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Review: Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (2006)

Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (2006)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Premise: This is a new cut of Ridley Scott’s 2005 film. Balien (Orlando Bloom) is a disillusioned Christian knight charged with protecting Jerusalem from Muslim invaders during the Crusades of the 12th century. This version adds fifty minutes of footage to the film.

What Works: The original cut of Kingdom of Heaven was a solid film but lacked a lot of character development and in moments it took great leaps forward in the storytelling that were jarring. This new version mends all the major problems, such as Balien’s growth as a leader and a soldier, and provides a wealth of texture to the film. The added sequences provide the film with some much deeper moments both for the political story and for the stories of the individual characters. The characterizations are much richer in this version, especially for Princess Sibylla (Eva Green), who is now able to rise above her stereotypical role and become a fuller character. Added to Kingdom of Heaven is an entire subplot involving the son of Sibylla and his brief reign on the throne of Jerusalem after the death of King Baldwin (Edward Norton). David Thewlis’ performance is also given a reprieve in this version, and he comes off not merely as a Yoda-like mentor but as the conscience of the film and he is given room to advance much more complex ideas. One of the biggest faults of the theatrical cut was the love story between Sibylla and Balien and Balien’s inexplicable refusal to kill Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) in order to marry Sibylla. The added footage makes all of this much more coherent, and it is clear what kind of film Scott was trying to make: this is a film about integrity and courage and it sets these values against the political backstabbing, corruption, and religious conflict of the Crusades to link these ideas to our contemporary age.

What Doesn’t: The only new addition to Kingdom of Heaven that feels out of place is an extra confrontation between Balien and Guy. It’s a great fight but coming on the heels of the thirty-minute siege on Jerusalem and the peaceful resolution of that conflict, the scene feels tagged on, but it does resolve the Balien-Guy storyline.

DVD extras: The film is spread across two discs with three commentary tracks and an engineer’s guide to the war machines of the time period. Two discs of extras include trailers, poster art, storyboards, The Path to Redemption documentary on the making of the film, and additional featurettes. These documents catalogue the making of the epic from its initial conception with director Scott and screenwriter William Monahan through the production, to the editing and re-editing by Dody Dorn. The extras deal very thoroughly with the process of adapting history to the screen and are surprisingly candid about the shortcomings of the compromised theatrical cut.

Bottom Line: The original cut of Kingdom of Heaven was a slightly above average sword and shield epic. This version elevates the picture above anything recent in the genre, even Braveheart and Gladiator, and sets it alongside such greats as Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur. In some ways, Kingdom of Heaven exceeds those films, and stands as not only one of the great Hollywood epics, but as one of the greatest Hollywood films ever made.

Episode: #109 (September 10, 2006)