Ready to take the good with the evil, Judge William Lee would like both the fries and salad with his entree.
"I got a picture. I thought I knew it all. Yet I know nothing."
When Lars von Trier was asked to create a show for Danish television that combined horror and humor and could be produced cheaply, he came up with The Kingdom. In the form of a hospital drama, von Trier played with multiple storylines while teasing viewers with a supernatural mystery. The follow-up mini-series Kingdom II, released by Koch Lorber as The Kingdom: Series Two, continues von Trier's inventive and maddening story. Though critically acclaimed, the series did not find financial supporters for a third series, so the story remains unfinished. Still, fans of the original series will enjoy this next installment even though the big questions stay unanswered.
Facts of the Case
Copenhagen's most technologically advanced hospital was built over the site of ancient bleaching ponds. Within its walls an army of the country's finest medical professionals employ science to dispel superstition and heal the sick. Well, that's what we're told in the opening prologue to each episode. The truth is the occupants of Kingdom Hospital are an assortment of self-serving bureaucrats, deranged researchers, incompetent administrators, lovelorn residents, Masonic lodge members, various schemers and an old woman who communicates with the dead. Thus, there's plenty of material for parallel storylines of hospital politics, personal dramas, love triangles and supernatural suspense.
Produced two years after the original mini-series aired on Danish television, Lars von Trier's The Kingdom Series Two picks up immediately after the shocking climax of the original series (released by Koch Lorber in 2005 as Kingdom: Series One and by Seville Pictures in 2002 as The Kingdom [see Accomplices for Judge Barrie Maxwell's review] ). Series Two is told in four episodes delivered on two discs:
• Episode 5: "Mors in Tabula"
• Episode 6: "Birds of Passage"
• Episode 7: "Gargantua"
• Episode 8: "Pandemonium"
Writer-director Lars von Trier (Boss of It All) is famously one of the originators of the Dogme 95 manifesto that outlined filmmaking rules that would bring about a new truth in cinema. Consequently, reviewers feel obliged to mention this fact whenever one of his films is discussed and also to observe how von Trier has honored those rules. For those who care about such things, this is not a Dogme movie. The first Kingdom was made before he signed the manifesto and Series Two is made in much the same fashion as the first. It is not a strict Dogme 95 film, but aspects of those rules can be seen. The hand-held camerawork, the natural lighting and deliberate jump cutting all contribute a pseudo-documentary feel to the story. But von Trier is using a wide assortment of tricks in this series as he tries his hand at drama, satire, sentimentality, horror and slapstick humor.
When I saw the first series, the multiple storylines made me a bit impatient. I wanted to get to the dark secrets at which the haunting opening prologue teased. The daily drama of the bureaucrats, doctors and interns felt like filler material between the otherworldly, bigger picture story. But I eventually grew familiar with the characters even if I didn't exactly like them. Even Hook, probably the most sympathetic protagonist of the bunch, is a manipulator and halfway through this series he displays a much darker side of himself. Familiarity with the characters—and with von Trier's style—put me at ease so this time around I found myself more patient with the parallel storylines and it was almost comforting to hear Helmer utter "Danish scum!" each episode.
The first episode begins with a clips sequence that summarizes the events from the first Kingdom. While it's good for jogging the memory of those who have seen the previous series, it will not convey enough information for viewers jumping into the series fresh. The actors seem to reprise their roles effortlessly and von Trier uses the same shooting and editing style of the previous series. The result is that the two series feel consistent despite the two years between productions.
Shot with a hand-held 16mm camera and then processed on video, the resultant picture is sepia-tinted, grainy at varying degrees, sometimes shaky and often jarringly cut. The lighting style is largely dictated by the actual lighting of the environment. Considering the source material and the deliberate processing of the images, The Kingdom Series Two probably looks as good as possible on these Koch Lorber discs. While the image isn't consistently sharp, there is a good amount of detail throughout the frame. Film grain is more noticeable in some scenes than others. Through all four episodes the picture looks as clean as would be expected during its first broadcast. Dialogue and sound effects never compete with music so the strong mono soundtrack works fine for the presentation.
The chief extra on this set is the documentary "In Lars von Trier's Kingdom." Produced while he was working on Dancer in the Dark, it is largely an interview with the director and clips of his more infamous appearances. The clips give a glimpse of his nonconformist celebrity image: after winning the Cannes Jury Prize for Europa, he said receiving nothing would be preferable to second place; in his acceptance speech at the Danish film awards he "forgave" a list of people who made it difficult for him to make Breaking the Waves. Von Trier is quite relaxed in his interview. The off-camera interviewer mostly waits for the director to elaborate so von Trier speaks casually at length on a number of topics. He points out the filmmakers and films that have influenced him and he even talks about the Prozac-like drug he takes to control his panic attacks. However, he hardly speaks about The Kingdom. Though this documentary shows the director in an almost intimate light, it does feel a little like a therapy session after a while.
Selected audio commentaries accompany a few scenes from the episodes. Editor Molly Stensgard talks about the technical challenges encountered keeping the sound and visual style consistent. Von Trier and co-writer Niels Vorsel talk about production problems and point out how many cast members have died since filming. They also recall the difficulties in securing financing for this second series. Backers came and went during the production and no one expressed any interest in funding a third part. In the end, von Trier sounds relieved that he won't get to make the last part of the story. Curiously, Koch Lorber has included audio commentaries for only four scenes over the entire set. Based on what we do hear, it sounds like von Trier, Vorsel and Stensgard had plenty to say about the making of this series and it is a shame that their full commentaries are missing. The other extras on this set are a trailer for the series, a music video set to the song of the opening titles plus the blooper reel from filming the music video.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In much the same fashion as the first series, The Kingdom: Series Two takes its time building up the suspense with the promise of something big soon to happen. And when we finally get to the big moment, von Trier leaves viewers dangling. The difference this time is that there will be no third series. More than ten years have passed and no one has approached von Trier to finish his haunted hospital story. Also, a number of principle cast members have died since the completion of this series and it would not be the same without Ernst Hugo Jaregard as Stig Helmer or Kirsten Rolffes as Mrs. Drusse. Unavoidably, viewers will feel that the story ends before it really gets somewhere.
Those who enjoy Lars von Trier's work will be happy with this two-disc release, especially if they have seen or are familiar with the first Kingdom. Like a twisted soap opera, the abundance of colorful characters and interweaving story threads provide many things to like even if a few plotlines don't captivate. Above all, what is on display is von Trier's ability to mix eerie suspense and grotesque shocks with comedy. Despite the lack of closure, this is another example of television too good for television.
They jury may stay out permanently on the full story of the Kingdom, but in the meantime The Kingdom Series: Two is free to go. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Lorber
• In Lars von Trier's Kingdom
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