Release Date(s)2005/2006 (October 7, 2014)
Studio(s)Scott Free/20th Century Fox
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
Let’s start this review with the news that matters most: This Blu-ray Disc, at long last, is the version of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven that fans have been waiting for on the format. It includes all three versions of the film – the 144-minute Theatrical Cut, the 190-minute Director’s Cut, and the 194-minute Directors’ Cut: Roadshow Version – along with all of the outstanding special features (created by producer Charles de Lauzirika) that were included on both the previous 2-disc Theatrical Cut and 4-disc Director’s Cut DVDs. As such, it’s a must-own title on the Blu-ray format.
Set in the year 1186, Kingdom of Heaven tells the story of Balian (Orlando Bloom), a young French blacksmith whose wife has just committed suicide after losing their child. Since his Christian upbringing tells him that suicide is a terrible sin, Balian believes his wife has gone to Hell, causing him a deep crisis of faith. Not long after this, a band of Crusading knights passes through his village. Their leader, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), has come specifically to find Balian, who is revealed to be his son. Godfrey offers to take the young blacksmith under his wing, to train him as a knight and give him a home on his estate in the Holy Land. Balian at first declines, but eventually accepts Godfrey’s offer, hoping to seek forgiveness from God and redemption for his wife’s soul. Godfrey and his men take Balian into their ranks and depart for the Holy Land. An unfortunate turn of events, however, leaves Godfrey mortally wounded. He knights Balian, making him swear to protect the King of Jerusalem – and upon the King’s death, to protect the weak and innocent – and then dies, leaving Balian the new Baron of Ibelin... and filled with doubt that he’ll be able to keep his promises to a father he barely knew.
Soon after arriving in Jerusalem, however, Balian earns the respect of Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), the King’s aide and Godfrey’s friend. He also wins the trust of the reclusive King Baldwin himself (Edward Norton, in an uncredited performance by his own choice), as well as that of the King’s sister, Sibylla (Eva Green). All of this draws scorn for Balian from Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), the arrogant and power hungry baron who is married to Sibylla and who would be the next King. While Baldwin has managed to keep an uneasy peace with the legendary leader of the Muslims, Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), Guy wants war instead, believing what he’s been told by his advisors from the Church – that with God on their side, the Christians are unbeatable. Balian soon finds himself torn between his loyalty to his father and the King... and doing what he knows to be right.
Kingdom of Heaven is a masterpiece of direction, cinematography, action and presentation. You’ve come to expect all of those things from director Ridley Scott, and he doesn’t disappoint here. Unfortunately, there were serious gaps in the story of the Theatrical Cut, which earned the film a spate of negative reviews – events that seem to unfold too quickly, thread-bare characterizations (including that of Balian himself), relationships that aren’t fully explored or resolved, and little attention to the film’s complex historical and religious context. All of these issues were caused by the fact that Scott chose (or was forced to) cut over an hour out of the film in order to allow for more screenings during its theatrical release. Fortunately, the Director’s Cut addresses all of these issues. (I should note here that the Roadshow Version is simply the Director’s Cut with an added musical Overture and Entr’acte.)
So what makes the Director’s Cut better? Plenty, let me assure you. The restored footage fleshes out the film’s characters and story points considerably. Finally, you understand more of what motivates Balian – you see more of his life and circumstances in France. You see his wife briefly in Balian’s memory, and understand his grief better. You learn that he’s fought in war previously, and was an experienced engineer, so his cleverness in defending Jerusalem later in the film makes more sense. You learn more of Godfrey’s own connections to Balian’s home and his village, and why he would not only return to find Balian, but also why the local lord’s men would attack them later (it’s another family connection). The animosity between Balian and his brother, a local priest, is shown in greater clarity. Once Balian arrives in the Holy Land, you learn that Sibylla’s marriage to Guy is really one of convenience only, which puts Sibylla and Balian’s romantic relationship into better context. You learn that Sibylla has a son (who was completely cut out of the theatrical version), and that her love of her son motivates almost every action she takes (which in turn makes sense out of her bizarre behavior late in the film). You see more of Balian’s interactions with King Baldwin, and their developing respect for one another. And, at last, you not only understand why Guy hates Balian (it isn’t just about Sibylla), but their animosity actually pays off in a final confrontation that, again, is completely missing from the theatrical cut. I can’t stress enough how different this version of the film is, and how much better and more rewarding an experience it becomes, with the restoration of the trimmed minutes.
