Upon its release in 2005, Sir Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” had a lot of trouble connecting with audiences. It bombed at the box office, critics gave it a thrashing, and indeed when I saw it in theaters nine years ago, I had not been impressed with what I saw. However, that didn’t stop Scott from putting together what would become his three-hour director’s cut in which he reinserts about 45 minutes of additional footage that had to be removed for its theatrical release, footage that he feels brings the film closer to his original vision. However, as to whether it actually helped the film or not is another matter.
The story, which takes place during the Crusades, begins with a knight, Godfrey (Liam Neeson), returning home from the Holy Land to find the son he never knew, Balian (Orlando Bloom), who has just been deeply affected by his wife’s suicide. Godfrey tries to get Balian to come with him to Jerusalem, an offer that he initially refuses, but soon he decides that he might be able to earn forgiveness for his wife’s sin if he goes. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, he finds an uneasy truce between Christians and Muslims, a truce that soon becomes strained as open war with Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), the Muslim leader, looms closer and closer.
“Kingdom of Heaven” is an interesting case of a three-hour epic that feels like it has very little to say on its topic. It’s an interesting concept (a young man trying to find his path in life after a tragedy, eventually becoming caught up in the Crusades), but for all its grandness and opulence, this is a rather uneventful film, the effect of which can easily be felt over its extended runtime. It’s rather strange because this was one of its main issues during its original release back in 2005, so as to why Scott would feel the need to stretch it out even further with material that doesn’t add much of anything to the story is a mystery. Obviously he felt it added something to his original film, but seeing this new version of the film nine years later has not altered the original opinion I had back then, nor is it likely to change anyone else’s.
The film does remain beautifully made, featuring gorgeous cinematography and production design, the latter of which pulls you right into the period. However, all of this just makes you wish that there was more beneath its surface, something to help pull you into the story and characters. The cast, which includes Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Jeremy Irons, and Brendon Gleeson, also does an admirable job, but the screenplay by William Monahan (whose very next screenplay, “The Departed,” won him an Oscar) just doesn’t give them very much to work with.
It was an intriguing idea to work within the construct of the Crusades, a period filled with fascinating conflict, but certainly there was a more engaging and thrilling story to be told than this, one that doesn’t just sit there flat on the screen as the minutes tick by. Sir Ridley Scott has given us some amazing films in the past, including “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” and “Gladiator,” films that have you glued to the screen every step of the way. Unfortunately this is not the case with “Kingdom of Heaven,” a film that is destined to be his forgotten epic, one that remains unfixable no matter how much footage he goes back and adds.
This “Ultimate Edition” release of “Kingdom of Heaven” is a rather strange one. It features all three versions of the film (Theatrical, Director’s Cut, and Roadshow Director’s Cut), which would normally be a good thing, except for the fact that all three of them are crammed onto one disc, which only serves to make the 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer suffer. The picture is fuzzy throughout, making nighttime scenes particularly hard to see. It’s still watchable, but there are obvious problems with it, problems that could have been solved simply by spreading the versions out onto other discs. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a little on the soft side, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a slight volume adjustment. Once done, you are treated to a fine soundtrack that gives you all elements at decent levels. Overall, a little more thought needed to go into this edition’s presentation, giving it one that would allow Scott’s project to be seen the way it was meant to be seen.
Roadshow Commentary with Orlando Bloom, William Monahan, and Ridley Scott
Roadshow Commentary with Executive Producer Lisa Ellzey, Visual Effects Supervisor Wesley Sewell, and First Assistant Director Adam Somner
Roadshow Commentary with Film Editor Dody Dorn
The Path to Redemption
Production Sequence (Development-Release & Director’s Cut)
Archive (Interactive Production Grid, A+E Movie Reel, History vs. Hollywood, Ridley Scott – Creating Worlds, Production Featurette, Wardrobe Featurette, Orlando Bloom – The Adventure of a Lifetime)
Here’s where this release really begins to shine. For starters, you get three excellent commentaries, the first two of which are a little unusual given that they’re chopped together (as opposed to them actually being together for the commentary), but they’re still fascinating to listen to because they give you seven interesting perspectives on the production (Director, Writer, Actor, etc.). “The Path to Redemption” is arguably the best inclusion here. It’s a feature-length documentary (approximately 141 minutes) about the making of the film, covering all aspects from pre-production to release.
In a similar fashion, you also get the “Production Sequence” extras, which contain a multitude of galleries, notes, deleted scenes (around 30 minutes’ worth), rehearsal footage, and much, much more. As if that weren’t enough, you also get the “Archive,” which also contains a number of “Making of” featurettes and other intriguing inclusions. All of this totals to over nine hours of special features, so if there’s anything you want to know about how the film was made, chances are you’ll find it somewhere in this fantastic batch of extras.
Even with the addition of 45 minutes of new footage, Sir Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” remains a rather uneventful epic with a story that fails to engage. It’s a shame because the Crusades are a fascinating part of history with the potential for many great stories to be told. Unfortunately Scott and screenwriter William Monahan opt for one that merely goes on and on, giving the characters little to do and almost nothing interesting to say. Ultimately, the best thing that can be said about this release is that the special features are outstanding, but as for the film itself, it’s simply not worth the time to watch any version of it.