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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ridley Scott
Cast:
Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Marton Csokas, Alexander Siddig, Velibor Topic, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Jon Finch, Edward Norton
Writing Credits:
William Monahan

Synopsis:
Bailian (Orlando Bloom), a young French blacksmith, is mourning the loss of his wife and son when he's confronted by his estranged father, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), the baron to the king of Jerusalem and a man committed to keeping peace in the holy land despite the increasing possibility of war.

Box Office:
Budget
$130 million.
Opening Weekend
$19.635 million on 3216 screens.
Domestic Gross
$47.396 million.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 144 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 10/11/2005

Bonus:
Disc One
• “The Pilgrim’s Guide” Text Commentary
• Inside Look
Disc Two
• Interactive Production Grid
• A&E “Movie Real: Kingdom of Heaven
• History Channel “History Vs. Hollywood: Kingdom of Heaven
• Four Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes
• Trailer


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Kingdom Of Heaven (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 5, 2005)

In 2000, director Ridley Scott revived the “sword and sandals” epic with Gladiator. After that, actor Orlando Bloom appeared in two films that came from long-moribund genres: the fantasy Lord of the Rings trilogy and the swashbuckling adventure Pirates of the Caribbean.

Films about the Middle Ages and knights haven’t exactly prospered at the box office. 2001’s A Knight’s Tale raked in a mediocre $56 million, and other attempts in the genre haven’t fared any better. However, with Scott and Bloom involved, 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven figured to break that trend, right?

Nope. Despite a big summer blockbuster budget of $130 million and a prime early May release date – exactly the same spot that worked for Gladiator five years earlier - Heaven failed to find an audience. It took in a weak $47 million and quickly sank from sight.

So I guess this sort of film will have to wait for another day to find its salvation. Set in 1184, Heaven starts with a text preface that lets us know Christians took over Jerusalem a century earlier and poverty in Europe forces many residents to head there. We’re also smack dab in the middle of the Crusades.

A knight named Godfrey (Liam Neeson) returns to France to find his bastard son. This turns out to be Balian (Bloom), a blacksmith whose wife (Nathalie Cox) killed herself after the demise of their child. Balian initially refuses Godfrey’s offer to come with him to Jerusalem. However, a priest (Michael Sheen) badgers Balian to go and tells him it’s the only way to save his wife’s soul. Overcome with anger, Balian kills the priest and flees to find Godfrey and his men.

When authorities come to arrest Balian, his pop defends him. This leaves Godfrey mortally wounded. Before he dies, he confers the title Baron of Ibelin on Balian and instructs him to obey the King of Jerusalem (Edward Norton). The King tries to maintain that location as a haven for Christians and Muslims, so Godfrey wants Balian to help keep the peace. He agrees and makes his way to the holy city.

There he finds much conflict. Christian soldiers called Templars provoke skirmishes with the Muslim Saracens and tensions are high. The leper king nears death, and it appears anti-Muslim Guy de Lusignan (Marton Czokas) will take over when that happens. It seems Guy and Godfrey didn’t get along, so he instantly takes a dislike to Balian.

On the other hand, Guy’s sexy wife Sibylla (Eva Green) clearly has the hots for Balian. Since she’s also the King’s sister, this creates intrigue. Matters become more complicated when nasty Muslim hater Reynald (Brendan Gleeson) leads an unprovoked attack on Saracens. Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the Marshall of Jerusalem, wants to punish Reynald, but when Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) leads his armies toward Reynald’s realm, more urgent matters occur.

The Christians desire a massive war against the Saracens, and it initially looks like they’ll get it. However, when the King intervenes and chats with Saladin, they avert bloodshed. The King agrees to punish Reynald and does so. He also comes closer to death and tries to get Balian to lead the armies of Jerusalem and also marry Sibylla to stand in the way of Guy, who he plans to have killed. All this gets pretty complicated, especially since Balian tries to follow a righteous path. The rest of the movie follows the various political and physical conflicts.

Without question, Heaven feels strongly influenced by Gladiator. In look, in tone, and in character, we find a lot of echoes from the earlier film. It’s not a clone by any stretch of the imagination, but it clearly comes from the same cloth.

As someone who wasn’t particularly wild about Gladiator, that becomes an issue. Since Heaven stands as a poor sister to Gladiator, it turns into an even bigger problem. Basically, both films share some of the same strengths, though those elements are less effective here. They also have the same weaknesses, and the newer flick magnifies the weaknesses.

