Kingdom of Heaven
January 13, 2006
Ridley Scott, ,
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Sheen, Jeremy Irons, Edward Norton, Eva Green, Eriq Ebouaney, Jouko Ahola, David Thewlis, Philip Glenister, Kevin McKidd, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Steven Robertson, Marton Csokas, ,
There’s a moment in Kingdom of Heaven where our hero Balian asks his enemy Saladin what the city of Jerusalem is worth to him. “Nothing,” he replies. “Everything.” This paradox is the prevailing problem with the film itself; Scott pours lavish attention on sets, costumes and no-doubt faultless historical accuracy, yet fails to explain character motivations or simply how one little training scene turns Balian into a winning swordsman during the crusades. It’s like a really good jigsaw that is missing one or two pieces to make it complete.
After the death of his wife and son, blacksmith Balian is visited by a knight named Godfrey (Neeson) who reveals himself to be his father and asks him to join him in the crusades; a religious war between Europe and the East, Christians and Arabs. Jerusalem (The Kingdom of Heaven where all sin is forgiven) is under siege and the only thing preventing all out war is the will of leper King Baldwin. Balian has lost his faith in God but has nothing left to lose and so follows Godfrey. In Jerusalem, he meets and falls for Sibylla, wife of dastardly Guy De Lusignan, who is the leader of the Muslim hatred.
Much has been said about the religious aspect of the film, which basically asks the question: do we use God as an excuse to do good or do bad? Broken men like Balian or Tiberias (Irons) say that if it is God’s will then it will happen on its own, whereas the religious men seem to do what they wish and claim it as God’s intention. It’s ironic that both sides, east and west, want peace but are willing to go to war to own the Kingdom of Heaven. Jerusalem is a symbol, not just a city.
The advent of CGI and the success of Lord of the Rings has done the impossible and resurrected the biblical epic from the ashes, mostly so we can see ten thousand soldiers going at it. After Braveheart and Scott’s own Gladiator, isn’t it getting a bit old? Again? Well yes and no. The battles are epic and expertly rendered but the performances are what we connect with and here we have a great cast led by the best of British. Bloom is believable in his rise to power and you appreciate how he uses his brain more than his sword, but he’s oddly disconnected and hard to really root for with a passion. Neeson, once again playing the mentor, and Irons chew the fat but are left with little to do come the second half. Saladin is the political enemy but the real baddies here are Reynauld (Gleeson) and slimy Guy De Lusignan, who simply want chaos and war to gain more power. But the real scene-stealer is Edward Norton, unrecognisable as the kindly King Baldwin, both visually and audibly with his impeccable English accent.
It’s a long film but you get the feeling you’re being short-changed with the narrative. Eva Green’s character Sibylla chops off her hair for no real reason, and just when you’ve learnt a character’s name they introduce three more; it’s hard to keep track of who’s who, or more importantly why they are doing what they’re doing. There are whispers that a longer version will be released later this year, but if that’s the case why couldn’t they get it right first time around? There’s much to enjoy in Kingdom of Heaven but it’s lacking that special something.
Along with the feature on disc one, we get a Pilgrim’s Guide text commentary – a surprisingly insightful (if not particularly well proof-read) view of life back in the 12th Century which includes more info about the real life characters and events. For example, did you know Friday the 13th is unlucky because it’s the day the Templer knights were arrested for heresy? The only other feature on this disc is an Inside Look at “Tristan & Isolde” – a Robin Hood style fable directed, funnily enough, by Kevin ‘Prince of Thieves’ Reynolds.
Disc two offers several production featurettes in the form of an “interactive grid.” This intriguing feature allows you several choices of which faze of the production to jump to, or you can simply watch the whole 83 minute documentary. Next up is a 43 minute A&E Moviereel documentary – the sort of thing you’d see on the History channel. It mixes interviews about the film with historians discussing how accurate it all is. On top of this there are several internet featurettes and the trailer. This is a well put together disc, but like the film you don’t always get the whole story. Cut scenes are glimpsed (Balian’s pregnant wife, Sibylla’s previously unmentioned son) and so the likelihood of an extended special edition seems inevitable. Perhaps patience is the way to go…