Saturday, October 25, 2014

Less Than Heavenly

Orlando Bloom as a blacksmith turned soldier defending a stone fortress against a vast army, or a man who falls in love with a married queen from across the ocean? Liam Neeson as a dying knight with an apprentice? Haven’t I already seen this before? Kingdom of Heaven features a fine cast and some good visuals, but I think you will find, as I did, that much of the story is a little too familiar, much too preachy, and more than a little dumb.

Okay, so Godfrey (Neeson) is a crusader except he's about as pleasant and courteous one as you could ever expect to find.  He doesn’t rape and pillage but just kills people to keep the peace. On a short vacation he takes a horse ride up from Jerusalem to France to find his son (the result of the raping a pillaging he did before he grew one with the Force, um, I mean matured) who is the blacksmith from Pirates of the Caribbean (Bloom) whose name is now Balian.

After killing a priest for mutilating his dead wife’s corpse (don’t ask) Balian decides to follow dear old dad to Jerusalem. Sadly Godfrey gets mortally wounded while in the midst of teaching his son which end of the sword to hold when the local law shows up.  Before dying Godfrey bequeaths his lands and title to his bastard son and makes him a knight.

On arriving in Jersulam Balian bests every man he meets and is the most noble knight anyone has ever met (um….isn’t this the same guy who skewered a bishop with a red hot poker, set him on fire and then nobly ran off letting hid dad save him from punishment?). Anyway he is so noble he makes friends with both the Muslims and the Christians. He takes his father’s role as protector of the pilgrims and aide to the King (Edward Norton??), earns the respect of a Muslim lord (Alexander Siddig), and the love of the King’s sister Sibylla (Eva Green).

With only three minute training given to him by his father he becomes the most skilled and unbeatable knight in history. With a deep understanding and knowledge of military tactics (from a three minute sword lesson?????) and war he sets about trying to defend Jerusalem when Sibylla’s husband (Maron Csokas) tries to start a war for the glory of Christianity.  He knights all the peasants who become instantly great knights as he did and they turn as one to defend the city from the Muslim horde. Riiiiight….

Aside from plot holes you could drive George Bush’s national debt through the film still works on some levels.  First, it the battle scenes and CGI sequences are very well done, though the actual siege of Jerusalem isn’t nearly as big a part of the movie as I would have liked.  Second the movie is well cast. Bloom, Siddig, and group make some atrocious dialogue and plot bearable and in some cases even fun.

The extras on the new "Ultimate Edition" are actually better than the film itself. They include the original and two different director cuts of the movie, and three different commentary tracks. There are also factual documentaries that examine the movie’s plot versus historical facts. The preachiness of the movie is a little more palatable in the documentaries than the movie. Also included are a collection of featurettes on the making of the film (cast, director, crew, world premiere, wardrobe, visual effects, sound design) which take you through during various different time periods of the movie's creation (production, pre, and post). Also included are the trailer and short Internet featurettes on costuming, director Ridley Scott, production design, and Orlando Bloom.

Kingdom of Heaven wants to be Gladiator in failing to do so does measure up well against movies like Troy. Watchable, if heavy handed and wince inducing, but no where near as good as it could have been.  The extras make the Blu-ray worth a look (if nothing else then to see what went so wrong). Not a must have by any means, but fans of this type of film or of this period of history may find the new version worth checking out.

[20th Century Fox, $24.99]

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