Kingdom of Heaven appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; 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.
How did the picture and sound of this “Director’s Cut” of Kingdom compare to the original theatrical DVD? I thought both releases seemed virtually identical. The new transfer may be a little tighter, but any possible improvements appeared marginal. Both sets offered very good presentations.
The four-disc “Director’s Cut” adds a bunch of new extras. As was the case with the extended edition of Gladiator, none of the prior set’s supplements repeat here Of course, the version of the film itself runs 50 minutes longer than its theatrical iteration. Check out the body of the review for more information on these changes.
When we start the film, DVD One comes with an introduction from Ridley Scott. In this 60-second piece, he gives us a quick overview of the “Director’s Cut”. It’s not much, but it helps lead into the new version of the film.
We also find three new audio commentaries. The first features producer/director Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan and actor Orlando Bloom. Each sits alone and the results are combined in this edited piece.
A mix of topics appears here. We get a little info on the project’s genesis plus some remarks about casting and performances, sets and locations, various visual components, and changes made for the “Director’s Cut”. Bloom tells us a little about his training as well.
However, the majority of the commentary looks at story and historical issues. Scott dominates and gives us an overview of fact compared to historical liberties. Monahan chips in a lot of that information as well; he gets into his research and sets the record straight on various issues. All of this information helps broaden our understanding of the flick and makes it a richer experience.
For the second commentary, we hear from executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, and first assistant director Adam Somner. This one uses the same format as the prior track; all three participants sat separately and were edited together. A mix of production topics dominate. Ellzey gives us general nuts and bolts like the script, locations, and other areas she covered. Unsurprisingly, Sewell hits on visual effects and various challenges in that realm. Somner goes over his work on the film, which includes elements like working with extras, technical and logistical issues, and dealing with the locations.
We also get insights that tell us what it’s like to work with Ridley Scott and how the participants deal with a flick as big as Heaven. Occasionally the conversation can be a bit dry, but it touches on more than enough useful elements to satisfy. It gets into many good bits, and Somner is such a colorful character that he keeps us entertained. Listeners with sensitive ears beware: Somner curses up a storm and makes this one of the most profane commentaries I’ve heard.
Finally, we get a commentary from editor Dody Dorn all on her own. She gives us a running, screen-specific piece. Much of the time, Dorn addresses changes made for the extended cut of the film. She delineates these alterations and tell us why they were left out of the theatrical version.
Dorn also gets into a mix of other storytelling topics. She explains the rationale for a mix of decisions and lets us know how she sees the tale as a whole package. Dorn goes over the pros and cons of the editor being on the set, technological issues, and a mix of other connected areas. She makes this an informative and winning chat. We find a nice look at the extended cut and learn a lot about elements of the editor’s job in this solid commentary.
While the original DVD included a terrific text commentary called “The Pilgrim’s Guide”, this one features an alternate track. Instead of the earlier piece’s historical bent, The Enginer’s Guide looks at various technical aspects of the production. This discusses the “roadshow” format, the cast and crew, sets and locations, the production schedule, research, historical antecedents and script development, production design and costumes, stunts and effects, and a mix of other issues. A little history pops up along the way, but “The Pilgrim’s Guide” remains vastly superior in that regard.
Don’t take that as an insult toward “Enginer’s Guide”, though, as it never attempts to become a historical discussion. It deals with facts related to the movie’s creation, and it does well in that regard. Inevitably, some information repeats from the commentaries, but the “Enginer’s Guide” remains a tight and informative piece that aptly summarizes the production’s various elements.
DVD One opens with a promo for Tristan + Isolde.
When we shift to DVDs Three and Four, the elements split into different areas. Spread across both discs, however, we get a six-part documentary called The Path to Redemption that runs a remarkable two hours, 22 minutes and 47 seconds. The show mixes movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Scott, Ellzey, Monahan, Bloom, Somner, Dorn, Sewell, production designer Arthur Max, costume designer Janty Yates, set designer Sonja Klaus, casting director Debra Zane, weapons master Simon Atherton, makeup designer Paul Engelen, director of photography John Mathieson, senior armoury technician Tommy Dunne, food preparer Paloma Hernandez, associate producer Teresa Kelly, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, supervising sound editor Per Hallberg, and actors Marton Czokas, Michael Sheen, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Alexander Siddig, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud and Khaled Nabawy.
“Redemption” starts with Scott’s interest in the subject and its initial development. We find out how the filmmakers narrowed the centuries of Crusades into the movie’s focus, the aborted Tripoli project, and the composition of the story’s script and its refinement. From there we get notes about pre-production that include research and various visual influences, casting, decisions about whether to include Sibylla’s son and how those effected production, rehearsals and various forms of actor training, and characters and how they looked.
As we progress, we move to various locations. We go to Spain and follow the shoot there. We learn about filming in that nation, weather-related issues, cinematography, sets, the constant presence of Bloom’s teeny-bopper fans, and various scene specifics. One filming concludes in Spain, it heads to Morocco. This segment covers location and set specifics, press-related controversies and security concerns, more weather issues, stunts, the accidental destruction of part of the set, and more sequence details.
