After going through this complete edition of Kingdom of Heaven, Judge Ryan Keefer wonders: Why isn't Ridley Scott's phone number listed as an Easter egg?
Our review of Kingdom Of Heaven, published October 11th, 2005, is also available.
"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his immortal soul?"
The defendants before the court are one Sir Ridley Scott and one Charles de Lauzirika. Together, they have been responsible for some of the more memorable DVD special edition releases in the brief history of the platform. The court is well aware of their previous collaborations for the multi-disc treatments given to Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and (in Lauzirika's case in particular) the exemplary Alien Quadrilogy. After a relatively bare, yet still somewhat impressive two-disc set of the theatrical release of Kingdom of Heaven, is this new four-disc version (released almost one year to the day after the initial theatrical release) another feather in an already well-feathered cap?
Facts of the Case
Balian (Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown) is a humble blacksmith and recent widower. His wife had committed suicide (after their child died), and according to Christian law, was not allowed a proper burial. A knight named Godfrey (Liam Neeson, Batman Begins) comes to France to find Balian, who is his son. Godfrey offers to help Balian learn how to swordfight and become a battle veteran, but he refuses. When prodded further by a priest, Balian kills him and decides to meet up with Godfrey. Godfrey helps Balian, but Godfrey is wounded and later dies from injuries during an ambush to recover Balian and try him for the crime he committed.
Balian goes to Jerusalem to honor his father's wishes, and encounters a Muslim mullah and his aide Nasir (Alexander Siddig, Syriana). He kills the mullah, but decides to spare his life in order for navigation to Jerusalem. When he gets there, he meets the marshal of Jerusalem named Tiberias (Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune) and an unruly troop leader named Reynald (Brendan Gleeson, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Balian also reunites with Guy de Lusignan (Martin Csokas, The Great Raid), who he met in France and who thinks Muslims are dangerous people, and sometimes plays a dangerous card in Reynald's armed force. Ruling them all is King Baldwin (Edward Norton, American History X), a leper who hides behind a mask but maintains a peace with Saladin (Ghassan Massoud in an impressive first feature film appearance). Balian meets Baldwin, who asks that he keeps his father's territory at Ibelin in order.
Periodically, Guy and Reynald launch stealth missions to kill Muslim men which angers Saladin, forcing Baldwin to maintain a delicate peace, and to arrest and condemn Reynald for his actions. A large war near Balian's territory is averted due to Baldwin's diplomacy, and Baldwin eventually asks Balian if he would like to be king, but he refuses, even as he knows that Guy would inherit the throne and start a war between the Christians and Muslims. What culminates is a large battle at Ibelin between Balian's motley crew and Saladin's large army, with Saladin's hopes that his people can take Jerusalem.
First things first, Kingdom of Heaven is split over two discs, adds 50 minutes of footage to bring its runtime into the over three hour neighborhood, and includes an overture, intermission, and entr'acte. Finally, the main complaint about the initial film's disjointedness is resolved here, and then some. While there are some added scenes edited into the film to enhance effectiveness, there are others that are included that are a complete surprise in you haven't seen the film in a while. Some are for character depth, and others are completely new. For instance (avert your eyes if you want to stay fresh to them, and this list is not complete):
• The scene where Balian kills the priest (Michael Sheen, Underworld) is given even more affect when you see that the two are brothers.
• An additional scene showing the ambush of Godfrey to be a bit more premeditated is included, along with a revelation showing the sheriff attempted to detain Balian was Godfrey's nephew.
• Balian shows some skill as a builder or some sort of engineer, which helps to show off how he's able to find water and develop infrastructure within Ibelin.
• The story between Sibylla (Eva Green, The Dreamers) and Balian is developed a little more, along with a compelling story with Sibylla's son, who is initially coronated after Baldwin dies, but is poisoned by Sibylla after it is determined that he also has leprosy.
• Guy does not just fade away after the battle with Saladin, as there is one more clash he wants to have, and his rivalry with Balian gets some more screen time.
