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20th Century Fox presents
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

"I've given Jerusalem my whole life. Everything. First I thought we...were fighting for God. Then I realized we were fighting for wealth and land. I was ashamed."
- Tiberias (Jeremy Irons)

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: October 14, 2005

Stars: Orlando Bloom
Other Stars: Eva Green, Ghassan Massoud, Jeremy Irons, Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Edward Norton
Director: Ridley Scott

Manufacturer: deluxe digital studios
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, epic warfare
Run Time: 02h:24m:24s
Release Date: October 11, 2005
UPC: 024543206408
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B-A+A+ A-

DVD Review

Ridley Scott always makes every frame enchanting thanks to his uncanny eye for the aesthetic. Even in his weaker work, Scott's visual palettes nearly always make the film worth a viewing and such is the case with Kingdom of Heaven. This vivid, brutally violent imagining of the Crusades has heart and soul, but not enough brains to make it fully compelling.

The peasant Balian (Orlando Bloom) is the illegitimate son of a knight, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson). Returning to France in 1184, Godfrey and his Hospitaler (a priest who serves with the military, played by David Thewlis) learn that Balian's wife has committed suicide in light of their infant daughter's death. Lost in despair, Balian reluctantly agrees to accompany his father to the Holy Land, where it is claimed that one can be pardoned for all transgressions. Godfrey's company is ambushed on their journey through Europe, in a brilliant scene with more than a few echoes of the Germania sequences in Scott's Gladiator, by officials seeking to arrest Balian for murdering a priest. Through this and their travels, Balian receives some quick lessons on how to become a knight, and, after his father's death, arrives in Jerusalem as the Baron of Ibelin.

The heart of the story, from a script by David Monahan, is in the politics and religion of the Crusades. Balian seeks to hear God's voice, but only finds Jerusalem squabbling with religious zealots whose aims are far from Christian. Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) and his Knights Templar, run by the bloodthirsty Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson), try to provoke the Muslims into a war. Only by the grace of Jerusalem's Christian leper king (Edward Norton) and the sagacious Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) does the city escape war. The naïve Balian soon finds himself an intricate player in all of this when the king's sister and Guy's wife, Sibylla (Eva Green), falls in love with him and thrusts him into the royal court's politics. Soon the king is dead and Guy ascends to the throne, causing war to ensue and Balian to rise as the defender of Jerusalem.

The story of Balian seems trivial in comparison to the larger issues of a culture war fueled by religion. Scott tells an earnest tale about a man seeking to find peace with God, but the character of Balian never feels authentic. The script seems to conveniently forget that he murders an innocent man at the film's beginning. Additionally, Balian's transformation from peasant blacksmith to the inspired leader of Jerusalem's last defense against Saladin is rushed and too abrupt—there's no progression in his battle expertise, he simply goes from learning how to swing a sword to commanding legions of men. Next to all the other people of the story, especially the grizzled military marshall, Tiberias (impeccably played by Jeremy Irons), Balian seems an odd focal point of the story. Saladin, the Leper King, Guy de Lusignan, and even Godfrey all have a greater position in the events on screen and appear far more interesting than the rather solemn, fresh-faced knight-in-the-making.

Undoubtedly some of Balian's ineptness can be attributed to Orlando Bloom, who is a fine actor but whose face is far too tranquil to belong to a crusader. Once adopting the chain mail and helmet of his costume, however, Bloom is able to pass himself off as a warrior. It is in the character scenes when he delivers speeches to the troops and discusses politics with his elders that Bloom is unable to pass muster. By contrast, the rest of the cast is excellent in every respect. Norton—who acts under a mask and still conveys emotion—and Massoud come off best, portraying their characters with powerful restraint. Gleeson and Csokas make delicious antagonists, even if Guy and Reynald's irrational desire for war is never adequately explained. Irons also does well with his limited screen time; so much so, in fact, that I would prefer to see a film that focuses on the life of Tiberias.

While the characters are a mixed bag, the special effects and action sequences are nothing short of amazing. The siege of Jerusalem is riveting, being staged effectively and uniquely. To some extent, the massive CGI shots of warring armies are reminiscent of Troy and The Return of the King, but Scott paces his major set piece differently than other recent battle scenes. Choosing to interrupt the action with quips about war and religion, Scott allows the action scenes to help develop the larger themes of tolerance and nobility. There's nothing especially profound about the script's insights, but John Mathieson's cinematography and Arthur Max's production design are so strong that, while watching it, I never cared.

