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Kingdom of Heaven: The Director's Cut - Ridley Scott interview

Ridley Scott directs Orlando Bloom in Kingdom of Heaven

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SIR Ridley Scott about the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven (which is released on DVD on September 25) and why preview audiences were to blame for cutting back on the original cinema release.

Q. When the director’s cut of Blade Runner came out you had to go back and search for extra footage. Was it the case with Kingdom of Heaven that the footage was there already?
Ridley Scott: It’s proportionate. I’ve just finished a comedy with Russell Crowe [A Good Year] and the first cut of that was about 2hrs 10mins and the final cut will be between 1hr 40 and 1hr 50mins. With Kingdom of Heaven, because it’s a whopper with a 150-page screenplay, I think the first cut was about 3hrs 15mins, which was pretty good – it could easily have been about four or five hours. When you’re shooting with 11 cameras for the battle scenes and two or three cameras for the smaller scenes, you inevitably churn some footage. In this instance, I thought 3hrs 8mins was a pretty good length and I showed that to the studio.

Q. So was it test screenings that made a difference?
Ridley Scott: In this instance, the enemy was the preview screening, which has grown and grown over the years and is becoming like a science. It’s ridiculous. The whole process of making movies and writing screenplays is visceral and intuitive. When you actually go to a preview you’re asking 600 people, who come from different demographics, to become Siskel and Ebert [famous film critics] by the end of the evening. It’s absolutely rubbish. Normally people will come and say at the end of the film: “I liked that.” Or: “I disliked it.” Or: “I kind of thought it was okay.” That’s it.

But at the end of a preview, 600 sheets go out to 600 people which take the form of a very detailed questionnaire. That night, it’s then computerised and the following morning I’m looking at demographics and I’m fighting demographics of women under 22 or over 27, and guys under 18. As you sit there, the fatal thing is to become infected. By going to a preview, a director becomes insidiously infected by the process, so by the end of it you’re thinking: “It may be a bit too long”. That’s how this one arrived at 2hrs 23mins. So it was my fault. The studio aren’t to be at all blamed for this, they weren’t bullies.

Q. Which sequence did you have the most pleasure in returning to the film?
Ridley Scott: The whole sequence with the boy king and his mother, Sibylla. I think Eva Green [who plays Sibylla] was hard done by because she was great. She’d done a film with Bernardo Bertolucci, where she was excellent. And she’s now the Bond girl I think.

Q. Can you comment on that scene, especially in relation to its historical accuracy?
Ridley Scott: [Screenwriter] Bill Monahan and I speculated historically and fenced endlessly with historians who said that a lot of this was inaccurate, especially some of the stuff involving Saladin. What they didn’t know was that Bill had gone back to first editions of Muslim writings which were then translated from Syrian dialect into French and then into English.

That’s the thing about history, many historians are basing their findings on a priest in France in the 15th Century writing about events in the 13th Century. He wasn’t there. So what was he basing his writing on? History is only conjecture and the best historians try to accurately conjecture history. They try to accurately reassemble the facts and then put it down on paper. That’s why history is so frequently inaccurate and that’s why in the last 50 years we’ve been trying to re-politicise history.

We went to great pains to get this right. All these characters had to be real. Reynald was a warmonger. Guy de Lusignan [Marton Csokas] was married to Sibylla [Eva Green], who was the sister of Baldwin the Leper King [Ed Norton], who got leprosy at 15. Instead of being asked to stand down, he insisted on becoming king. He became impossible to look at by the time he was 18 and had silver masks made and wore gloves because he was rotting from the inside out. He functioned until he dropped dead at 24. The boy king [Sibylla’s son] was then crowned and Sibylla became the Princess Regent. We know the boy became ill within 10 months of being crowned and history states that he was murdered by his mother. But we think that was nonsense because if you’re going to murder a boy out of power – think of Lady Macbeth – then you kill him with a bad oyster when he’s five or six, or make sure there’s a riding accident. You wouldn’t wait until he’s crowned. So we started to apply contemporary, sensible thinking to that idea and it’s historically written that the boy may have died of leprosy.

That was the clue that we used it to assemble this screenplay. We looked at the possibility he had leprosy and said: “If the mum was rumoured to have killed the boy – and I don’t believe she killed him for power – then it may have been possible if the boy had leprosy. She would have euthenased the boy because of the hideous life that her brother had over nine or 10 years and she was not ready to let her son suffer.” That made more sense to us.

Q. There was a lot of criticism about Orlando Bloom in the film. What did you think about that and why did you come to cast him?
Ridley Scott: He did pretty good here. In Troy, he was asked to play Paris, who essentially would be described as being weak. The others are strong, Brad Pitt and Eric Bana, they’re the hunks. But poor Orlando was there playing Paris, although he did get the woman. And I think he did great. But Kingdom of Heaven is a big film to walk into. He’s always been behind someone else – as Paris he was behind Brad and Eric. But here he’s right out front and I thought he did very well.

Q. Do you think that world-wide concerns troubled US audiences – was that the reason they may have stayed away?
Ridley Scott: I think it was affected by some bad period films that came out just before its release. You can guess which ones they were but it was really unfortunate.

Q. Is it true that you’re working on another director’s cut for Blade Runner?
Ridley Scott: It’s kind of done and we’re probably going to celebrate it at the Gehry Building in LA. It’ll be rather splendid to do it there because it’s such a modern building. We’re going to screen it on the 25th anniversary. They’re going to put out a triple disc. It will be like, if you were around 25 years ago to see Blade Runner, it will be like that but with a better mix. I may have a couple of scenes I’ll put back in as well. I’ll certainly end it before they go into the countryside.

Actually, that was Stanley Kubrick’s contribution. I had to go back one more time to it because the studio wanted a happy ending. I knew that he’d shot footage for The Shining for six or seven weeks with a helicopter. So I asked if I could borrow some of the footage to cut it together to see if it worked. I thought mountains would be perfect. Within a day, I had 17 hours of helicopter footage. And then there was a phone call the following day, saying I was not to use what he’d used otherwise I couldn’t have it. So I cut out the stuff that he had used [laughs].

Read our review of the director’s cut