Fox Home Entertainment presents
Kingdom of Heaven: Four-Disc Director's Cut (2005)
Hospitaler: I go to pray.
Balian: For what?
Hospitaler: For the strength to endure what is to come.- David Thewlis, Orlando Bloom
Stars: Orlando Bloom
Other Stars: Eva Green, Marton Csokas, David Thewlis, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Alexander Siddig, Michael Sheen, Jon Finch, Alexander Potts, Nathalie Cox
Director: Ridley Scott
Manufacturer: deluxe digital studios
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (graphic violence, a scene of sexuality)
Run Time: 03h:13m:43s
Release Date: 2006-05-23
DVD ReviewWhen Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven opened in May 2005 to mixed reviews and underwhelming box office returns, I concurred with the sentiment that his Crusades epic was a disappointment. Brilliantly crafted and sincere at heart, the film ultimately felt hollow due to poor character development and a story barely distinguishable from any other sword-and-sandal picture of late. Fans of Scott, however, were assured that this was not the director's preferred cut. One year later, 50 minutes of footage have been added back into his opus. The result is not only a better movie, but also an utterly different experience from what audiences did (or, more likely, did not) witness last year.
The basic storyline is no different than the theatrical version, but it is clear within the first ten minutes that we're in for a much richer, grander epic. Whereas before the blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) simply trots off to Jerusalem after murdering a priest, writer William Monahan's script is now allowed its proper breathing room. It turns out the priest (Michael Sheen) is actually Balian's brother and the murder is more a result of years of spiritual and physical torment than a nihilistic act. Frankly, I still am bothered by this plot point (especially since the story conveniently forgets about it afterwards), but Balian's psyche is much more resonant now.
The inclusion of this information seems to have a trickling effect on the rest of the story. Balian's relationship to his illegitimate father, the aging knight Godfrey (Liam Neeson), contains more nuances. We also come to realize that Balian is not merely a blacksmith, but also a former warrior and engineer. Thus, when he arrives in Jerusalem and takes his new position as the Baron of Ibelin, Balian is not the fish-out-of-the-water seen in the theatrical cut. His stay in the Holy Land, accompanied by Godfrey's Hospitaler (David Thewlis), is much more intriguing as a result. Before, the young knight simply showed up to woo princess Sibylla (Eva Green), temper the villainous Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), and defend Jerusalem from the awesome Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). In the director's cut, Scott takes a closer look at each of these characters—and many, many more—to create a film with multiple layers concerning politics, religion, and moral action.
As Sibylla's husband Guy works with Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) to forge a war between Saladin and King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), Balian tries to start life anew after losing his wife and child in France. The greatest contribution to the movie is the reintegration of Sibylla's character. She is now elevated above being a pitiful love interest whose only purpose is to appoint Guy king. A subplot concerning her son (Alexander Potts) provides the necessary motivation for her actions. As Saladin lays siege on Jerusalem, Sibylla's fall into despair is more devastating and comprehendible than before. In this new cut, Eva Green's performance is genuinely remarkable. Playing the role of a distraught mother, she is subtle and believable. In fact, every performance seems more complete this time around. Csokas and Gleeson are no longer merely bad guys designed to fuel the story, but now three-dimensional beings that have their own yearnings for power.
However, this new version of Kingdom of Heaven does not rectify all the problems found in the theatrical cut. To begin with, Orlando Bloom is not the right actor for this part. He's too childlike in appearance and, while the screenplay does make the character's transition from depressed widower to defender of Jerusalem quite convincing, Bloom still feels like a pretty boy trying to act tough. Additionally, Monahan and Scott are far too aware of contemporary world issues for the film's own good. They aren't taking sides or pontificating recklessly, but there's also a feeling that each character seems to be too aware of his position in history. Not a single character seems to be thinking as if they are living in the year 1184. With speeches about political expediency and ethical theory, the dialogue is clearly coming from a 21st century point-of-view. To a certain extent this is okay, but it ultimately breaks down the fourth wall and reminds me that I'm watching a movie.