I must admit that Scott knows his way around a battle scene, so those sequences fare well. To some degree, they feel like copies of what he did in Gladiator, especially since he uses the same choppy photographic style that dominated that flick’s action. Nonetheless, these elements add some life to an otherwise plodding movie.

Much of the problem comes from the execution of the story. While the characters of Gladiator weren’t particularly deep, at least they showed some personality and a few three-dimensional qualities. None of those emerge here, as the various roles uniformly fail to deliver much in the way of full humanity.

That’s because Heaven exists as a very simple good vs. evil tale. Czokas makes Guy a much more imposing physical presence than Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus, but he lacks the same level of breadth. Commodus had some conflicts and quirks, but Guy is nothing more than a basic mustache-twirling baddie.

Balian also fails to display the humanity of Gladiator’s Maximus, and Bloom certainly lacks the charismatic presence of Russell Crowe. Bloom has done well in secondary roles – he may have been the hero in Caribbean, but he really took a backseat to Johnny Depp – but he seems unable to muster the necessary strength to carry that kind of flick on his own. He appears lost amid the chaos as Balian and never manages to form the strong leader necessary for the role.

Without question, there’s a good story to be told here, but Kingdom of Heaven fails to explore it adequately. Indeed, the plot eventually becomes muddled and almost incoherent. It seems like the story exists as an excuse for big, bloody battle scenes. Those offer some good moments, but without interesting characters and a solid plot, there’s not enough here to maintain our interest.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

Kingdom of Heaven appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. With many strengths, the picture neared greatness but just fell short of those heights.

Sharpness was usually excellent. In fact, the only problems I discerned came from some light edge enhancement. I noticed minor haloes through parts of the movie, and those occasionally rendered the image with slightly less definition than I’d like. However, the majority of the flick was tight and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I noticed no signs of source flaws.

As was the case with Gladiator, Ridley Scott opted for some stylized tones in Heaven. Actually, those elements dominated the first act in France, as it cast events in a strongly blue tone. Although I expected an arid tint to the Jerusalem sequences, they went with a reasonably natural palette. The DVD demonstrated lush and vivid colors when appropriate, and the tones looked solid. Blacks were also deep and dense, while shadows offered appropriate definition. Overall, this was a very satisfying image that only fell to a “B+” due to a bit of edge enhancement.

No similar concerns marred the audio of Kingdom of Heaven. The DVD included very similar Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes. Once I accounted for the usual louder volume level of the DTS track, the two sounded virtually identical to me.

I had no problem with that since the pair sounded great. The soundfield seemed very involving and active. All five channels received a good workout as they displayed a great deal of discrete sound throughout the film. Of course, the action scenes offered the showiest moments, though all parts of the flick depicted a nice sense of environment.

Audio quality was similarly positive. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded clear and bright and displayed good range. Effects were clean and accurate, while low-end boomed nicely. This was a very good mix that supported the material well.

Although director Ridley Scott usually records audio commentaries for his movies, one fails to appear alongside Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, we get a text commentary called The Pilgrim’s Guide. Referred to as a “historical companion” to the film, that’s exactly what it offers: a look at the facts behind the flick. This means no information about the movie’s creation.

Instead, we learn a lot about the background. This encompasses the Crusades and those activities, the real characters behind their cinematic counterparts, and nuts and bolts like armor, weapons and styles of warfare. “Guide” truly provides a thorough and engaging view of these elements. It peters out during the third act, but I won’t complain since it acts as such a great history otherwise.

DVD One also presents a promotional Inside Look. This touts the upcoming Tristan & Isolde flick with shots from the set, movie snippets, and comments from director Kevin Reynolds, production designer Mark Geraghty, executive producer Jim Lemley, and actors Sylvia Miles and James Franco. They tell us how big everything is, how tough it was to make, and how great it’ll be. This is nothing more than a glorified trailer, and not a very effective one at that.

Over on DVD Two, the main attraction comes from an Interactive Production Grid. Here’s how the DVD’s menu describes “How It Works”:

“If you want to follow the making of the film from a particular point of view, simply choose ‘Directing’, ‘Crew’ or ‘Cast’. If you want to see what happened during a particular phase of production choose PRE (pre-production), PROD (production) or POST (post-production). If you want to learn about a certain phase of production from a specific point of view, simply click on the intersection between those two tracks. For example, if you want to learn about what the director did during post-production, select the button on the grid where those two paths cross. Or if you just want to watch everything, press ‘Play All’”.