After the end of location shooting, we go into post-production. This part examines editing choices and bringing the film down to a reasonable length, visual effects, the score, trailer ideas, color timing, and controversies over the inclusion of various sequences. Finally, we look at the film’s release and its promotion. The last segment examines goals for the movie and its reception.
Only that final piece comes as any sort of a disappointment. Yes, it mentions that the film didn’t do well critically or financially, but it also makes excuses and feels somewhat slick.
Otherwise, “Redemption” offers a fully successful documentary. Just because a program lasts a long time doesn’t necessarily make it good, but “Redemption” packs so much depth and detail into its space that it gives us a rich view of the production. We learn many useful notes, and the footage from the set is especially winning. (I particularly love a scene ruined by the honking of peacocks.) “Redemption” works very well and remains consistently informative and entertaining.
The other extras on DVDs Three and Four come under specific subheadings. Development opens with Tripoli Overview. This gives us a little text about the aborted project and follows with 23 screens of drawings and photos connected to its pre-production. These offer a decent glimpse of the cancelled flick’s early movements.
For some text, we find an Early Draft Screenplay by William Monahan. This presents exactly what it implies: an early take on the script. It’s fun to compare this with the final film to see what made the cut and what got the axe.
Story Notes cover 73 screens. These show us some of the comments created by Scott and Ellzey to annotate the screenplay. Since they come out of context, they’re not always that helpful, but they do give us an interesting glimpse of the behind the scenes thought processes.
“Development” concludes with a Location Scout Gallery. This presents 50 shots of Scott and others as they inspect various spots. We get a decent view of potential locations here, but I can’t say it seems terribly fascinating.
From there we shift to Pre-Production and its six components. Cast Rehearsals runs 13 minutes, 23 seconds as it shows early cast interactions. We get some comments from Bloom and Scott but mostly view footage from the rehearsals. We see Bloom, Neeson and Scott work together on some scenes, and we also watch David Thewlis join them. In addition, we get Bloom and Scott with Czokas and with Eva Green. All these segments are quite fun to see, as it’s very compelling to check out the principals as they get to know each other and learn their roles.
Colors of the Crusade goes for 32 minutes and 14 seconds. The show includes remarks from Yates, Bloom, Green, Thewlis, Gleeson, Csokas, Massoud, Siddig, Atherton, Neeson, Klaus and Max. It talks about wardrobe decisions and challenges like chain mail, the design and execution of various armaments, and heraldry. The level of detail here would have been too much in the main documentary, but it’s much appreciated here. “Colors” delves into visual choices with real gusto and cleanly lets us know how and why the filmmakers did what they did.
Called Ridleygrams, the next area looks at the director’s self-drawn mini-storyboards. We get 168 of these, and they’re more detailed than prior “Ridleygrams” I’d seen. Since they often accompany script segments, they prove particularly insightful.
A Production Design Primer lasts six minutes, 54 seconds. It features Max and Klaus as it relates information about the sets, their building and related issues. Unlike “Colors”, this program probably should have been inserted into the main documentary. It acts as a short look at its topic; it includes decent notes but isn’t quite as full as I’d like.
Two more collections of stills finish off “Pre-Production”. We get a Production Design Gallery (176 frames) and a Costume Design Gallery (63). Both prove valuable, though I prefer “Costume Design”. “Production Design” gets a little tedious with all its shots of the same subjects, while “Costume Design” provides a nice glimpse of the appropriate details.
The final segment of DVD Three looks at Production: Spain. It starts with a featurette called Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak. This 26-minute and 38-second piece includes remarks from Scott, Ellzey, Monahan, Bloom, Massoud, Green, writer/theologian Dr. Donald Spoto, Columbia University’s Professor of Iranian Studies Dr. Hamid DaBashi, and UCSD’s Dr. Nancy Caciola. They discuss the Crusades and how the events depicted in Heaven match the realities of that era. I like the concept of this program but find the reality to be less exciting. It gives us a few decent details but doesn’t dig into things in a terribly rich manner.
More stillframe materials flesh out “Spain”. Storyboard Galleries accompany three scenes: “Balian’s Village” (80 drawings), “Forest Ambush” (57) and “Pilgrim Road” (8). Unit Photography Gallery offers 110 shots from the set. Both sets of images are fine, though neither seems especially scintillating.
With that we head to DVD Four. Under Production: Morocca, we find three components. Unholy War: Mounting the Siege lasts 17 minutes and six seconds as it presents notes from Scott, Klaus, Max, Somner, Ellzey, Siddig, Atherton, and special effects supervisor Neil Corbould. As expected, the featurette examines the elements used to create the big battle sequence. We watch planning sessions and learn concerns about logistics, the building of various sets and props, extras, and shooting issues on the set. All of this acts as a nice synopsis of the topics connected to the climax. It’s not quite the area-by-area dissection I expected, but it provides more than enough information to prove useful.
