cast: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Edward Norton, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Marton Csokas, Brendan Gleeson, Ghassan Massoud, Michael Sheen
directed by: Ridley Scott
After “Gladiator”, the thrill for sand and sandals epics rose to new highs – the funny thing being, projects like Vin Diesels’ “Hannibal” or Angelina Jolie’s “Cleopatra” are still in pre-production limbo – and after Greece and Rome, the directors coup de foudre stumbled on the Crusades. Ridley Scott made a movie and many to this day have a thing of two on the script, historical accuracy and artistic endeavor. The movie has a 63/100 on Metacritic (“Gladiator” for better or worse has a 64/100 which plucks a bit on the IMDb scores of 7.2 for Kingdom of Heaven and 8.5 for Gladiator) and I feel the need to put up, front and center Ian Nathan’s thoughts on the historical flick:
“It’s so gorgeous you’ll forgive it a lot, but this is a frustratingly thin epic. You’re left wanting more exposition, more character development, the tidying up of loose ends. Is there a much better, longer film that’s been denied us?”
Well, guess what? The Director’s Cut gave justice to this production.
It’s not exactly a surprise – for those who went through every Oliver Stone “Alexander” Revisted, Director’s Cut and Ultimate Cut – don’t be amazed to find out I went though all of them – the DVD/Blu-ray extended version turned out to be exactly what we wanted to see in the cinemas and even the reviewers came around and agreed that this sort of version is what they wished to see.
“The first thing to be said for Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” is that Scott knows how to direct a historical epic. I might have been kinder to his “Gladiator” had I known that “Troy” and “Alexander” were in my future, but “Kingdom of Heaven” is better than “Gladiator” — deeper, more thoughtful, more about human motivation and less about action.”
Alright, before you jump of your chairs and shout ”blasphemy” this is what Roger Ebert had to say in his review for the movie. Now, let’s take a trip back to 2005, 10 years ago or close to a century for our younger audience.
Back in those days, before Facebook began ruling our lives and Social Media actually developed into a career for many, movies about the old days were making a comeback – yes, before we had superheroes take over our summer and winter blockbuster program, we had the aftermath of ”Gladiator” to deal with and it wasn’t exactly a bad thing.
Orlando Bloom was riding high on two big franchises – Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean – and had turned heads with his rendition of whimpy Paris – yet totally good-looking – in “Troy”. It was time for him to start being the leading man in movies, so here comes “Kingdom of Heaven”. Now, I will consider “Kingdom of Heaven” close to a kiss of death in terms of hitting the jack-pot – just like “Alexander” was for Colin Farrell – in terms of opportunities, after what many believed to be a modest hit for Bloom.
The big problem with “Kingdom of Heaven” was that it had dept but it was clear there had been some heavy cuts made to accommodate the release of this flick.
No wonder! Take a look at the Director’s Cut and many of the ”what the fuck” and “how on Earth” moments are given an explanation.
Before we get to this little lovely section, let’s say it one more time – Ridley Scott took some huge liberties when it came to the real characters whose names were used in this production. Get over it, Kevin Costner played Robin Hood with an American accent. You can’t have it all.
Orlando Bloom’s Balian has even more dept in the Director’s Cut version. We get the layers of his character: his relationship with his late wife, the added scenes with Godfrey (Liam Neeson) and his half-brother (Michael Sheen) offer a solid look into his background and it doesn’t give the feeling which the original movie had of really seeing a blacksmith becoming this general Patton of Crusades out of blue and with no shine on the years that passed.
Another good thing coming from the Director’s Cut is the back-story of Sybilla (Eva Green). Eva Green was at the time blooming on the big screen and years after, she still gives us hopes of some worthy motion picture she could star in, till then we enjoy “Penny Dreadful” to the fullest. Sybilla’s tale of woe makes her, finally, an essential element of this story. We get to see the mother, the regent, the queen and the woman who gave up her titles after Jerusalem was surrendered. We see the tragic tale of her son, the arranged marriage with Guy (Marton Csokas) all these scene add the gravitas of her tale.
What the 2005 movie had lost with these cuts was a lot of layers for some key characters, making the tale a summarize of fragments thrown together to make a whole. Now we have the whole picture. There’s also room for Guy to be explored. We had the bloodthirsty, caricature of a ruler, but we’re given a light into his motivation and his actions before and after the fall of Jerusalem – with a fight scene between him and Balian that should have been left in the movie.
“Kingdom of Heaven” did what many movies of that time tried to achieve. Give a little wink and acknowledge that. as history well recalls it, we can’t escape the past.
There is something of a sad beauty and solemnity in “Kingdom of Heaven”. There’s a also a lot of ground work for critics to spill ink/hit the keys over what is wrong and what works with this movie.
In the end, I go with the personal touch. Ten years ago when I saw this movie in the cinema, Ridley Scott’s foray into the Crusades had a lot to say about modern times as well. As always, intrigue, machinations and politics are the ground work for conquest and dealing with wars, peace and everything in between. People are sacrificed, cities fall, rulers come and go. It’s the simplicity of how matters are dealt with, in the past as well as in the present. Everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone has a personal affinity for a certain movie or a certain genre.
“Kingdom of Heaven” was a good movie for me – script and story wise – and the Director’s Cut made it better in my eyes.