The thing I liked about Kingdom of Heaven the first time around (without the extras footage) was that it was bold in looking at the fallacies of thought behind the Crusaders and the Muslims, but that it was not bold enough to complete any of those suggestions. Here, it's a lot more clear in this version that it's the people behind the thrones that drive the leaders to more extreme means, and that, by and large, many of the characters are for peace between the peoples, but it's a few bad apples that spoil the so and so for everyone else.
And after seeing the new scenes in the film, while the easy acting beneficiary here is Sibylla, this is one of those instances where everyone is better served by this new version. Balian's character is far more well-rounded than previously seen. Guy is that much more of an evil bloodthirsty tyrant, and Baldwin even appears as even more of a diplomat. At two hours, Kingdom of Heaven was incomplete and unfairly judged for it. At three hours and change, it is a far more satisfying and engaging experience.
Got a cold drink ready? Good, because you'll need it for the supplements. Lauzirika and Scott team up on a six-part "making of" documentary called "The Path to Redemption." It starts on Disc Three, and you can tackle it one of several ways: either by playing the entire documentary (the first three parts on Disc Three run for 36 minutes, the last three on Disc Four for another 90), just the featurettes, or just the still and text galleries. Part One is entitled "Good Intentions," and Scott and Ellzey discuss bringing in Monahan and they all talk about just how close they were to making the historical piece Tripoli starring Russell Crowe, before writer William Monahan came in one day and brought in a mammoth first draft for Kingdom of Heaven. From there we switch to "Faith and Courage," where the pre-production, production design and location photography kicks into full swing, along with the casting. Screen test footage of Bloom, fresh from his work in Troy is included, and rehearsal footage with Bloom, Neeson and Csokas follows. Bloom's blacksmithing gets some screen time, and Ellzey and Somner cover the script additions. "The Pilgrimage Begins" follows and goes through the Spanish part of the production, including a large throng of Spanish girls who stake out Bloom's hotel and shriek whenever he (or anyone else who looks like him) leaves. The obligatory production headaches are discussed in some detail, and everyone marvels at the Spanish countryside, which admittedly looks breathtaking and awe-inspiring—more than I can remember. Moving on, we get to the Moroccan side of the production, and the part titled "Into the Promised Land." Not only was there some Christian backlash on the film, but apparently some Muslim negativity as well, so much so that security was provided to Scott at the government's insistence. Morocco was used to build Jerusalem, and the set was so huge that some claimed it was the largest free standing set in film history. The logistical issues of dealing with desert sandstorms and thousands of locals are detailed in full. A couple of larger issues were documented as well, as one siege tower burned to the ground, and a period catapult broke due to the extreme temperatures. At the end of the day, while the production designer and various other crewmembers enjoyed that they were done, Scott and Ellzey knew there was more to do. Going into Part 5 (titled "The Burning Bush"), the post-production and visual effects are covered. Watching the visual effects crew turn a scene where Bloom and some soldiers are huddled against a castle wall into one where they're trying to survive a shipwreck is amazing. They talked about what they could cut and the battles that Fox had over cutting other scenes, and every part of the process (including creating a digital intermediate for a master) is touched upon, even the composition and score. Part 6's wrap-up is called "Sins and Absolution," and the cast and crew talk about what they think the film stands for, how relevant it is, and what they think/want the film to mean. All in all, a truly amazing feature.
