When Ridley Scott’s latest epic Kingdom of Heaven was released for common viewing in May 2005 at 145 minutes, critics either really liked the film, or where really dissatisfied with the film. Audiences, it seemed, tended to agree with the latter critics as the film only grossed $47 Million Dollars, which was a dissapointment considering the film had a budget well over $100 Million. Rumors started to fly, as with any big epic, that Scott was forced to slash the film’s running time to not only make audiences ha…py, but more importantly make 20th Century Fox happy. Well, the rumors have been confirmed as we are now being treated to Kingdom of Heaven in Ridley Scott’s complete vision featuring a running time of 191 minutes. Similar to Scott’s other recently released Director’s Cut of his other epic film Gladiator much is added to the film’s story and characters. But just what was added and could this version make a non-believer of the film’s Theatrical 145 minute cut enjoy this new vision? Read on to find out.
Before diving into what was exactly added (if you want to jump just to that section, go down a few paragraphs), I’m going to dive into the actual film a bit. Balian (played by Orlando Bloom) is a village blacksmith in France. He discovers that he is the illegitimate son of Sir Godfrey (played by the always amazing Liam Neeson). Godfrey, you see, is a knight returning from the Middle East. Godfrey, as we learn, feels that Jerusalem is not necessarily a holy war, but a war filled with opportunity for young men. It holds numerous amounts of potential for those who are willing to reach out and grab it.
For nearly 100 years previous, both Christians and Muslims were just fine seeing each other worshipping in the holy city. It was only when the Christian zealots (sounds like a few people today) were determined to call the holy land their own. The movie, as we learn, takes place around the year of 1184. King Baldwin (played by Edward Norton) has leprosy and decides to conceal his face behind a silver mask so he does not worry his people of his disease. Bailan takes all control of the city when Baldwin dies. Soon after this, a major war erupts after a man named Saladin (played by Ghassan Massoud) leads a Muslin army against the Knights Templar (think of The Da Vinci Code). Obviously tons of people are killed and much blood is spilled.
Ridley Scott has always been an interesting director. It’s pretty obvious, after quickly looking at the man’s resume, that the man loves to direct period pieces. Originally seeing his film Gladiator in theaters, I liked the film to a certain extent, but the Director’s Cut improved the film on many levels. The similar feeling was felt with Kingdom of Heaven, as the theatrical cut was fine but left many questions and spots open. Luckily for us though, even though the film had a film open spots, the Director’s Cut vastly improves the film almost making it seem like a new film.
The following paragraphs contains all the information that was added to the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven.
The main differences in the Director’s Cut versus the Theatrical Cut is the support that is given to the film’s major theme; religion. The added scenes help not only to create more background for each character but also help make the connection between each character to possible current day events, which I found to be very interesting. Scott certainly is quite the storyteller, one who is at the top of his league. We also get a bit more info on Godfrey and Balian’s relationship. This version is also a lot more ‘Scott’. By this I mean that it really feels that this film is now a ‘Ridley Scott’ film and not just another 20th Century Fox film that has been severely edited for common viewing.
For the Director’s Cut, footage wise, we are treated to the character of Sibylla, who now has a son by the name of Guy de Lusignan. This little subplot, while not being too overwhelming or dramatic, helps to identify exactly why Sibylla takes the sudden nose-dive into madness and despair during the film’s final act. There is also a scene or two involving a village priest. The priest, played by Michael Sheen, who was originally seen at the beginning of the film, is seen here again, this time burying Balian’s wife. It turns out though that this priest is Balian’s half-brother, possibly helping audiences now connect the dots as to the tension that existed between the two in the theatrical cut. Lastly, there are a few scenes involving the superb, as usual, Edward Norton, in his uncredited role of King Baldwin IV.
End all spoilers here.
