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KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
4 Disc Director's Cut

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas, Liam Neeson
Director: Ridley Scott
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 194 Minutes
Release Date: May 23, 2006

“Be without fear, in the face of your enemies…

…Be brave and upright that God may love thee…

…speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death…

…safeguard the helpless, and do no wrong…

…THAT IS YOUR OATH”

Film ****

It seems as though there have been just as many epic battle movies being made today than in the heyday of the genre back in the late 50s. Director Ridley Scott very much revived the genre with 2000’s Gladiator, and now he has made an even bolder and more exceptional epic. Kingdom of Heaven is a magnificently crafted historical epic motion picture that will have you awestruck with its visual power, sweeping story and astounding battle sequences.

Scott, both a master of storytelling and awe-inspiring visuals, specializes in grand scale moviemaking such as this. Gladiator was a thrilling old-fashioned warrior movie, but Kingdom of Heaven possesses a story of more historical significance. The result is a remarkably deep and thoughtfully told story involving human motivation in a crucial time of war, and I’d be lying if the story depicted here doesn’t somewhat reflect the state of war we’re engaged in right now.

The movie is an account of the 12th century Crusades. Whether or not you are a religious type, it’s hard not to become engaged in what is considered an important moment in religious history. The movie works if you view it in complete objectivity. This crucial and lengthy battle between Christians and Muslims gives extremely fair treatment to both sides, never once making one side seem better than the other.

Anchoring the story is a young warrior named Balian (Orlando Bloom). As the movie opens, Balian is a blacksmith working in a French village. A warrior named Godfrey (Liam Neeson) has arrived at the village with his army of knights with the intention of tracking Balian down. The reason; Godfrey reveals that Balian is his illegitimate son, and he wants to recruit him into the Knighthood. It is Godfrey intention to train his son in the ways of the knight, as he leads him on a journey across continents to the Holy Land.

As Balian’s begins his training, Jerusalem is in the midst of a shaky peace in the aftermath of the Second Crusades. The Christian King, Baldwin IV, is hoping that his vision of peace, a kingdom of heaven, will be forever realized. But greed, fanaticism and jealously amongst the Crusaders threaten to destroy the truce between their king and the Muslim ruler, Saladin. With Baldwin facing a slow death from leprosy, it seems that another war will soon ignite, threatening to peace between Christians and Muslims for good.

Godfrey, whose Knighthood serves under Baldwin IV, plans to eventually hand the sword down to Balian so that he may defend Jerusalem whenever it is called for. With possession of the sword comes a sacred oath; to protect the helpless, safeguard the peace and work toward peace amongst all religions and cultures. It is an oath that a knight must uphold with their life and honor. By the time the inevitable war dawns upon Jerusalem, Balian has accepted the sword and his role as his kingdom’s defender.

Like all great epics, Kingdom of Heaven features several astonishing battle sequences. The highlight of which is the siege of Jerusalem, which looks as real and as striking as any such action scene of recent memory. The visual effects used in these sequences are some of the most outstanding I’ve ever seen put on film. It’s a pure wonder how any of the cast or extras made it out of the shoot in one peace. That’s how astonishing the battle scenes are. It’s also a wonder how the Academy completely ignored the film in the effects or production design departments.

Chances are that if you’ve had enough of the battle epic movie, and there does seem to be one about every six months, then I may not be able to persuade you to see this movie. However, this is one piece of high-scale moviemaking that does deserve to be witnessed. Kingdom of Heaven is simply one glorious movie spectacle that is capable of striking you with it’s bigger than life action, stirring visuals, superb performances and its deep insight into a most crucial battle.

BONUS TRIVIA: The character of the masked King Baldwin IV is played by none other than Edward Norton.

Video ****

This newly expanded, much more epic cut of the film is covered on two discs, and the video presentation remains one of the most glorious experiences you’ll ever witness on DVD. There was no question that this movie would look absolutely magnificent on the format, and I was proven right. Fox’s anamorphic presentation is very much one of the most astounding looking discs you will come across. Ridley Scott’s vision, along with the cinematography of John Mathieson, who also shot Gladiator, is brought to life in the most magnificent quality that a DVD connoisseur could hope for. The movie includes a great deal of striking scenic shots that pretty much demonstrate what DVD was made for in the first place. The image is strong and clear throughout, with no detectable flaws of any sort. Colors are wonderfully handled, as well.

Audio ****

The disc also boasts one of the most outstanding audio tracks you will experience all year. The 5.1 mix, offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS, does nothing short of putting you, the viewer, in the middle of all the action. The extraordinary dynamic range is alive throughout the near two and a half hour running time. From beginning to end, each sequence seems to bring with it something for the channels to work with, be it background noise, clear dialogue, or music score. The epic battle sequences will have you practically ducking for cover! An astounding sound mix that is very much in the running for Audio Quality of the Year!

Features ****

I’m amazed that Fox was able to expand on their already fantastic 2-Disc release of the film, but they have exceeded it in every way, shape and form with this monumental 4-Disc Director’s Cut release. The new cut runs 3 hours and 14 minutes, and the film is given an entirely new epic feel. More character development is applied, as is a lot more story detail. Like the great epics of yesteryear, this cut opens with a brief overture, and includes an intermission. In short, the Director’s Cut is the true definitive version. It’s clear to see why Ridley Scott declares this as his favorite version of the film.

Disc One and Disc Two include the feature film, as well as two deeply informative commentary tracks, the only feature that was missing from the previous release. The first is with Ridley Scott, screenwriter William Monahan and star Orlando Bloom. The second commentary track is with executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, first assistant director Adam Somner and editor Dody Dorn. So you get a whole lot of perspectives on the making of the film through these two commentaries. Also included on these first two discs is The Enginer’s Guide, an intriguing text commentary track with production notes and trivia about the film.

Discs Three and Four provide the phenomenally done, all-access documentary material, which is appropriately titled The Path to Redemption.

On Disc Three, there’s the first part of the making-of documentary, along with featurettes which cover areas of Development, Pre Production and location shooting in Spain. Also featured are intriguing cast rehearsal footage, featurettes dealing with costumes, production design and historical accuracy.

Disc Four includes the remaining bits of documentary material. There’s Part II of the all access documentary, as well as the look at the location shooting in Morocco, including a look at the astounding Jerusalem siege sequence, storyboard galleries and unit photography gallery. There’s also a look at Post Production status, including over 30 minutes of Deleted and Extended Scenes, a feature on sound design and visual effects breakdowns. And lastly, there’s extensive promotional material, including Trailers and TV Spots, a Press Junket Walkthrough, footage at multiple World Premieres, a Special Shoot Gallery, and Poster Explorations. In addition, there’s exclusive look at the creation of the new Director’s Cut.

As you can see, anything and everything to be known about the creation of this epic masterpiece is included in this one of a kind package.

Summary:

Like Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott is a filmmaker who truly embraces the DVD form, and this new 4-Disc package of Kingdom of Heaven is the not only the best all around release to come out so far this year, but out of all the DVDs of Scott’s films, it’s a pure landmark release. It’s a great film, and it’s one DVD package that no collector should be without.

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