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Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut - Review

Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

WHEN it was released in cinemas in 2005, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven was heavily criticised for being a beautiful but slight epic that failed to realise the potential of its heavyweight premise.

Clocking in at a little under two and a half hours, it felt episodic and rushed in places. But the release of the director’s cut on DVD adds 45 minutes of extra footage that serves to deliver a much better movie – one that is richly satisfying in terms of both historical context and character development.

It also somehow manages to make the film seem shorter thanks to a much smoother flow.

Set in Jerusalem in the late 12th Century, the film follows the fortunes of a young knight named Balian (Orlando Bloom) as he finds himself caught in the middle of the simmering hostilities between the Christians who occupy the city and the Islamic Saracens who want it back.

As matters come to a head, Balian is forced to make a stand that will put everything he stands for to the test, while placing the fate of thousands in his hands.

In truth, the film was never as bad as some reviews suggested. Though disjointed, it looked stunning and featured a number of fine performances from a strong ensemble cast that included Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons and Edward Norton.

Its timely and relevant central message – that terrible acts can be committed in the name of religion no matter what denomination – was also intelligently explored. The extended cut builds on this good work and further explores the motivations of many of its central characters.

Liam Neeson, especially, gets more screen time as Balian’s father, who tutors the young blacksmith in the ways of knighthood and instills many of his principles.

A masked Ed Norton gets more chance to flesh out his doomed king, as does new Bond girl Eva Green as his tragic sister. Most importantly, however, the extended cut allows us to understand the character of Balian more by taking the time to explore the inspirations behind many of his later decisions. It enables Orlando Bloom to deliver a much fuller performance that marks a coming-of-age for him.

Fans of the director’s visual style can’t fail to be impressed with the look of the epic, while the battle scenes are executed with the same ruthless efficiency and keen eye for detail that made Gladiator so memorable.

If anything, this director’s cut serves to ensure that Kingdom of Heaven can emerge from the shadow of that Oscar winner, while making plenty of relevant points about religion’s relationship to war.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Extras to be confirmed, Interactive menus, Subtitles (English, French, Spanish), Bonus footage, Trailers, Deleted scenes, Commentary (Sir Ridley Scott (Director), William Monahan (Writer), Lisa Ellzey (Executive Producer), Dody Dorn (Editor), Wes Sewell (Visual Effects Supervisor) and Adam Sommer (First Assistant Director)), Other documentaries (Introduction by Sir Ridley Scott, ‘Director’s Cut – Feature Part One’, ‘Director’s Cut – Feature Part Two’, ‘The Path to Redemption’, Screen Tests, Cast Rehearsals, ‘Costume and Weapons Design’, ‘The Pilgrimage Begins’, ‘Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak’, ‘Into the Promised Land’, ‘Unholy War: Mounting the Siege’, ‘The Burning Bush’, ‘Sound Effects Suite’, ‘Visual Effects Breakdown’, ‘Sins and Absolution’, TV Spots, ‘ShoWest Presentation’, ‘Press Junket Walkthrough’, ‘Japanese and London Premieres’), Image gallery, Cast/Filmaker notes, Storyboard comparisons, First Draft Screenplay, Posters.