While some, who for some reason disliked this film, wonder why Kingdom of Heaven would need a Director’s Cut, let me tell these people to think of what the Director’s Cut did for the film Daredevil. Kingdom of Heaven, in it’s theatrical version, was superb. What the Director’s Cut does is simply close any possible gaps that anyone could have with the film. With this Director’s Cut, as with the recent Gladiator Director’s Cut, another of Scott’s masterpieces has been finally translated into a format where any person, no matter the real age, can experience the visual masterpiece that Scott’s mind produces.
Similar to the original DVD release, Kingdom of Heaven is still presented in an Anamorphic Widescreen Aspect Ratio of 2:35:1 that looks absolutely stunning. Cinematographer John Mathieson helps bring the lush surrounds to us in a gorgeous manner. While the subject matter of the film is rather gruesome, Scott doesn’t hold out in any scene providing us with dark blacks, and reds to showcase the blood and horror. With all the recent advent of HD-DVD and even though DVD is nowhere on it’s way out, Kingdom of Heaven spells us the simple world of Reference. An A+ effort here.
For this release, Fox decided to drop the Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks to allow for the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks to have all the breathing room they so desired. Dynamics are outstanding from the screams and swords to the engaging score by Harry Gregson Willians (who did a great score for Chronicles of Narnia). Dialogue is simple and easy to understand while the sound effects create a auditory masterpiece that truly needs to be experienced in a lavish home theater system. Similar to the picture quality, the audio is also top notch and is a perfect reference disc.
So the final question has arrived. Is the Four-Disc Cut worth picking up for anything besides the adding material to the film?
- The Path to Redemption: This SIX part documentary chronicles just about everything one could possibly imagine. Disc Three houses the first three parts of this which covers.
- Part I: Good Intentions: This deals with the development of the film. Here we get to hear about the VERY EARLY draft that Monahan wrote. We also get a bit of information on the film’s story notes, galleries and scouting of sets.
- Part II: Faith and Courage: This deals with the pre-production process. Included in this is a brief look into the film’s costume design via the cast rehearsal video Colors of the Crusade. We also get a look into the film’s production design images via Production Design Primer.
- Part III: The Pilgrimage Begins: This final part on Disc Three deals with the film’s storyboards and unit production photography images via Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak.
- Part IV: Into the Holy Land: This deals with the film’s production in Morocco. Included in this is a mini-feature that focuses on the film’s epic battle scenes via Unholy War: Mounting the Siege. We also get a brief look into more storyboards and a few more photographs.
- Part V: The Burning Bush: This deals with the post-production of the film. This is easily the best part as we get a look into the actual cuts that were made to get the theatrical cut down to 145 minutes. We also find MORE deleted and extended scenes here (15 of them with optional commentary by Scott). A brief look into the sound is provided by Sound Design Suite. Lastly here we get a few featurettes in The Burning Man: Fire Effects and Face Replacement, Building Jerusalem: Digital Matte Painting and 3D Modeling, Casualties of War: Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Warriors, Medieval Engines: The Physics and Firepower of Trebuchets.
- Part VI: Sins and Absolution: This final part has to do with ALL the film’s trailers, TV spots, videos, premieres, photo shoots, and any additional thanks the director has in relevance to the production of the director’s cut. We also get a look into the actual conception of the Director’s Cut via Paradise Found: Creating the Director’s Cut.
For the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven, it’s extremely obvious that Fox and Scott put endless amounts of hours into this DVD. The Four Discs contained in this picture not only improve the film by closing any gaps and questions we had, but also makes the film almost seem new by itself. The video and the audio is, in two words, Reference Material. The features remind me of the time and effort Peter Jackson put into his Lord of the Rings sets. For Scott, Kingdom of Heaven, his masterpiece (besides Blade Runner), can finally be seen in it’s true glory. They say that every person should own a few dvd’s like The Star Wars Trilogy, Terminator 2, and a few others. Add the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven to this list. The set comes extremely recommended for anyone, regardless if you enjoyed the theatrical cut or not.
Special Features List
- Part I: Good Intentions
- Part II: Faith and Courage
- Part III: The Pilgrimage Begins
- Part IV: Into the Holy Land
- Part V: The Burning Bush
- Part VI: Sins and Absolution