Kingdom of Heaven
R3 - Korea - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (8th January 2006).
The Film

When I first saw the theatrical poster for Kingdom of Heaven lambasted everywhere with Orlando BloomĎs visage, I could not believe he was the lead in a Ridley Scott epic considering heís as wooden an actor as Keanu Reeves, I mean would it hurt this guy to emote once in a while? Never-the-less I saw the film, because after all it was a Ridley Scott picture and the supporting cast is enough to make me want to cry tears of joy, ok maybe not that extreme - but they are damn fine.
Kingdom of Heaven takes place in the time of the Holy Crusades and tells the story of Balian (Orlando Bloom) a village blacksmith whose wife had committed suicide and was therefore damned to hell, having lost his faith, Balian makes the acquaintance of Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), who turns out is his father and a noble crusader. He offers his son a place at his side as they make another campaign to Jerusalem. Balian refuses, but after a incident that leaves a priest dead, Balian decides to join his father and his men, in the hopes that his sins and those of his dead wife can be forgiven in the Holy land.
Jerusalem is in time of peace between the second and the third Crusades, the Christian King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) tries to maintain the peace between the Christian armies and those of Saladinís (Ghassan Massoud) Muslim forces. However the truce is hard to maintain when forces who donít share the Kingís views on peace continue to cause strife. During this time Balian fulfills his destiny and becomes a Knight, eventually falls in love again and becomes a leader of men remembering his oath passed onto his by his father to protect the helpless, safeguard the peace, and work toward harmony between religions and cultures, so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth.
This film is beautiful to look at, it contains many of the hallmarks that epic films carry, expansive locations, intricate and overwhelming sets, a stunning array of costumes and props that add to the filmís tone and most importantly to accurately represent the time period so as to draw the viewer into the world portrayed on screen and to top it off a thunderous and completing score, the story itself is also interesting. So how could this film not be one the best films of all time? I can only blame that on three elements, parts of the script (primarily character elements) the casting of Bloom and the editorís knife. Letís start with Bloomís portrayal of the blacksmith turned Knight. Casting is imperative to the film, sometimes miscast parts can lead to less than stellar scenes and in some cases an entire film can fall under. Bloom, in my opinion has been miscast in this role. His youthfulness and inexperience as a leading man is the thorn in this filmís side (that and the fact that he hardly stands up when acting along side Neeson and the other supporting cast such as David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson and Jeremy Irons). I found my disbelief hard to sustain when a 20-something becomes Knight and no sooner than putting on his chain mail is defending the entire of Jerusalem, leading the people to fight. Iím sorry but Bloom does not attract that level of loyalty or leadership respectability. I just didnít buy it. In history Balian was not as young as he was in the film when he was asked to defend the city, he was a world weary Knight with experience and knowledge behind him and this did not seem the case with Bloom. I can understand his casting from a studio perspective, wanting someone young and hot to bring in the punters, but realistically I think cinema goers would still rather have a believable character that they can relate to and a good solid story (I certainly do). Liam Neeson himself would have made for a decent Balian and someone much older to play Godfrey, but weíre stuck with Bloom and Neeson having to play second fiddle with a character that disappears just as soon as we get to know him (Neeson was criminally underused in this film!).
The filmís editing is also to fault here, his transition from blacksmith to Knight is too quick and seems to jump unbelievably, and this seems to be a result of the film having been edited down. Scottís original runtime ran well over an hour longer than this theatrical cut, leaving many character development moments on the cutting room floor that would have added to the development of Balian from blacksmith to Knight.
Additionally I felt that Balianís motivations for going to Jerusalem and becoming a Knight were forgotten by his character. This is, in my opinion one very key weakness in the script. As soon as he makes it to Jerusalem he almost entirely forgets about his deceased wife and falls in love with Queen Sybilla (Eva Green). These are the three major problems that I had with this film and would really like to see a directorís cut that would hopefully make for a much better film.
These issues aside there are some levels of enjoyment that I got from it, having a soft spot for epics I was overwhelmed and exited by the tremendous battle scenes that take place in this film, Scott is still a great action director and can pull of some amazing shots.
The filmís supporting cast are also amazing and goes to show what age and experience can add to characters, primarily in Neesonís portrayal of Godfrey and also in the character of Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the villains Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) and Reynald (Brendan Gleeson) on the other hand were stereotypically bad natured and one-dimensional and had little redeeming qualities (something I hope would be rectified in the directorís cut).
I felt that portrayal of the Muslims as respectable fighters with honor and dignity was an interesting choice considering the worldís current climate. This was countered by having the Christians appear as barbarians and murderers (not the fighters of Balianís defense, but those from the first and second Crusade), this proved controversial for its negative depiction of Christianity.
Itís not a bad film, but itís not a great one either. Scott has made a serviceable epic that will probably be forgotten in the years to come. I hope his directorís cut will be released soon and that they rectify a lot of the problems with this film. Bloom on the other hand is something weíll have to live with no matter what version of the film is presented.

