Monday 19 June 2006

Monday 19 June 2006
R2. £14.99 (RRP) PICTURE: 2.35:1 (WIDESCREEN) SOUND: DTS/DD5.1
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott WRITER: William Monahan
CAST: Orlando Bloom (Balian), Liam Neeson (Godfrey), Jeremy Irons (Tiberias), Edward Norton (King Baldwin), Eva Green (Sibylla), David Thewlis (Hospitaler), more…

Ridley Scott single-handedly resurrected the "swords 'n sandals" epics, which dominated Hollywood's Golden Age, with Gladiator (2000). So expectation was justly high for Scott's return to the genre with Kingdom Of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom (Lord Of The Rings) as Balian, a 12th-Century French blacksmith who has recently lost his wife and faith. That is until his estranged father Godfrey (Liam Neeson, in another mentor role) talks him into joining a band of knights on a crusade to the Holy Land…

Kingdom Of Heaven is an extremely well filmed movie that tries desperately to be enthralling and meaningful, but ultimately fails because of a script that doesn't excite and glosses over the atrocities of this period in history. Ridley Scott remains a master craftsman of beautiful imagery, although his sensibilities are occasionally too glossy and render the film as pretty as a car commercial, but tellingly false. There are some great shots throughout the movie and some expertly staged battle sequences, but they're all an oasis in the desert of a humdrum story.

The Crusades is an extremely interesting and bloodthirsty period in history where armies from Europe waged war on Jeruslam to recapture the Holy city from the Muslims, but Kingdom Of Heaven doesn't really get the nub of the matter. William Monahan's script is careful not to offend Muslims, so goes to great lengths to make both sides sympathetic. I can understand the politically correct reasoning behind this, and there are thankfully no clichéd Arab villains in the film as a result, but from a storytelling perspective, this stance robs the movie of a true antagonist for Balian. And, as the saying goes, a hero is only ever as good as the villain…

The film is also far too interested in Balian's personal journey, which you never really feel particularly interested in –- primarily because his wife's death occurs off-screen, you never understand just how much his lost faith meant to him, and his eventual rise as the protector of Jerusalem from Saladin (the terrific Ghassan Massoud) just seems unlikely. Orlando Bloom does his best with the material, but he's simply too young and lacks the charisma to be wholly believable –- a problem he also faced in Troy!

Balian is a young man who is taught how to correctly sword-fight by his father on the same day he quits his blacksmith job, only to be leading a huge army of experienced fighters against a Muslim horde a few months later? I can suspend my disbelief when called to, but Balian just didn't ring true for me. Bloom is more at home playing the youthful sidekick in films like Pirates Of The Caribbean, and should leave the Alpha Male roles until he's in his late-thirties.

Liam Neeson lends his usual charm to his role as father/mentor, but it's a character he's been playing in his sleep since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace led to Batman Begins. Eva Green (The Dreamers, and soon to be Casino Royale's Bond Girl) is an undoubted beauty, but also inconsequential to the plot and shoe-horned in to provide a love-interest. David Thewlis, and a host of other British thesps appear throughout the movie, to no ill-effect, but there's no real standout performer in Kingdom Of Heaven; success all rests on the visuals, it would seem.

Ah, the visuals. As I said, Scott is undeniably gifted at filming foreign landscapes and making them look suitably exotic and beguiling, but there's nothing here that hasn't been seen before. The battle sequences are quite impressive at times, but they evoke memories of Peter Jackson's The Return Of The King too strongly -- both in execution and design. The production is handsomely mounted, as befits a multi-million dollar summer movie, but no matter how sumptuous the scenery is… it can't erase the growing feeling of boredom that creeps into the movie about an hour in.

On the plus side, Harry Gregson-Williams' musical score is exceptionally good and manages to elevate quite a few scenes with its rousing orchestral power. However, Kingdom Of Heaven is hamstrung by its lacklustre screenplay and lack of courage to show the rawness of the situation and shed some light on the Crusades beyond a few interesting scenes. It's a pretty movie without the courage to provoke a reaction from its inherently controversial subject matter. Kingdom Of Heaven is an empty-hearted epic without any inventive streak, so relies on cinematography and CGI-assisted battle scenes to keep boredom at bay…


PICTURE: A generally good transfer in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, although the colour palette is quite dark at times and difficult to see detail. The image is crisp and defined, although there is some image noise occasionally.

SOUND: There are DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks to choose from, with both giving intense and involving experiences, particularly in the battle sequences. Surround sound effects are used well to ground you in the presented reality, such as the numerous ancient villages and town (dog barks, chatter, the clink of metal, etc.) All the dialogue is rich, and there is a healthy level of bass that really assaults the senses during fight scenes. The DTS track is undoubtedly better than DD5.1, being crisper and richer throughout.


In-Movie Text Feature. On the first disc this feature displays "information on the real people and true events depicted in the film".

Interactive Production Grid. On the second disc this feature has two options – "How it Works" (which explains how to use this feature) and "Enter The Grid" (which allows you to interactively watch scenes from the directing, crew or cast point-of-view). The feature can look at scenes from before, during and after Kingdom Of Heaven was being filmed. A "Play All" function is available for those of you who just want to sit back and watch.

History Vs Hollywood. This is a 45-minute documentary covering the historical aspects of the Crusades compared to the movie.

A & E Movie Real. Another documentary, this time with interviews of the cast/crew, about making the film historically accurate.

Internet Featurettes. A small selection of featurettes on the movie's production.

Theatrical Trailer. To condense the movie experience into a manageable few minutes, just watch the trailer!

Not a bad transfer in terms of visuals and audio, and the extra features are fairly engaging, but this isn't deserving of its 2-Disc Special Edition tag.