In Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut", a film that boasts a new, longer, more expansive and handsome looking edit, there is a propulsive energy at work that solidifies the film as a true epic. The movie is sweeping in both scope and nature; with roughly 45 minutes of new footage added to the film. Presenting the Crusades as experienced by the chivalrous Balian (Orlando Bloom), Scott has constructed a robust, action packed, historical drama that weaves a grand tapestry that is much bigger than its star.
The film provides insightful discourse into religious pluralism, creating a seemingly historically accurate Jerusalem under the rule of King Baldwin (Ed Norton), a pragmatic ruler inflicted with leprosy. The story begins in the year 1184, as a group of righteous Crusaders return home under the leadership of Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson). Godfrey is a French baron, who offers his illegitimate son, Balian, an opportunity to join him on his next journey to Jerusalem. It was only recently Balian's wife committed suicide over the death of their child, leaving Balian alone to mourn them. Balian's crusade to the holy land, with the father he never knew, gives him a chance to redeem his soul and that of his wife, as well.
Along the way Balian and his companions meet many men who would perform inhuman acts in the name of their respective Gods. These not-so-Christian men are fully embodied by the villainous Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), a British noble (and Templar Knight) who has recently married princess Sibylla (Eva Green), King Baldwin's younger sister. Guy is reminiscent of the typical, mustache twirling, movie bad guys but Csokas plays him with enough sinister verve that he acts as an interesting foil for Bloom's Balian. The two are polar opposites, morally charged yin and yang.
After Balian arrives in Jerusalem, he starts to hear tales of the Muslim leader, a righteous warrior named Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), who commands an army of over 200,000 men. All they wait for is proper motive to invade Jerusalem and take their lands back from the Christians, who are themselves defended by the Templar Knights and other Crusaders. In this respect, the film acts as a dichotic allegory that rests snuggly in between historical drama and modern day parable. Both sides of the war come with both noble and malicious intent. The Jerusalem of "Kingdom of Heaven" is a multicultural, multi-religious paradise where Muslims, Jews and Christians live, work and worship together. It's a spectacular sight, as is much of the film.
The film is a glorious, sprawling adventure and although it may seem that Balian is lost in the midst of this, he is not. It isn't that Bloom is ineffective, he often feels most at home in these types of films, although usually in supporting roles. Bloom's doe-eyed, sweet faced nature works in that his young protagonist creates an interesting symbolism for modern day warfare in the way soldiers quickly rise through the ranks. Balian is an innocent, who is strongly committed to his sense of chivalry. The rest of the cast is strong and help carry the film to great heights, from the philosophically inclined Hospitaller (David Thewlis), to the gallant Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), to the sensually tempting (and no less pragmatic than her brother) Sibylla, to the noble Saladin; every character has something to offer Balian as well as the audience.
Although Balian is the film's anchor, he is also, in many ways, a secondary player to the world of the film itself. Scott has crafted a moving and challenging secular film in this manner, which is best summarized by Thewlis' Hospitaller character in a speech to Balian, "I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness." The film asks its viewers to question their sense of right and wrong, to take a look at moral actions and discern whether they are truly good. "Kingdom of Heaven: the Director's Cut" offers simple answers to complex questions and in the end leaves you thinking that it could very well be just that easy.
The film is presented in a wonderful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. John Mathieson's lush cinematography is beautifully displayed in this transfer. Blacks are deep and rich, while colors pop as necessary. The brightness of the expansive deserts near Jerusalem come across in quite stunning fashion. There is no damage anywhere; the video is sharp and highly detailed. "Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut" looks simply amazing.
The film also comes with English language Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio mixes. Both audio tracks are very impressive with the slight edge going to the DTS mix, which provides an overall richer and warmer experience. Dialogue is crisp and clean throughout and is always audible. Sound effects are finely detailed in both mixes, with battle scenes spreading across the various front and rear channels when necessary. There are also directional sounds in the less intense scenes, which add to the film's overall experience. Which ever your choice, both tracks offer glorious sound mixes for your listening pleasure.
Fox has pulled out the stops for the extras on this set. The film itself comes complete with
Three audio commentaries, the first with Scott, Bloom and writer William Monahan, recorded separately. The commentary is what you'd expect, with Scott and Monahan discussing how they came to the project by way of "Tripoli", a film project they were both working on prior to "Kingdom of Heaven". The second audio commentary features executive producer Lisa Ellzey, effects supervisor Wes Sewell, and first A.D. Adam Sommer, also recorded separately. Each of them discusses the film from various production stand points, and is rather informative. The final commentary features editor
Dody Dorn, who discusses the various changes they made for this version and general thoughts about the film. Also included is the "Enginer's Guide", which offers a pop-up style commentary which provides information about the film including trivia and production notes.
The bulk of the extras can be found on disc three and four, which includes a feature length behind-the-scenes documentary entitled "The Path to Redemption". The documentary is, itself an impressive look at the making of the film from development all the way up to reactions after the film's release. The documentary is presented in 1.78 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby 2.0. The documentary is easy to navigate, separated into 3 parts on each disc (six in total) and various subsections for each part (which can all be played separately). There also a number of separate featurettes, detailing various aspects of the filmmaking process in greater detail. The extras on this set are exhaustive and will easily take a few afternoon/evenings to get through.
The extras are broken down as follows:
"The Path to Redemption" Part I: Good Intentions (the film's development)
"The Path to Redemption" Part II: Faith and Courage (pre-production)
"The Path to Redemption" Part III: The Pilgrimage Begins (production)
"Tripoli" Overview and Gallery, which features notes and images
"Kingdom of Heaven" early draft screenplay by William Monahan
Story notes, Location scout gallery
Cast rehearsal footage featuring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Marton Csokas and Eva Green. This a great little featurette which offers insight into how scott directs his actors.
Costume and weapon design featurette, which details the various methods used to create the costumes and weapons for the film.
"Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak" is an insightful look at the film from scholars and academic experts.
Storyboard galleries: "Balian's Village," "Forest Ambush" and "Pilgrim's Road"
Production design video
Costume design text and image galleries
"The Path to Redemption" Part IV: Into the Promised Land (production)
"The Path to Redemption" Part V: The Burning Bush (post-production)
"The Path to Redemption" Part VI: Sins and Absolution (the film's release)
"Unholy War: Mounting The Siege" explores the creation of the films' climactic battle.
15 deleted/alternate scenes in anamorphic widescreen, playable separately or together for roughly 30 minutes of running time with optional Scott and Dorn commentary
Sound design suite which allows the viewer to sample tracks of dialogue editing, ADR, Foley, sound FX editing and final mix
Storyboard galleries: "Kerak," "Battle Preparations" and "The Siege"
Visual effects breakdowns: "The Burning Man", "Building Jerusalem", "Casualties of War", "Medieval Engines"
The ShoWest presentation
The press junket walkthrough at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena
Footage from the New York, Japan and London premieres
Domestic and international poster gallery
Special shoot gallery
"Paradise Found: Creating The Director's Cut"
Director's cut credits
Trailers and TV spots
The misfire that was the theatrical cut of "Kingdom of Heaven" has been meticulously corrected and refined here to create a more complete and rousing epic film. Scott has created an inspiring work of allegory; one of his best films to date, which is now smarter, richer, and bigger. Thankfully this version never feels as long as its running time indicates. "Kingdom of Heaven: the Director's Cut" is definitely worth watching and is highly recommended.