Nazis. The butchery by the knights when they enter a Russian town seems a prophetic warning of the massacres of World War II. The film ends with a warning: those who came to Russia with the sword will die by the sword. Made in delicate black and white (somewhat reminiscent of a daguerreotype), it also marked Eisenstein's return to official favor. By the late 1920s, Stalin wanted Soviet filmmakers to stop experimentation and made movies that would be more populist and palatable to the Russian public. That stopped Eisenstein's career in Russia for a decade, and in Nevsky he came back with his more accessible film. Nevsky's strong point is in its second half, which features the battle itself, and it is justly seen as a milestone in movie history: never before (and probably never after) a battle would be so vivid in the screen. Another strong point is Prokofiev's beautiful, haunting soundtrack (using a composer to score a movie was completely unusual at the time). One of its weaker points: the comic relief (in the form of two simpleton Russian warriors trying to woo a beautiful Russian peasant) is really jarring.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 September 2012
Eisentstein's equivalent to 'our' Laurence Olivier's 'Henry V' and what it did for moral and propaganda at the start of the last war had a shaky start. To give its people hope against the Nazi invasion in WWII, it was at first pulled from release as it was seen as not needed, because Hitler signed a treaty. When this treaty was violated soon after, it went out to arm the population.

And very monumental and majestic it all is, though to my eyes (and I've seen a good deal of Russian cinema since I bought and first watched this) it just looks a tad starchy and theatrically over-acted. It even gets turgid at times, but never boring and it's the landscape and all those 13th century churches shot against blue skies with an orange filter (in black & white) that gives a certain air of heightened unreality about it all.

Re-enacting the Teutonic invasion of the 13th century and culminating with the now famous battle scene on the ice and it then breaking, a good deal of it is about watching lines of men on horseback parading around. But, being Eisenstein and Russian, these scenes are superbly composed and muster a real sense of comradeship and bravado, which along with very patriotic 'hymns' about dying on the battlefield, certainly fulfils the film's task of igniting the spirit of a huge population, once again, facing a new enemy but from a similar place before.

Many of the character's faces are worthy of paintings themselves - interesting caricatures, whether peasant wives or noblemen, as the camera lingers on them. And, of course, with such notables as Battleship Pontempkin under his belt some 20 years previous, Eisenstein certainly knows how to mount battlescenes of magnitude and with great skill.

Unfortunately, however important this film is, certainly for Russia, it looks older than its age and sounds even worse. The film moves up and down on occasion and whilst it is commendably clear of flickering and scratches, it just looks like a Hollywood made ten years previous and while Prokofiev's suitably rousing score, written specially, is a strong plus, it sounds tinny and thin, getting screechy at high frequencies.

This is a shame, though you can buy quite reasonably a CD of the score separately. I did this with Prokofiev's Ivan the Terrible, as that was just as bad. Frankly, that sounds almost totally different to that in that film, in a full-sounding and modern stereo.

