It's hard to believe Ridley Scott's handsome epic won't become the cinematic touchstone of the Crusades for years to come. Kingdom of Heaven
is greater than the sum of its parts, delivering a vital, mostly engrossing tale following Balian (Orlando Bloom), a lonely French blacksmith who discovers he's a noble heir and takes his father's (Liam Neeson) place in the center of the universe circa 1184: Jerusalem. Here, grand battles and backdoor politics are key as Scott and first-time screenwriter William Monahan fashion an excellent storyline to tackle the centuries-long conflict. Two forward-thinking kings, Baldwin (Edward Norton in an uncredited yet substantial role) and Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), hold an uneasy truce between Christians (who hold the city) and Muslims while factions champ at the bit for blood. There are good and evildoers on both sides, with the Knights Templar taking the brunt of the blame; Balian plans to find his soul while protecting Baldwin and the people. The look of the film, as nearly everything is from Scott, is impressive: his CGI-infused battle scenes rival the LOTR
series and, with cinematographer John Mathieson, create postcard beauty with snowy French forests and the vast desert (filmed in Morocco and Spain). An excellent supporting cast, including Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis, also help make the head and heart of the film work. Many critics pointed out that Bloom doesn't have the gravitas of Russell Crowe in the lead (then again, who does?), but it's the underdeveloped character and not the actor that hurts the film and impacts its power. Balian isn't given much more to do than be sullen and give an occasional big speech, alongside his perplexing abilities for warfare tactics and his wandering moral compass (whose sole purpose seems to be to put a love scene in the movie). Note: all the major characters except Neeson's are based on fact, but many are heavily fictionalized. --Doug Thomas
On the DVD
The Kingdom of Heaven Director's Cut is truly a DVD set of biblical proportions. If you are familiar with Ridley Scott's excellent, albeit massive, extended DVD sets for Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, you have a pretty good idea of what you are in for with this set. The biggest difference--unlike the Gladiator Director's Cut, which had some nice new scenes that really didn't add much to the film--is that this cut of Kingdom of Heaven is a drastic improvement over the theatrical release. This extensive 194-minute version brings the film back to Scott's original vision, maintaining an impressive balance of history, plot, and believable period reenactments and battle scenes. The best way to describe the improvements on the extended version is the film is now able to breathe a bit more, it's less choppy, and it has stronger character development. In addition to the extended scenes (which now span two discs in a clunky Road Show presentation), there is an exhaustive three-hour, six-part documentary detailing every aspect of filmmaking from the development of the "idea" through post-production and release. Also included are three feature-length commentary tracks, the best being the first with Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan, and actor Orlando Bloom. Included on the original release but missing from this set are the A&E/History Channel documentaries, the theatrical cut of the film, and "The Pilgrim's Guide," the fantastic text commentary which pointed out the historical anecdotes as the film played. Fans of the film and completists will probably want to hold onto both versions. However, those picking up Kingdom of Heaven for the first time need only to look to this definitive version. --Rob Bracco
Among the best directors of our time, Ridley Scott (Gladiator), contributes generously to this extraordinary Collector?s Edition of Kingdom of Heaven. Featuring his Director?s Cut of the film and hours of fascinating extras including a six-part tour from conception to completion of filmmaking this definitive set makes what Variety called a "genuinely spectacular" film even more so!
An epic marvel that's as beautifully acted as it is visually awesome, Kingdom of Heaven stars Orlando Bloom as Balian, a Jerusalem blacksmith who has lost his family and his faith. But when his father (Liam Neeson) shows him his destiny, Balian vows to defend his country, and in the process, falls in love, becomes a formidable leader, and steps forever into history