KINGDOM OF HEAVEN Blu-ray Review – Ten Years Later, More Is More
Released in May of 2005, Ridley Scott’s ambitious Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven was a rather inauspicious beginning to the summer blockbuster season. It was a commercial flop domestically (though it made its money back in foreign markets), and a critically divisive film due to its knotty historical and religious elements as much as complaints that narratively and philosophically, it somehow seemed unfinished.
The latter issue was resolved when Scott debuted a three-hour “roadshow” director’s cut of the film, restoring it to his and screenwriter William Monahan’s original vision when Kingdom was released on DVD. That version has also made its way onto the brand new Blu-ray release from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, alongside the theatrical cut and a slightly modified director’s cut that omits the incredibly brief and rather meaningless overture, intermission, and entr’acte segments. Experiencing the beefed-up version is like watching a movie that’s almost out of time: both in the sense that it’s a Joseph Campbell-ian throwback to sword-and-sandal epics of the Cinemascope era, and that it reflects the post-Nolan willingness of today’s studio leadership to release epic event movies helmed by star directors.
In this sense, Scott’s film has aged rather well. Dismissed in the wave of medieval-flavored movies with massive battle sequences that followed the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Kingdom of Heaven has revealed itself as a more thoughtful and expansive (albeit simplified) portrait of political and religious strife in a troubled region of the world. A humble blacksmith in 12th-century France, Balian (Orlando Bloom) learns of his hidden noble heritage when his long-absent father (Liam Neeson) rolls into town on his way back to the Holy Land, where a small population of Christian European knights and pilgrims has carved out a collection of feudal kingdoms over the past 100 years. Balian barely makes it to the Middle East, but once there quickly inserts himself into the power struggle between the tolerant Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the bellicose leader of the Knights Templar, Guy de Lusignan (Martin Csokas), while simultaneously romancing Sibylla (Eva Green) – Baldwin’s sister and Guy’s betrothed.
Besides the new Blu-ray transfer – which looks beautiful despite glimpses of the teal-and-orange trend that swept Hollywood tentpoles soon thereafter – Kingdom of Heaven is worth revisiting to gauge its efficacy as a post-9/11 narrative. At the time, critics and historians alike picked up on its underlying themes of neocolonialism and the clash of cultures. The film indeed reflects a certain attitude toward the Middle East held by many skeptics of interventionism. However, Scott is cautious almost to a fault – the religious motivations of the Crusaders are plenty diverse, yet this fervor is all but erased in the film’s generic portrayal of the great Muslim warrior Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), even in the extended version. Nevertheless, there are plenty of bonus materials on this robust two-disc set that delve into the movie’s historical framework as much as its technical craft; they’ve even included two television documentaries scrutinizing the film’s historical veracity. In retrospect, it’s a film that was far more fraught in a commercial rather than a political sense. Yet it must be satisfying for Scott to find that time, along with further clarification of his intent, have made it quite difficult to accuse Kingdom of Heaven of being incomplete.
The Kingdom of Heaven 10th Anniversary Blu-ray is available now on Amazon.