Video

Presented in the filmís original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1, this anamorphic transfer is fine, and nothing more. I wish this transfer was splendid but I was concerned about the filmís runtime and including a DTS track all on one disc affecting the overall image quality. My concerns were dead on, as the film does suffer from some compression issues, I noticed artefacts throughout the film which can at time be rather distracting. There were a few moments that included edge-enhancement, aside from that the films desaturated muted colour palate was nicely controlled, there was no visible grain. Overall it was a decent transfer that would have looked splendid if Fox had split the film onto two discs.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included on this disc, the first an English DTS 5.1 track, we also get an English Dolby Digital 5.1 and finally a Thai Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English DTS 5.1 track. Unlike the video this soundtrack is a stunner, the dialogue is crystal clear and distortion free. The filmís atmospheric surround integrate the viewer into the world of the film easily and without anything seeming out of place. The battle scenes crash in on the entire sound space, the surround channels are active and aggressive including the sub woofer channel which just booms! This is a terrific sound mix and I could not find any major faults what so ever.
This disc also includes optional subtitles in English, Korean, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, Bahasa Indonesian and Tagalog.

Extras

DISC ONE:
Before the menu there are two promo spots the first is the Anti-Piracy ad and runs for 48 seconds, the second is for Titanic: The 3-disc DVD and runs for 1 minute 11 seconds. These promo spots can be skipped by pressing the Ďmenuí button.

Aside from the film, disc one includes "The Pilgrim's Guide" a text commentary that runs through the film much like a subtitle track, and provides historical information on the characters and events that take place in the film. This is basically a history lesson on the Crusades. The track provides a wide variety of interesting information and is an extra definitely worth exploring.

The DVD also includes some DVD-ROM content in the form of web link to the Fox International web site where you can get access to exclusive previews, behind-the-scenes news and DVD release information.

DISC TWO:
Here is where the majority of the extras are housed starting off with the "Interactive Production Grid" this is a 9-part Behind-the-Scenes documentary, you can choose to view each of the parts separately or watch the whole programme with the option of the Ďplay allí function. This Grid is basically an interactive feature that allows the viewer to choose how they want to watch this extra, it covers three perspectives: the director, the cast and the crew and you can view their perspective throughout the different stages of the production (pre-production, production and post-production). But you may as well just press the Ďplay allí button. The entire documentary runs for 83 minutes 7 seconds and is quite possibly one of the most informative and well produced documentaries on a single film. (Itís just as good as the Empire of Dreams documentary on the Star Wars Trilogy box set, which IS the benchmark for excellent making-of documentaries). The documentary basically covers the production of this film from start to finish, and provides the viewer with an all-access pass into the complexities of making a film of this scale. Just about everything you ever wanted to know will be found in this feature.

Next up we have the History Channelís "History VS. Hollywood" documentary which runs for 42 minutes 54 seconds. The purpose of this documentary is to reveal the true history and see how it compares to the Hollywood film. The feature provides a basic history and also features clips from the film. Itís worth checking out but doesnít entirely deserve repeat viewing.

Following that we have the "A&E MovieReal" documentary which runs for 44 minutes 27 seconds. This is a much more detailed historical look at the Crusades, this is the more informative of the two historical documentaries. It provides an account of the three Crusades including the key figures and their roles in History. Itís worth checking out and a welcomed extra on this disc.

4 Internet featurettes are included as well, much like the Interactive Production Grid you can choose to view these separately or with the Ďplay allí option. These are primarily promotional fluff created for the filmís web-site when the film was released in theaters, the featurettes included are:
- Ridley Scott: Creating Worlds which runs for 2 minutes 32 seconds, here director Scott briefly discusses the challenge in shooting a film in this time period and creating the world that these characters inhabit.
- Orlando Bloom: The Adventure Of A Lifetime runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds, Bloom basically spends his time telling us how great it is to be a lead in a Ridley Scott film and how exciting it all is.
- Production Design: Bringing An Old City To Life runs for 2 minutes 14 seconds and just as you guessed focuses on the filmís intricate production design on the Jerusalem set which is an impressive 1200 feet squared by 65 feet high. We also learn about where the practical sets end and the CGI extensions begin to give depth and scale to the city.
- Costume Design: Creating Character Through Wardrobe runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds and we get an inside look at the creation of the wardrobe for the film and how it helps the actors Ďfind their charactersí.

Rounding out the discís extras is the filmís original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 34 seconds.

Packaging

Fox has packaged this Deluxe Edition in a steel-book style case, this handsome and sturdy tin case houses both discs.

Overall

An overall average film that had the potential to be great, Scottís epic includes some great battle scenes and set pieces but character motivations, casting and editing issues cause problems.
The DVD includes a stellar soundtrack but like the film the image is average at best, Fox have included a series of great extras including the Production Grid documentary is fantastic and covers all aspects of the production, this is a great example of how to do a DVD documentary less back patting and more talking about the actual making of the film. There are also a series of other interesting extras to explore in this set that itís easy to see why they didnít include a commentary - they just didnít need it and would probably have led to a lot of repetition in content.

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: A+ Extras: A Overall: B+

 


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