In the interest of completeness, that’s what I did. Taken as one long package, this creates a program that runs a total of one hour, 23 minutes, and six seconds. It presents the expected mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews. We find comments from director Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan, production designer Arthur Max, costume designer Janty Yates, set decorator Sonja Klaus, armorer Simon Atherton, first assistant director Adam Somner, executive producer Lisa Ellzey, extras casting Billy Dowd, special effects supetvisor Neil Corbould, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, editor Dody Dorn, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, supervising sound editor Per Hallberg, sound re-recording mixers Myron Nettinga and Michael Minkler, and actors Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Marton Czokas, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Ghassan Massoud, and David Thewlis.

The route these components take will differ dependent on your selections, but via “Play All”, we open with thoughts about Scott’s long-term interest in a project about knights and this one’s development. From there we go through historical influences and liberties, assembling a crew, costume and set design, building needed items, casting and research, rehearsal, storyboarding, using the natural elements, Scott’s approach on the set, complexities of the movie’s scale, extras, practical and computer effects, score and editing, sound design, and the movie’s relevance in the modern world.

Given the program’s length and breadth of information, we can expect a good overview of the topics. However, I must admit it leaves me a little unsatisfied. To be sure, it tells us a lot about the production and goes through all the standard issues in a concise and informative manner. Unfortunately, it feels like more of a puff piece than usual. Too much of the show relates how big and impressive the project is, and the praise flows freely. There’s more than enough here to make this a valuable set, but it fails to deliver the impact I’d expect.

After that complex effort, we find two separate cable TV documentaries. From the History Channel comes History Vs. Hollywood. The 42-minute and 54-second show includes comments from Bloom, Neeson, Irons, Scott, Green, military historian Kelly DeVries, Route 66 AD author Tony Perrottet, Purdue University’s Dorsey Armstrong, No One But God author Reza Aslan, California State University’s Candace Gregory, Saint Louis University’s Thomas Madden, the University of Houston’s Lorraine Stock, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Jeffrey Forgeng.

We get a quick synopsis of the movie’s story and then take a trip to Spain to visit one of the film’s locations. We learn about its history and then find out about why so many regard Jerusalem as an important spot. From there we get notes on the Crusades and how they were executed, the real-life Saladin, elements of battle, and the costs of the Crusades and the motivations of participants.

If you expect a rich historical lesson from “Hollywood”, you’ll leave disappointed. At times it feels more like promotion for the movie than anything else. It does provide some decent notes about the history behind the flick, but it doesn’t offer a lot of substance. I can’t say I feel like I learned much from this show.

In the A&E network’s 44-minute and 27-second MovieReal, we hear from Scott, Bloom, Green, Madden, Dartmouth College’s Christopher MacEvitt, New York University’s Jill N. Caster, University of Notre Dame’s Paul M. Cobb, and Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi. This program digs into the Crusades. The show traces the various important events and runs through all the important facets and personalities. “MovieReal” ends up as a vastly more satisfying piece than “Hollywood”. Sure, it still features some promo for the movie, but it focuses significantly more heavily on the history and does so in a satisfying way. Watch this one and skip the fluffy “Hollywood”.

In addition to the movie’s theatrical trailer, the DVD concludes with four Internet Featurettes. These occupy a total of nine minutes, 22 seconds when viewed via the “Play All” option. These include “Ridley Scott: Creating Worlds”, “Orlando Bloom: The Adventure of a Lifetime“, “Production Design: Bringing an Old City to Life”, and “Costume Design: Creating Character Through Wardrobe”. We get notes from Bloom, Thewlis, Scott, Neeson, Max, Yates, and Sewell. I expected a lot of promotional bombast and that’s what I got. Bloom offers a couple of interesting notes about his increased public profile and preparation for the film, but otherwise this is tedious advertising.

Kingdom of Heaven feels like it should come with one of those “if you like X, then you’ll love Y” ad campaigns. The movie shows its Gladiator influences heavily, though it doesn’t succeed to the same degree. Heaven has some good battle sequences but fails to offer much else to make it intriguing.

The DVD provides strong picture and audio along with some nice extras. The absence of an audio commentary remains a disappointment, but a terrific text track helps educate, and some behind the scenes bits add value. If the subject interests you, give this one a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9761 Stars Number of Votes: 42
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