Written by Clayton Self
Kingdom of Heaven is a handsome epic by Gladiator director Ridley Scott. It is an underrated film due to a less than successful theatrical release, but at closer examination, this film is a deeply important tale of courage, faith and self-sacrifice. It focuses on a relatively lesser-known period of the crusades, when peace was trying to be made between Christian and Muslim.
Orlando Bloom stars as Balian, a blacksmith in a French village, who has just lost his wife and child. Balian was …orn out of wed-lock and has never met his father. Liam Neeson plays his father, a knight named Godfrey, of Ibelin. Godfrey returns from the crusades to prompt Balian to come to Jerusalem with him and defend against the Muslims. After Godfrey’s death, Balian continues on to Jerusalem to help the leper king (an un-credited and magnificent role by Edward Norton). During his time in Jerusalem, Balian finds his meaning and faith, and changes the face of the Crusades.
No doubt, this movie offended Christian and Muslim alike, but the film wasn’t made to make a point for either side. It tells a story. At the front of this story is Balian, and his search for purpose. The changes that he endures through this movie are both dynamic and heart-felt. His personal loss and feeling of abandonment by God can touch anyone who has ever felt in such a state. The film is also about realizing the importance of human life over a sacred land.
The film has beautiful cinematography; typical of a Scott film, and the sets are to scale. The weapons are the most accurate in film history, and the costumes are visually arresting. The performances are grand, especially Jeremy Irons as the King’s advisor. Bloom does good work here, despite the consensus that it was a flat performance. The subtlety required for the changes Balian goes through are perfectly executed by Bloom, and it makes for a believable performance too. Neeson is marvelous as always as Godfrey, but the movie’s strongest performance comes from the un-credited Edward Norton. The dialogue is a wonder to behold, and doesn’t sound the least bit funny coming out of the actor’s mouths.
The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks don’t differ too much in quality, maybe a slightly crisper detail for the Dolby Digital. But the low end is room-shattering and the detail in the high end is unbelievable. Each speaker provides a lush of environment noise throughout.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer maintains the grittiness seen in theatres, which is as intended from a cinematography point of view. Some of the visual effects can be detected through pixelization when the battles start going, but you’d have to be looking for them to notice. The color is visually arresting and the brightness allows for some of the darker scenes to actually be seen, unlike in the theatre.
This DVD comes nicely packaged in a glossy slip-cover. The two-disc set offers a large bag of goodies. The first disc offers a very informational text commentary that provides historical facts and facts about the film making process. The second disc is loaded with featurettes, but the really unique aspect here is the interactive production grid that allows for easy access to mix and match the features in the order you want.
Aside from this unique production grid that lets you explore the making of the movie by mixing and matching the perspectives of the director, cast and film makers, there is an informative “History Vs. Hollywood” Documentary comparing the plot points in the movie to the actual crusades, which should help put a damper on some of the nay-sayers of the film. There are 4 Internet Featurettes including Orlando Bloom’s experience on the film, Ridley Scott’s inspiration for creating this particular period in the crusades, and two featurettes on costume design and production design; all are worth a look. The A&E Movie Real doesn’t provide a lot of new information, aside from putting an interesting interpretive spin on the religious themes associated with the film and the crusades. Also included is a theatrical trailer. But the real gem here is the production grid that you have to experience for yourself.
If you haven’t seen this film, it is definitely worth your money. No need to rent first, just go out and cough up the dough. Since I bought it, I have watched it five times, and it still does not bore me.
Special Features List
- The Pilgrim’s Guide – A text commentary stream consisting of both production and historical notes, synchronous with film
- Interactive Production Grid – A simple to use navigation portal will ask viewers to choose the desired perspective and timeframe allowing them to tailor the “Making Of” material to their liking. There are no less than 16 different ways to experience The G
- A&E’s “Movie Real: Kingdom of Heaven” (approx 45 min)
- The History Chanel’s “History vs Hollywood: Kingdom of Heaven” (approx 48 min)
- Behind-the-scenes featurettes: Ridley Scott – “Creating Worlds”, Production Featurette, Wardrobe Featurette
- Theatrical Trailer