Additional stills pop up in the other two areas. Storyboard Galleries come for three sequences: “Kerak” (125), “Battle Preparations” (14) and “The Siege” (325). Unit Photography Gallery includes another 201 shots from the set. My comments from the earlier galleries continue to apply here.
Under the banner of Post-Production, we locate three more pieces. 15 Deleted & Extended Scenes run a total of 30 minutes, 22 seconds. That’s a lot of material, but not much of it sticks. Some scenes that expand the relationship between Godfrey and Balian help, and we see more of Sibylla and her son, but most of the others seem superfluous or simply dull.
We can watch these with or without commentary from Scott and Dorn. They chat about various story issues related to the scenes and usually – but not always – let us know why the sequences failed to make the cut. Their remarks offer decent explanation of the appropriate topics.
Inside the Sound Design Suite, we learn more about that area. When you select “Craft”, you find a 24-minute and 58-second featurette that covers dialogue editing, ADR, Foley, sound FX editing, and the final mix. “Sample” lets us hear examples of each stage. It presents comments from supervising sound editor Hallberg, actor Sheen, dialogue editor Simon Chase, ADR supervisor Paul Conway, Foley editor Alex Joseph, SFX editors Sue Lenny, Oliver Tarney and James Harrison, and re-recording mixers Myron Nettinga and Michael Minkler.
They discuss all the aspects of their work and the various challenges involved in creating good audio for a film like this. The featurettes delve into the elements concisely and make this an informative package. I especially like the insights from Sheen about doing his ADR. We rarely find notes about that issue from the actors themselves, so it’s fun to get a deeper look at looping.
Visual Effects Breakdowns looks at the work behind four sequences. We get “The Burning Man (Fire Effects and Face Replacement)”, “Building Jerusalem (Digital Matte Paintings and 3D Modeling)”, “Casualties of War (Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Warriors)” and “Medieval Engines (The Physics and Firepower of Trebuchets)”. When viewed together, these four featurettes fill a total of 21 minutes and 47 seconds.
They cover the subjects mentioned in their subheadings as we learn more about various visual effects techniques. These show the different elements used for the sequences along with commentary from visual effects supervisor Sewell. He talks about what each scene needed and why they made the decisions they did. These come out as interesting segments that provide nice insight.
I especially like Sewell’s notes about working on the set. We usually only hear about post-production visual effects efforts, so I enjoy the glimpse of how he collaborated with Scott during the shoot. The images of CG tests are also a lot of fun to see.
As the DVD nears its finish, we go to Release and its seven subdomains. Trailers & TV Spots includes four of the former and a whopping 50 – yes, 50 – of the latter. I’ve never seen anywhere near that many TV ads for one movie. Heck, I didn’t even think any studio ever created that many TV promos for a single flick.
A Press Junket Walkthrough takes up six minutes and 18 seconds. We find shots of Max, Klaus, Atherton, and assistant costume designer Robert Worley. They lead reporters through a glimpse of some movie props, sets and costumes. This piece offers a decent look at the publicity side of things but isn’t interesting in its own right.
Next we head to the World Premieres. This three-minute and 42-second compilation leads us to London, New York and Tokyo to observe the movie’s premieres in those spots. We see the various participants as they arrive at these openings and get a few fluffy comments from Scott, Bloom, Irons, and Neeson. My response to this? Yawn! It’s not an interesting collection of clips.
We see more stills in the next two areas. Special Shoot Gallery presents 44 posed publicity photos, while Poster Explorations depicts 267 promotional ideas. Many of these offer variations on the same theme, but they still create a fine impression of the various possibilities.
Paradise Found: Creating the Director’s Cut goes for eight minutes, 31 seconds. It involves Dorn, Ellzey, Hallberg, Mathieson and Kelly. They talk about the desire to create a longer edition and the issues related to this activity. Frankly, this is a dull piece. We don’t get much real data, as the participants mostly tell us how happy they are to get to do the extended cut.
DVD Four concludes with Director’s Cut Credits. These give us four screens of text.
While the theatrical rendition of Kingdom of Heaven largely left me cold, this extended “Director’s Cut” offers a better-developed tale. It expands its characters and story to a satisfying degree. The extra footage doesn’t make Heaven a great film, but it becomes a much stronger one than its choppy theatrical edition.
The new DVD offers picture and audio that seem very similar to those of the original release. However, in addition to the “Director’s Cut”, it adds plenty of new extras. These make the package a remarkable set. The four-DVD Heaven comes packed to the gills with excellent extras.
Across the board, the “Director’s Cut” of Heaven earns my recommendation. The extended version of the film becomes a quality flick, and the package presents it in a terrific manner. If you don’t have the old DVD, get this one. If you do have the theatrical release, get this one; even if supplements don’t interest you, the new cut of the flick makes it worth owning. It’s a stellar set that’ll almost certainly end up on my year-end Top Ten.
To rate this film visit the original review of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN