Kingdom of Heaven - Ridley Scott Knew What He Was Doing

Mar 12, 2008
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Director's Cut = great story, beautiful cinematography, good acting, great effects

Cons:Theatrical Cut = mediocre story, beautiful cinematography, lackluster acting, great effects

The Bottom Line: Check out the Director's Cut of this beautiful epic if you're inclined to watch it. That version is so much better.

I don’t remember it, but apparently there was some pretty big controversy over Director Ridley Scott’s epic about the Crusades, Kingdom of Heaven. With the success of other historical dramas, Scott planned an epic on the Crusades. The hard part was finding a compelling story in the middle of a religious battle without demonizing either side.

The first cut I watched of Kingdom of Heaven was the DVD release of the theatrical cut. I was not impressed with it. However, I decided to give the film another chance and rented the Director’s Cut. That cut was so much better.

In France in the year 1184, a woman who committed suicide is buried. Her husband, Balian (portrayed by Orlando Bloom) is a blacksmith looking to escape the horrible memories of her suicide and his son's death. He is recruited by knights traveling through on their way to fight in the Crusades and does eventually join up with them.

The leader of the knights is Godfrey (portrayed by Liam Neeson). He takes the young blacksmith under his wing and begins to train him in the ways of a knight.

Balian is looking for forgiveness for the sins he has committed. The main problem is that Kingdom of Heaven surrounds itself with events for which there are no true "good guys". No longer can anyone really say that the Crusades were a good idea. Indeed, in the first few minutes we see Balian murder a priest (portrayed by Michael Sheen) who tells him nothing more than what is the letter of the law at the time. His wife would be condemned to hell for committing suicide and it was common church practice to behead those who committed such a heinous sin. When Balian hears this, he pushes the priest into the forge and watches him burn alive.

Based on history and these events, we know the Christians weren't nearly as moral and holy as they'd like to think they were. Balian is with these knights off to fight for the Christian cause in the Holy Land against the Muslims. It is 100 years after the Muslims were pushed out of Jerusalem, and the fortunes of Europe have not gone as expected.

After Godfrey turns back German troops who wish to imprison Balian and bring him back for trial, Balian learns that Godfrey is also his father. This is both a source of pride as well as consternation as his illegitimate status puts him in an unfavorable light among some.

All of this sets up the main conflicts of the film, both on the battlefield and on the personal front. Balian falls for "the Princess of Jerusalem", Sibylla (portrayed by Eva Green). This creates problems on various fronts as her brother, King Baldwin (portrayed by Edward Norton) is dying from the effects of leprosy and she controls the succession to the throne.

There are a number of differences between the two cuts. The main one is that the story is much more clearly defined. Balian knows much earlier that Godfrey is his father as Godfrey Is definitely seeking him out In the Director’s Cut. It’s not clear in the theatrical cut whether Godfrey is coming for Balian or if he just happens to run into his son and remembers who he is.

In addition, the story involving the succession to the throne in Jerusalem works much better in the Director’s Cut. Sibylla has a son who would be a child king when her brother dies, and her protective nature of him as his mother makes for a better story as well as creates a deeper bond between her and Balian as he transfers the protective feelings for his own child to hers.

The different cuts also effect the evaluation of the performances. Bloom’s performance doesn’t seem as floundering in the Director’s Cut, but comes across as more cohesive. Bloom has never been the type to display a tremendous amount of bravado, and he is also a soft-spoken hero-type here. He is a man true to his convictions, even when they fly in the face of the law of the land.

Liam Neeson gets a good deal more airtime, which isn’t saying much really. However, his moments of interaction with his son are much better defined and his regrets in life although he is considered to be a noble warrior make him a richer character.

Jeremy Irons as Godfrey’s friend and fellow knight Tiberias also serves the role well. The use of Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud on the side of the Muslims as Turkish General Saladin steps the production quality up a notch as well, rather than using Western actors attempting to appear as Mid-Eastern characters. The exception is Alexander Siddig as Nasir who is a British actor of Sudanese descent best known for his role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but he also serves as the bridge between those residing in Jerusalem and those who wish to conquer it.

The cinematography is stunning. The scenes from France to the deserts of the Middle East are beautiful. The battle scenes are handled well and some of the more graphic violence might not be for the squeamish. Even knowing it’s computer generated won’t help as it’s not sugar coated in any way. The brutality and bloodshed is shown in all its true colors.

The Director's Cut adds 45 minutes total to the film. This version also has a great deal more special features. Ridley Scott gives an introduction to this version, explaining why the footage was cut and some of what was missing. I definitely recommend the Director’s Cut over the theatrical cut. I probably wouldn’t have recommended the film based on that cut, but I found myself glued to my chair while watching the Director’s Cut. It might not be one of the best epics ever produced, but it is quite well-done.


• Commentary with Producer/Director Ridley Scott, Writer William Monaha, and Orlando Bloom
• Commentary with Executive Producer Lisa Ellzey, Visual Supervisor Wesley Sewell and First Assistant Director Adam Somner
• Commentary with Film Editor Dody Dorn
• The Enginers Look
The Pilgrim's Guide Historical Reference Track
• Inside Look
The Path to Redemption Documentary

© 2008 Patti Aliventi

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