Next to the grandeur of the visuals and sound design, though, these objections do diminish. The crew, especially production designer Arthur Max and cinematographer John Mathieson, put their talents to good use in creating the most vivid portrait of the Crusades ever put on film. Gorgeous vistas and an utterly convincing re-creation of Jerusalem provide a striking background for the drama. Seeing this 194-minute director's cut in the roadshow format brings to mind all the great epics of the 1950s and '60s. While this certainly isn't on the level of Spartacus or Lawrence of Arabia, the filmmaking is some of the most ambitious and sophisticated in recent years. Weaving between Balian's quest for inner peace, Sibylla's harrowing motherhood, and pending war, Scott and editor Dody Dorn bring genuine depth to the impressive production values. By intertwining these storylines, the filmmakers tell a character driven epic that is visually stunning, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally satisfying.
Finally, after a year's wait, we can see Kingdom of Heaven as it is meant to be seen.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Looking at the original two-disc release, I honestly thought the film could never look better on DVD. It turns out that I was wrong, because the image transfer here is crisper, more vibrant, and better in every respect. Detail is astonishing and blacks looks ravishing. There's a tremendous depth to the picture that creates a film-like look. Truly, a marvelous achievement.
Image Transfer Grade: A+
Audio Transfer Review: Again, I truly thought the original DVD release was about as good as the film could sound, and now I'm proven wrong. The DTS 5.1 mix easily aces out its predecessor, bringing more bass (especially when Balian initially enters Jerusalem) and creating a more engaging experience. Separation and directionality are pretty much the same as before, though this isn't a complaint. Dialogue is crisper and better balanced. Compared to the accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, this DTS track carries more distinct mixing and is ultimately more satisfying. However, the Dolby Digital mix is also impressive.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 64 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tristan & Isolde
50 TV Spots/Teasers
15 Deleted Scenes
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Orlando Bloom, Dody Dorn, Lisa Ellzey, William Monahan, Ridley Scott, Wesley Sewell, Adam Somner
- Insert—contains facts about the production, as well as an index to all the features found on this set.
- Director's Cut Introduction by Ridley Scott—a video introduction featuring Ridley Scott as he discussed the nature of this new cut.
- The Enginer's Guide—a text trivia track containing information about the production.
- Galleries—a comprehensive collection of still images consisting of storyboards, information on the failed Tripoli project, Ridley Scott's note cards, production photos, publicity stills, director's cut credits, and poster designs.
- Sound Design Suite—an interactive grid that allows you to listen to various audio tracks used to create the ambush scene's final mix.
In addition to the absolutely beautiful packaging, a collectible insert is also included. Consisting of interview excerpts and factoids, this offers a concise overview of the production as well as an index of what can be found on each disc. Moving to the discs themselves, things begin with a nonanamorphic 1.85:1 trailer for Tristan & Isolde that plays prior to the first disc's main menu. The film is split across Discs 1 and 2, featuring an intermission and entr'acte. Before the film begins on Disc 1 there is a Director's Cut Introduction by Ridley Scott (01m:01s). He explains that this is his preferred cut of the movie and discusses the differences between the two versions.
There are three feature-length audio commentaries. The first features Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan, and star Orlando Bloom. Scott dominates the track with a wealth of information about the challenges of making the movie. Especially intriguing is Scott's explanation of the politics involved with marketing and editing a movie for summer audiences. Bloom also has some nice moments, discussing anecdotes from the shoot as well as offering his perspective on Balian. Sadly, Monahan comes across as a pompous jerk, constantly claiming himself to be more authoritative on the Crusades than any of the real historians. Each of the participants is recorded separately and their comments are spliced together in a rather seamless fashion.