Alexander Nevsky is far more than a historical battle re-enactment, it is history itself, though that's not say that it's not without its flaws, at least with this particular DVD version.
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on 17 April 2003
I think "Alexander Nevsky" is the best of Eisenstein's works. It's also probably one of the most extraordinary historical films ever times except "Intolerance", "The Seven Samurai", Olivier's "Henry V" (inspired by Eisenstein's vision) and "Ivan the Terrible" of course. Plot is very simple: Teutonic Knigts attack Russia but the russian people crush their in great battle on frozen Lake Pejpus. Scene of battle is truly great and fantastic. In my opinion it's more exciting than fights in "Breaveheart" and "Joan of Arc" (by Luc Besson). Teutonic Knight wear white costumes and they look terryfying; russian people are dressed in black. "Alexander Nevsky" has beautyfull photography by Eduard Tisse - he was operator of all Eisenstein's films. Not only knight's wears are white but ice of the lake, the snow, the water and the heaven are white also - it's really symphony of the white. After see this film, some critic called Eisenstein "the best russian painter of all times". Music has wrote by Sergei Prokofiev, cantata "Alexander Nevsky" is one of the most famous works by this composer. I recommend "Alexander Nevsky". Extraordinary visions, great scenes, beautyfull photography and music. This film is a masterpiece!
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on 17 October 2012
When I bought this shortly after its release it went into the DVD player and then straight back to the shop! This was the worst transfer of the film I had ever seen - the video I owned was so much better. Luckily Criterion have released this in the States as part of an Eisenstein box set - get this, the image quality is stunning. Eureka now do a great job with all their releases but in the early days their releases were often very poor with picture quality control low on the priority list. I'm amazed that no other reviewers have commented on this aspect of the DVD.
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on 13 September 2004
I had forgotten how great a film this is. You must, of course, put aside all our tedious modern gimmickry and realism ... which surprisingly often obscure the true sense and impact of films ... and accept Eisenstein's work on its own terms. You then have something which literally brings tears to the eyes: the force of nobility and sacrifice which can, on occasion, stand over and above any flaws of nationalism, politics or calculated interest. You also have a stunning musical score from Prokoviev: tears to the eyes, indeed. The re-mastering is a success, though naturally the age of the filmstock shows through. Similarly, the sound track is a bit muddy, but Prokoviev's score has the force and clarity to overcome that; the need to overcome the technical weakness almost, in itself, seems to underscore the concept of heroic nobility facing against the odds running through the whole film. The camera work is, of course, excellent if you allow yourself to accept the notion of declaratory symbolic representation of ideals. Do not forget the idealistic message of true socialism! 1938 ... and the film shows almost uncanny foreknowledge of the Nazi assault on Russia to come, with all its horrors and ultimate victory. A great and unforgettable film.
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Alexander Nevsky may be an Eisenstein film, but that doesn't make it any less cheesy. In fact, it makes some of those Italian peplum look substantial by comparison, with its crude stereotyping and propaganda as the Russian people rise to save their homeland in defiance of the capitalist and aristocratic oppressors of the people and do battle with the baby-burning Papist Germans (how Stalin and Hitler ever signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact after this hatchet job is a mystery).

Much of the filming is as clumsy as the characterization, with obvious painted backdrops, clumsy medieval-speak dialog, constant reversion to silent moviemaking techniques at their least compelling and a tendency to go for height in the image to such an extent that the action is often barely clinging to the bottom of the frame. It's reputation rests on Prokofiev's dreary score and the spectacular battle on the ice, although both are a mixture of the good, the bad and the downright lazy. Only moments in the aftermath of the battle retain any real potency.

Eureka's UK PAL DVD boasts poor picture quality that looks like a standards conversion from an already poor NTSC master with no restoration.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 December 2015
In 1242, Russia in being invaded by two sides: from the orient by the Mongols and from Europe side, by the Germans Teutonic Knights of the Holy Roman Empire. The city of Novgorod is the last free city in Russia. The population, in order to organize the defense of Novgorod and the lands of Russia, calls the Prince Aleksandr Nevsky, who had defeated the Swedish in a previous battle. His successful strategy defeats the Germans, after a great battle on a frozen lake. This movie was made in 1938 due to the threaten of the German to Russia, in a pre-Second World War period. The idea was to make propaganda pro-Russia. However, it is an overwhelming, marvelous, stunning powerful masterpiece. It is amazing the combat scene on the frozen lake. The present generation is very accustomed to special effects, like in the `Lord of the Rings' trilogy, and maybe cannot understand how fantastic is this black and white fight. If the viewer can forget the ideology and watch it as an art, he will certainly be astonished in the end with such a masterpiece.
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2013
The year is 1242. Looks like Rus is being invaded by Teutonic Knights. There can be only one Roman Empire and Rus will be part of it in spite of its self. There is only one hope if the Ruskies are going to repel the Germans; they must employ a fisherman, Prince Alexander Nevsky (N. Cherkasov). Nevsky has had a recent reputation for repelling Swedish Invasion; he is a natural leader and a great tactician. The question is will this be enough to turn a country of peasants into a fighting machine strong enough to repel a religious fanatic professional army?

This film is a well designed (screen play by S. Eisenstein of "Battleship Potempkin fame) and executed film. The battle scenes are only surpassed by recent productions as in "Lord of the Rings" and I am not sure some of the scenes were borrowed from this film. On that note the action is supposed to be taking place in winter. However it was filmed in the summer. So they had to spread some silica mixture over the ground to look like snow.

An added plus is the film score that was created by S. Prokofiev who is best known for his music "Peter and the Wolf". The movie soundtrack is worth purchasing in its self.

Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf: With a Fully-Orchestrated and Narrated CD
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