Fox’s new Blu-ray edition presents the film and its extras on two discs. All three versions of the film are available via seamless branching in 1080p high-definition video on Disc One (aspect ratio 2.35:1), with English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and available subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish). The video and audio quality of the presentation is outstanding – enough so that little more needs to be said here other than that fans of the film should be very pleased. Disc One also includes a video introduction by Scott, a trio of very good audio commentaries on the Roadshow Version (one with Scott, screenwriter William Monahan and star Orlando Bloom, a second with executive producer Lisa Ellzey, effects supervisor Wesley Sewell and 1st AD Adam Somner, and a third with editor Dody Dorn), as well as both the Pilgrim’s Guide (on the Theatrical Cut) and Engineer’s Guide trivia tracks (on the Roadshow Version) that were available on the previous DVD editions.
Disc Two of the set then includes everything else – all of the other special features from the previous 2-disc Theatrical Cut and 4-disc Director’s Cut DVDs. From the Director’s Cut DVD you get the 6-part SD documentary on the film’s production, entitled The Path to Redemption, and all of its features. It begins with Part I: Good Intentions, which chronicles the development of the film. Part II: Faith and Courage looks more closely at the pre-production process. Part III: The Pilgrimage Begins continues by focusing on the first part of the film’s location filming in Spain. Part IV: Into the Holy Land chronicles the film’s production as it continued in Morocco. Part V: The Burning Bush delves into the film’s post-production process and addresses, among other things, the cuts that were made to the film. The documentary concludes here with Part VI: Sins and Absolution, which examines the film’s release. All of the additional extras that were broken into sections on the DVD are included on the Blu-ray in the Production Sequence section. It starts with Development, which includes the early draft of Monahan’s screenplay for the film, story notes, a gallery of location scout photos, and a video overview of the original Tripoli film project out of which Kingdom of Heaven emerged. Next is Pre-Production, which includes cast rehearsal video, the Colors of the Crusade featurette on the film’s costume design, a gallery of Ridleygrams (storyboards drawn by the director), the Production Design Primer featurette, a gallery of production design images, and a costume design gallery. Production features the Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak featurette (on the historical accuracy of the film), additional galleries of storyboards from the film, and a gallery of unit production photography images, as well as a separate featurette that focuses on the film’s epic battle scenes, entitled Unholy War: Mounting the Siege. The Post-Production section offers 15 deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Scott and Dorn) as well as an interactive Sound Design Suite, which lets you view a scene from the film with a variety of different audio options (from different parts of the audio process), or view featurettes on the work involved at those same stages in the process. Rounding out this section is a set of four featurettes, covering different aspects of the visual effects process. These include The Burning Man: Fire Effects and Face Replacement, Building Jerusalem: Digital Matte Painting and 3D Modeling, Casualties of War: Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Warriors, and Medieval Engines: The Physics and Firepower of Trebuchets, all of which are interesting viewing (personally, I particularly enjoyed the piece on the trebuchets constructed for the production). The final section is Release and Director’s Cut, where all of the film’s trailers and TV spots are to be found, along with video of the film’s press junket and the premieres in London, New York and Tokyo, a gallery of “special shoot” photos, and an extensive gallery of poster explorations for the film (including many that feature the unused title Crusade). The section also includes the Paradise Found: Creating the Director’s Cut featurette, in which Dorn and others address the work that went into creating Scott’s preferred version of the film, and credits. Lastly, there’s an Archive section that includes all of the bonus content from the Theatrical Cut DVD, including the Interactive Production Grid documentary features, as well as the A&E and History Channel documentaries, the 4 short featurettes on the production (that appeared on the official website – about 10 minutes in all). If all of the above seems like an extraordinary amount of bonus content, that’s because it is... and virtually all of it is worth your time.
Speaking personally, I find Ridley Scott’s fully-realized version of Kingdom of Heaven to be a truly great film – one that deserves to be considered among his very best works (think Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down). If you’ve avoided Kingdom of Heaven until now because of its bad theatrical reviews, or because of a sour viewing experience with the Theatrical Cut, I strongly encourage you to revisit the film again here on this Blu-ray as it was meant to be seen. This is a far grander, more rewarding, and truly epic cinematic experience. The Director’s Cut is a feast for your mind as well as your eyes and ears. Better still, special edition producer Charles de Lauzirika’s bonus features for this film (collected in their entirety for the first time here) are as fine as any he’s ever created. Best of all, as of the time of this writing, this new edition is selling for less than $20 on Amazon. As you might expect then, this Blu-ray release gets our highest recommendation.
Film Ratings (Theatrical/Director’s Cut/DC: Roadshow Version): C+/A/A
- Bill Hunt