The same can be said of the second commentary, featuring executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, and first assistant director Adam Somner. Ellzey provides an excellent look at the film's development, discussing problems with getting it made in a post-9/11 world. She also offers some tidbits about working with Scott and how monumental an undertaking Kingdom of Heaven was. Sewell also comes across well here, explaining the ideas behind the visual effects shots and making the transition from visual effects editor to supervisor on this project. However, the most entertaining is Somner. His blue-collar British accent is lively as he explains the logistics of filming a major epic and his reaction to seeing the film in theaters.
The final audio commentary comes courtesy of editor Dody Dorn. Most of her focus is on the changes made between this version and the theatrical cut. Apart from some brief moments when she discusses her own vision for a scene and how others got involved in the editing, this is largely a superfluous track. Next up is The Enginer's Guide, a feature-length trivia track about the production. Some of the information here is carried over from the previous DVD's trivia track, but most is new. It isn't as informative as I would've liked, since a lot of time is spent focusing on the actors' other roles and referring viewers to Discs 3 and 4, but it is a nice supplement nonetheless.
The highlight of the special features comes from the six-part documentary The Path to Redemption (02h:23m:01s). The first three parts (Good Intentions, Faith and Courage, and The Pilgrimage Begins) are on Disc 3 and chronicle the development, pre-production and production in Spain, respectively. Each segment can be viewed on its own or all together. No stone is left unturned here, with the development and pre-production aspects being exceptionally thorough. There's even a detailed look at Tripoli, Scott's doomed epic that was abandoned prior to working on this piece. Absolutely anybody of importance—from producers to actors to principal crew members—provides interviews to detail their work and research. As good as these first three segments are, however, things get better over on Disc 4. Parts four through six (Into the Promised Land, The Burning Bush, and Sins and Absolution) examine production in Morocco, post-production, and the film's release, respectively. Into the Promised Land is probably my favorite part of the documentary, showing a ton of footage from the actual shoot. We get to see the raw dailies, outtakes, accidents, a fire that nearly destroyed the set, and everything else that happened during filming. The post-production material is also exceptionally good, showing meetings with the studio as well as a highly detailed segment on the film's score. All in all, this is probably the single most impressive making-of documentary I've ever seen.
Had enough yet? Well, brace yourself, because there are still numerous documentaries, featurettes, and galleries to explore. Returning to Disc 3, the Tripoli Overview is a gallery of conceptual art, models, production notes, and even some initial prep work. While brief and not particularly informative, it is inspiring enough to make one hope Scott will get this project of the ground. Following that is an Early Draft Screenplay by William Monahan. The differences are marginal here to what you'll find in the final film. One unique aspect of Monahan's writing is how many parentheticals he places before the dialogue—it's as if he's directing the actors through the script. Next up are Story Notes by Scott and Ellzey. The reproduction of note cards gives a closer look at how the makers compartmentalize major set pieces, but there's little in the way of context and the bad handwriting makes it difficult to discern what you're looking at.
In addition to the galleries mentioned above, there are several more found on both Disc 3 and 4. There's a Location Scout Gallery, Ridleygrams (i.e. Scott's own personal storyboards), Production Design Gallery, Costume Design Gallery, six Storyboards Galleries, Unit Photography Galleries, Special Shoot Gallery, and Poster Explorations. Assuming you have enough time to get through all of these, you'll find an amazing amount of detail and artistry. Some of the stills are little more than publicity photos, but there's so much material here that it really brings the amount of planning and talent involved here to the forefront.
Also found on Disc 3 are Cast Rehearsals (13m:23s). This is the first time anybody has been allowed access to Scott's unique way of rehearsing. The result is a candid, albeit too brief, look at the director and his actors finding the characters. Intercut with interviews with the actors reflecting on the experience, this is a solid supplement that chronicles an area not normally touched upon in special features. After that is Colors of the Crusade (32m:14s). Featuring interviews with costume designer Janty Yates and production designer Arthur Max, this documentary gives a thorough look at the visual design. Touching upon the historical research and artistic inspirations, it efficiently takes us from the concept stage to the final product for costumes, sets, weapons, and everything else.
