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Kingdom of HeavenKingdom of Heaven on DVD

by Johnny Bray

We could sit here and debate until the cows come home about whether or not Kingdom of Heaven is historically accurate. The fact of the matter is: I wasn’t there. Neither were you.

The film is set during the Crusades, the lengthy war between the Christians and the Muslims, which saw many people die in the name of God.

Balian (Orlando Bloom) is a blacksmith who’s just lost his wife and child. His estranged father, Godfrey (Liam Neeson) shows up and offers him a chance to undo his sins by fighting in the Crusades. Balian reluctantly accepts. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, he’s thrust into a typical Hollywood epic action adventure. Meaning, of course, that he walks around for a while, talking to important historical figures, killing time until the big final battle.

Basically, that’s the movie. Like The Alamo, King Arthur, and such films, Kingdom of Heaven ends up not working mostly because, historical accuracy aside, it takes too bloody long for anything to happen.

While it’s hard to fault a film for being inaccurate (as I said, I wasn’t there), sometimes you have to go based on your knowledge of anything. And I have a hard time believing that a war between two of the most prominent religious groups in history had nothing to do with power. And I have a hard time believing that both sides had as much respect for each other as the film would have us believe. Granted, my knowledge of the Crusades is limited.

On the back of the box, there’s a quote saying: “the action is non-stop.” Maybe this particular critic only saw the last half hour, because otherwise there’s no evidence to support his theory. At 144 minutes, the film features nothing but a bunch of endless droning on – with characters spouting expostion and giving us a history lesson into their version of the Crusades – until the climax.

The climax is, however, a beautifully crafted epic battle that makes you appreciate military tactics, and good filmmaking. Ridley Scott does the best he can with the material, and shows that even with average material, he can make a great-looking film.

Orlando Bloom tones down his trademark intensity slightly and ups the emotional strain. While he may not be quite good enough to anchor the film on his own, the supporting cast picks up the extra weight.

Kingdom of Heaven is not a bad film, but it’s certainly not a classic. It’s a great-looking, very well-made movie that just takes way too long to do anything. I understand you have to build up the story, but if you’re making an action epic, we’d really like to see some action.

Perhaps the reason we didn’t quite enjoy the movie, is because we had “Property of 20th Century Fox” across the screen on our review screener copy. I realize they don’t want us shady movie critics to be reselling these movies, but it’s very hard to immerse yourself in a film with such a massive distraction. But I digress…

The DVD of Kingdom of Heaven looks exquisite (at least the portions we could see). The vast desert landscape is crystal clear, with no grain (well, besides the sand) or other particles that often show up too well in sand. The audio booms nicely occasionally, but the surrounds only get a real workout during the climactic battle for Jerusalem. The disc is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 audio tracks.

Disc one features the movie, along with a text commentary that incorporates historical and production notes as you watch the film. Disc two sports a wealth of bonus features, kicking off with an Interactive Production Grid. It essentially “lets you control the moviemaking experience from the perspective of the director, cast or crew.” It features interviews with the main players and gives them a chance to discuss their views on the project.

“History vs. Hollywood” is a History Channel documentary that examines the differences between the film and what we think really happened. It’s moderately interesting, but it features too many clips from the film and not enough cold hard facts. A&E Movie Real is another documentary examining the real-life crusades. In some ways, it feels like an advertisement for the film as much as an educational documentary, but at least it does offer much information about the Crusades. There are also four Internet featurettes and the theatrical trailer.

Kingdom of Heaven, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
144 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital & dts 5.1
Starring Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas and Liam Neeson
Produced by Ridley Scott
Written by William Monahan, directed by Ridley Scott


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Updated May 13, 2006