Not a single shot or scene in Kingdom of Heaven is bad, but the narrative drive of Balian just simply doesn't feel developed enough to merit all the lavish visuals and scope of the film. Allegedly, Scott's first cut ran nearly an hour longer than this current version. In its present form, the movie is a solid period piece, but with those extra 60 minutes, it could be a great piece... period.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is exquisite, simply put. The colors look fantastic, detail is stunning, contrast is outstanding, and blacks are richly textured. Splendid work!

Image Transfer Grade: A+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The DTS 5.1 mix is a fully engaging track, especially in Balian's sword fight scenes prior to arriving in Jerusalem. Sound separation and directionality open up the mix, giving it tremendous dynamic range and utilizing the rear-channels well. The music also comes across nicely, permeating from all directions without calling attention to itself. The dialogue is well balanced in the midst of all the action, always being audible and crisp. A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also available, though I did not detect much of a difference between the two on my system. Furthermore, French and Spanish Dolby stereo 2.0 mixes are also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 46 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Cast Away, Man on Fire
3 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single
Layers Switch: 01h:27m:16s

Extra Extras:
  1. The Pilgrim's Guidea text commentary containing historical and production facts.
Extras Review: This two-disc set is a worthy purchase for anybody who enjoyed the theatrical cut of the film, but it is widely believed (and has pretty much been confirmed, though not officially) that a director's cut will be released next year in an even more impressive DVD. Nonetheless, the special features here are quite good and merit a look.

Disc 1 contains trailers for Cast Away and Man on Fire, both of which are shown in 1.33:1 pan-and-scan with Dolby Stereo sound. There's also an Inside Look featurette for the upcoming theatrical release of Tristan and Isolde, though it is little more than a glamorized trailer. The real supplement of interest on the first disc is The Pilgrim's Guide, an option subtitle track that provides text commentary about the production and the Crusades. The emphasis of the track is largely (practically exclusively) on the history of the events depicted in the film. Just about every aspect of the time period is touched upon, risking an information overload. The text cards are awfully dense, so be ready to read quickly. However, this is a solid feature and actually sheds some light on the real story that inspired the film.

Over on Disc 2, there's a special feature called an Interactive Production Grid. The grid has nine sections that encompass all aspect of the movie. You can follow the director, cast, or crew in either pre-production, production, or post-production. Think of it as a multiplication table, with the stages of production on the X-axis and the person's position on the Y-axis. Each of the nine sections can be viewed separately or all together as a single documentary with a total running time of 01h:23m:43s. Played together, they make for one of the best making-of documentaries I've ever seen. The stuff on director Ridley Scott and the crew is of the most interest, since the actors don't move beyond discussing the trivial aspects of the job. The conclusion of the piece is a bit preachy, but otherwise this is a stunning portrait of the effort and thoughts that went into making the film.

Also on the second disc are a pair of television documentaries, A&E MovieReal: Kingdom of Heaven (44m:26s) and History vs. Hollywood: Kingdom of Heaven (42m:54s). Airing originally on the History Channel, the latter piece is a compelling comparison between what really happened and the movie's depiction. The show is more focused on the Crusades in general, but does debunk some erroneous reporting by the filmmakers. The A&E MovieReal also compares the movie to history, but has a decidedly more pedantic approach to reporting history. The two documentaries together, however, work to educate about the motives and general history of the Crusades and their effect on the world.

Rounding out the special features are four internet featurettes, Ridley Scoot: Creating Worlds, Orlando Bloom: The Adventure of a Lifetime, Production Design: Bringing an Old City to Life, and Costume Design: Creating Character Through Wardrobe. The four can be played together for a combined runtime of 09m:25s, or else you can watch them separately. Lastly, the film's theatrical trailer is presented in nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo sound.

The extras combine together to give a vivid history lesson and picture of the film's production, so be sure to watch them.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

Slightly disappointing, Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven is a visually stunning, well-crafted epic that fails to ignite its audience due to an unfulfilling lead character. The image and sound transfers capture the energy of the film and the extras are impressive in their own right.

 


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