Continuing on that trend, Production Design Primer (06m:54s) is a concise look at the Jerusalem set created by Max. Last is Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak (26m:38s). Featuring interviews with Scott, Monahan, and three historians, this is a decidedly slanted documentary. Compared to the other historical analyses provided on the original DVD (as well as any reliable history book), these people truly ignore a wealth of inaccuracies found in the movie, choosing to focus on the "feel" of the movie. Apart from debunking the movie's notion of Jerusalem being a city of religious pluralism, these three scholars seem content to do the job of placing Kingdom of Heaven on a historical pedestal.
All right, three down and only one to go! Over on Disc 4 there's Unholy War: Mounting the Siege (17m:05s), a documentary chronicling the film's professionally realized battle scene. Taking us through the scene's planning and execution, this feature once again offers the viewer an opportunity to comprehend all the hard work that goes into not only making a battle scene, but also using it to tell a story. Alexander Siddig is quite memorable here as he discusses the difficulty of acting while also trying to ride a horse.
As if adding 50 minutes back into the film wasn't enough, there are 15 additional deleted scenes. They can be played separately or together for a combined runtime of 30m:21s. None of them is essential, but two (A New World and Walking the Ramparts) are worth a look. Shown in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo sound, the scenes are clearly not fully produced. Scott and Dorn provide optional commentary for each, though Dorn barely registers. Scott explains why the scenes were shot and ultimately taken out, being quite candid about his own perceived failings.
Next up is a Sound Design Suite. This feature allows you to watch the movie's woods ambush scene with different audio tracks playing. You can see it with only the Dialogue Editing, ADR, Foley, Sound Effects Editing, or Final Mix playing. While that feature is nothing new, there's an accompanying documentary (24m:58s) that thoroughly examines the sound mixing process. Supervising sound editor Per Hallberg leads us, along with the rest of the sound department, through the various processes involved. My only complaint here is that they don't touch upon incorporating music into the mix.
After that is a series of featurettes on Visual Effects Breakdowns. These four featurettes—The Burning Man, Building Jerusalem, Casualties of War, and Medieval Engines—can be viewed separately or all together for a combined runtime of 21m:47s. Wesley Sewell provides an audio commentary for each featurette, explaining the various attempts at completing the shots and the difficulties involved. We even get access to some failed CGI shots that never made it into the film.
Continuing onward, there are four trailers and 50 (that's not a typo) TV spots. Each is shown in nonanamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen and Dolby Stereo. One particularly entertaining aspect of the TV spots is how the studio tried to cash in on The Passion of the Christ's success. There's also a Press Junket Walkthrough (06m:18s). Amounting to a glamorous, empty look at the props and costumes, this feature really just treads ground that's already been covered. World Premieres (03m:42s) briefly covers the London, New York, and Tokyo premieres with the cast and Ridley Scott walking the red carpet. It's superficial, but that's the nature of the beast.
Rounding out all the extras is Paradise Found (08m:31s). Featuring interviews with everybody, minus Scott, this featurette quickly explains the battle between the studio and filmmakers. Some of the information here is obvious (such as explaining the differences between the two versions), but it also shows how everyone returned to the project and truly knew that the theatrical version wouldn't be the final say.
Congratulations! You made it through all of the special features assembled for this release. DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika has once again exceeded all expectations.
Extras Grade: A+
Final CommentsFew DVDs are as impressive as Fox's Kingdom of Heaven: Four-Disc Director's Cut. Not only featuring a stunning presentation of the film and perhaps the greatest collection of special features ever assembled, this set truly belongs in your home due to the amazing new cut of Ridley Scott's epic. This is easily one of the most towering achievements in DVD history and a perfect compliment to the two-disc set released last year.
Nate Meyers 2006-06-02