With Kingdom of Heaven Ridley Scott has made a sprawling epic with authentic sets and costumes, plenty of massive battles and action sequences, and a cutesy liberal story to suit our tempestuous contemporary times. Like the violence which is all around us today in reality the major fault with Kingdom of Heaven is that we have seen it all before. Over the top battle scenes are all fine and good but that is all there seems to be coming out of Hollywood at the moment. Here we feel little emotional contact with any of the central characters, we are introduced to far too many minor characters, and to top it off the action is not filmed or edited particularly well. To give it credit there are some good performances but no-one stands out, and it at least tries to be historically accurate. The anti-war messages are explosively clear and we get to see what devastation comes from petty religious difference. Scott must be commended on making a film that is not afraid to say it is personal faith that should be important, not the billions of different churches which lie on every street corner, and that to find peace and goodness in yourself should be respected. Then again, it is so typically liberal, yet offers no hope for the future. Nowadays terms of agreement over War are not so easily reached, and our leaders are far from heroic, just, or wise. In the end it all seems shallow and pointless and at times there is a sense of absurdity about it all: A supposedly great warrior and general falls for the simplest of traps by being drawn away from his water supply, Bloom’s wife is largely forgotten about, and several fights happen for apparently no reason.
Bloom is Balian the blacksmith, a recent widower after his wife killed herself, having lost their child. Out of nowhere comes Sir Godfrey, played by Neeson who claims to be Balian’s father and wants him to come along to Jerusalem. He hopes to be forgiven for his past sins. On the Godfrey tells Balian of the prospects of the Holy City, but is wounded and eventually dies. After a ship wreck and encounter with a Muslimwhere Balian proves himself to be honourable, he reaches Jerusalem. There is an uneasy alliance between The Christian King Baldwin (Norton doing a strange Brando impersonation) and the Muslim ruler Saladin (Massoud). Baldwin is a leper and will soon die, leaving his brother-in-law, the sadistic Guy who prays for war without reason. The two rulers have kept peace for a long time, but war seems inevitable. Guy is married to Baldwin’s sister Sibylla and will therefor gain power. Baldwin sees the righteousness in Balian and offers him to become King, but Balian refuses knowing he would be the cause of Guy’s death, even though they hate each other and Balian has already killed many. The King dies, and war begins. Balian travels to his new stronghold with his knights to prepare for defence, showing he is not a ruler but a normal, working man who seems to have picked up some excellent sword-fighting skills and battle tactics knowledge. He makes all the men of the city knights as this will inspire them to fight with more conviction, and after a series of battles he surrenders Jerusalem to the Muslims. It is not the city that matters, but the people who live in it, and it was neither side who started the age old war. To this day it continues.
The film looks beautiful, and Scott knows how to handle an epic. However, there is nothing surprising here and even though I don’t feel originality is a necessary part of the criteria of movies, there seems to be little point in watching another city come under siege from another mass of soldiers with another barrage of arrows and flaming balls. We could accept it in LOTR because nothing like it had been seen before, and they were filmed with a much greater degree of intensity, skill, and detail than in this. Definitely worth seeing but it’s about time we brought our movies back down to earth for a while, or at least create some characters who can grab our emotions if you’re going to have them parading about heroically.
The extras here are excellent, and probably deserve an extra star. There is around 40 minutes added to the film and the usual mix of documentaries and commentaries. An epic release for an epic film, and even with some of its shortcomings as a film, if you missed it at the cinema this is definately one to pick up. If you’re already a fan, then look no further than this set.
Feel free to leave your comments on the movie- did you think it was one of the better recent epics?