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“Kingdom of Heaven” Review

May 12, 2005

I’m an absolute nut for historical epics, so when any new one comes out, I usually get pretty excited.  I say usually because there are the rare exceptions, such as Oliver Stone’s "Alexander", that look so awful that they turn me off completely. 

This summer’s big epic, of course, is "Kingdom of Heaven".  In case you haven’t seen the previews in the last six months, KoH is set during the Crusades, when Christian warriors travelled to the Middle East to fight against the Muslims for possession of the Holy Land.  More spefically, the film takes place in 1184, and is set against a backdrop of events far more faithful to the true history than the events in just about any other epic.  Yes, many of the things depicted actually happened and many of the people presented actually lived. 

So what did I think of "Kingdom of Heaven"?  Continue reading to find out.

"Kingdom of Heaven", like most Ridley Scott films, is a work of staggering beauty.  If anything, Scott’s visual flare is improving from film to film.  The angles, the colors, the sets, the costumes, even the casual details of this film excel.  My favorite shot of the film was of the Crusader army’s appearance outside of Kerak.  You’ll know if when you see it.  Beautiful.

One thing I want to touch on is the battle scenes.  They are superb, but after the likes of "Return of the King", it is almost impossible to make a battle scene really stand out.  Ridley did not even try.  The largest confrontation of the film, the Battle of Hattin, was not even depicted save for its aftermath.  Nor was the conclusion of the Jerusalem siege.  Scott shows the battles with a relucatance that matches the main characters’ own reluctance to fight them.  The emphasis is very much on the senselessness, violence, and confusion of battle, not on glory or grandeur.  This is as it should be.

More than the battles, it was the story, and the interplay between the film’s characters, that held my attention.  The best qualities of Kingdom of Heaven are its intellect and subtlety.  The look on the face of Jeremy Irons’ Tiberias as he pledges allegiance to Guy de Lusignan…the soft-spoken nobility of Edward Norton’s King Baldwin…Orlando Blooms resolutely stoic Balian, struggling to "do what he knows to be right".  It is the little moments, the looks, the glances, the quiet gestures, that make this film what it is. 

And the themes.  Scott was treading on quite a number of eggshells, making a movie about the Crusades in the current geopolitical climate, and he succeeded admirably.  The Muslims are not faceless, shrieking bad guys.  They are people, with their own virtues and faults, just like the Christians.  There are moderates on both sides, as well as religious hardliners, who are quick to shout the cry of "God wills it!".  It is the push and pull between the hardliners, the ones who want a war to slaughter the infidels, and the moderates, who see a chance for tolerance and a peaceful co-existence, that drives the film.  And it works.

Kudos to you, Ridley Scott, for not villifying the Muslims as a whole, and likewise for not giving all of Christendom a free pass. 

So, what did I think of it?

"Kingdom of Heaven" is without doubt the best film I have seen this year.  More than that, I would have to put it fifth on my list of all-time favorite epics:

  1. Ben-Hur (1959 version)
  2. Spartacus
  3. Lawrence of Arabia
  4. Braveheart
  5. Kingdom of Heaven
  6. Gladiator
  7. El Cid
  8. Patton

That’s right.  In my opinion, "Kingdom of Heaven" was a better film than "Gladiator".

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 12, 2005 11:43 am

    WOW! Better than “Gladiator”. I can’t wait to see it.

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