But wait, there's more! While "The Path to Redemption" is excellent, some people thought it didn't cover enough, so there are even more parts of the behind the scenes process that are a worthy complement to this Edition, with Discs 3 and 4 also containing a mix of featurettes and still galleries. Starting with Disc Three, under the "Good Intentions" (or development) part of the disc, there are a couple of still galleries, one for an overview of the Tripoli production that never was, and another lengthy one (about 340 stills worth) of Monahan's first draft for Kingdom of Heaven. Next, in Part 2's "Faith and Courage" (or pre-production) section, the rubber meets the road. First up are 13 minutes of rehearsal footage, as Bloom, Neeson, Thewlis, Csokas and Green all (at one point or another) sit at the table and provide readings, while Scott helps show them the things he is planning for the production, in terms of buildings, weapons, and generally what he would like to accomplish in the film. This feature is subtitled with interesting bits of trivia periodically that are nice. Next is "The Colors of the Crusade," a half-hour long look at the weapons, wardrobe and yes, flags of the film (don't laugh; the flag budget was apparently in the 5 to 6 figure range). Starting with the wardrobe, the costume designer Janty Yates discusses dressing the various characters in the film, along with her working relationship with Scott, while the cast discusses how they liked the wardrobe. About halfway through, the weapons master Simon Atherton talks about how cool it was making the swords, shields and crossbows, and provides some occasional instruction on them. Check out one of the shield designs for a bit of an in-joke (think the front of Camel cigarette packs or The Little Mermaid). The last part focuses on the flags and how close they stuck to real-life events and descriptions. Separate stills galleries on the world famous "Ridleygrams" are next, along with galleries on the costume and production designs, including a six minute production design primer by Scott collaborator/production designer Arthur Max. Moving onto "The Pilgrimage Begins" (or Spanish leg of the production), an intriguing look at the historical accuracy of the film titled "Creative Accuracy" follows. In it, the various historians and scholars (along with Scott, Monahan and other cast and crew) cover the film, admitting that no film can ever seem to get it completely right, talk about some story arcs and scenes that were mighty close to the historical record, and each historian talks about their favorite scene. It's interesting, the Crusades weren't even called that, it was not until much later that a word was given for it. Several storyboard galleries of three various scenes and an additional unit photography gallery follow, all told there are about 250 more stills here.
Disc Four's additional featurettes and galleries start with Part 4's "Into the Promised Land," where a look at getting the Jerusalem siege ready for filming is covered. There's a lot of planning over the miniatures before everything is shot and pulled together, and this was OK. There's even more storyboard galleries and photos here, about 650 total. Onto Part 5's post-production section, there are several pieces here, starting with yes, even more deleted and extended scenes, about a half hour in length. There are a couple of interesting parts that speculate how Balian's wife committed suicide, and some rather gory post-battle footage, and it's all accompanied by an optional commentary with Scott and Dorn to boot. An interactive sound design suite is next, where you can look at the attack on Godfrey's party with various isolated sound components and the final mix, along with primers on each sound component. You're over the shoulder of Michael Sheen (who plays the burned priest) as he does ADR for his lines, and split screens of the action, the ADR/sound footage and a work print are all on the screen for reference. The same is true for the foley and dialogue editing, and the sound effects and final mix stages pull the rest of it in. It's a different look at an aspect of moviemaking that is intriguing. There are visual effects breakdowns on four scenes, and comparisons, miniatures, computer-rendered models and animatics for computer generated armies all play a part in the overall vision. To complement this experience, each scene has commentary by visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell. Wrapping things up with Part 6, you've got a section for the film's four trailers and 50 (!) TV spots. A press junket before the film helped to show the press how elaborate the costumes, sets and weapons had to be, and the detail for it all. A promotional photo gallery and brief footage of the film's premiere on three different continents follow, and there's a posters section that shows off the over 250 different ideas. Bringing the Director's Cut up to speed gets some time, albeit eight minutes worth, and any additional production credits follow that.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although I still didn't like Bloom in the lead role (he just has a facial sneer after reciting a line that makes it appear he kissed a fish, but that's just him trying to scowl), I certainly respected it a lot more this time around. His back story is developed more, and there is a tangible reason why he is attracted to Sibylla, and it's not just because it's Orlando Bloom. Some of the Scott fight scenes still sport quite a bit of handheld and slow-motion photography that almost makes them a little too artsy for their own good.
Not only have Lauzirika and Scott included the kitchen sink on this release, they've thrown in the plumbing to boot. With all the words put into this review, I didn't even touch upon the three (!) different commentary tracks, one by Scott, Bloom and Monahan, and two others with assorted other crew members of the film. Every sketch, every photo, every recorded relevant recollection is included. Even the genesis of the film, which was the end of another film's pre-production is here, along with apparently as much of that production as could be made available. This is clearly the best DVD release of 2006 so far, and will right fully stay on top of (or near) the hill for the rest of the year.
Not guilty. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Director's Cut Introduction by Ridley Scott
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