Someone On The SB Team Hasn’t Seen Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Our team is trying something new starting this week. It’s based on a conversation you’ve probably had before. Your friend is really excited about a movie. You haven’t seen it. They want to talk about it, but they don’t want to spoil it, so they encourage you to watch it.
That said, SPOILER ALERT for Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott.
This is the first of our blog posts to not credit an author. The reason for that is simple. Sometimes it feels embarrassing to admit how long it took you to finally see a movie you missed. Each entry for the Someone On The SB Team Hasn’t Seen series will be anonymous.
I was having a conversation with a friend about a trip he took to a renaissance fair. We were speaking indoors at a coffee shop, so this was pre-COVID. My friend was describing his costume* and when he mentioned the Knights Hospitaller, I assumed a close connection and similarity to the Knights Templar. My friend was quick to point out differences between the two because of the way each was portrayed in Kingdom of Heaven, reinforced by his own knowledge of the history surrounding both orders. He is a bit of a history nut.
After borrowing the film, I settled in for the 194 minute roadshow version of the Director’s Cut.
Actually, that’s not true. I started the theatrical version, messaged my friend to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake, confirmed that I was and then switched versions realizing that where I had gotten in roughly 20 minutes was going to take 40 with this version, thus I had spent an hour getting 40 minutes into the movie. Still, it was well worth it.
I was having a different conversation recently where I talked about Harrison Ford and his run from 1980 to 1982. In that time, he was in The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Blade Runner. If you go forward one more year, you get Return of the Jedi. If you instead go back three years, for a total of six, you get Star Wars and Apocalypse Now. An argument could be made that this was maybe the biggest blockbuster stretch for a single actor in a six year period. If I may present another argument…
Let’s take Orlando Bloom from 2001 to 2006, where he may have been one of the biggest movie stars on the planet. In this six year window, he starred in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films, Troy, and Kingdom of Heaven. Some might even say Bloom starred in the more consistent trilogy (I’m referring to The Lord of the Rings), though others would say that The Lord of the Rings isn’t even a trilogy.
Anyway, back to Kingdom of Heaven. One of the details that blew my mind about this film is the cast. As my friend sat opposite me, sipping his coffee and going down the list, I was amazed to hear Bloom was joined by Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Michael Sheen, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, and others who have appeared in so many amazing properties with large fan bases that Storytelling Breakdown has covered.
Given the timing, this is Eva Green before Bond. It’s understandable that this film put her on the radar of Martin Campbell, director of Casino Royale. Sybila’s character development and struggles is one of the hardest hitting parts of the extended cut of the film.
If you haven’t seen Kingdom of Heaven, it is fun to try to figure out who King Baldwin is after you meet him in Jerusalem. His face is covered with a haunting golden mask and his entire body is covered because he suffers from leprosy. Also, shoutout to Jeremy Stroup for the amazing artwork of the character.
Liam Neeson and Michael Sheen play off Bloom wonderfully during the film’s first act. The connections between them are shortened or omitted entirely in the theatrical cut. With the roles they play, David Thewlis is made up to look 15 years older than Jeremy Irons, thanks mainly to the colors of their hair. The truth is precisely the opposite as Thewlis was born in the sixties and Irons in the forties. You also have Game of Thrones connections courtesy of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Alexander Siddig, and Iain Glen.
One of the strongest aspects of the movie stems from its portrayal of the central conflict; the crusades. As the movie starts, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a Christian crusader kingdom, has stood for nearly 100 years. None of the leaders of either side were alive when the city fell into the hands of the first crusading knights. Director Ridley Scott and the screenwriters took great care in the portrayal of each character. It’s nice to see that the movie is not framed as Christian equals good and Muslim equals bad. Instead the focus is more on the characters and their decisions and the danger of fanaticism. In the end however, the film is a medieval siege film. The attacking Muslim forces and their leaders, though they are the antagonists, are fullly fleshed out characters. The great Muslim leader, Saladin, is given some of the best lines in the movie and the audience is made to feel for and understand both sides of the conflict. Neither army is portrayed in caricature, all good, or all evil. This is not some rabble of mindless orcs or Uruk-hai. Kingdom of Heaven features Orlando Bloom defending the city walls for much of the third act, so The Lord of the Rings references just roll on and on. The audience is connected with even the most fleeting appearances of men on both sides of the conflict even if they are never named, like “master Grave Digger.”
The film, especially this longer cut, does not shy away from violence, but it’s well within the expectations of cinematic or fantasy violence if your benchmark for that is Game of Thrones. Overall, considering how well this stacks up against other fantasy and adventure films, I’m surprised I missed it when it was newer, even with its heavy historical content.
The IMDB rating for the film is a 7.2, though that number is likely based largely on experiences of the theatrical film. Most of the reviews ranking the film higher with a nine or ten out of ten, often reference the Director’s Cut. I think this is how we’ll end blogs in this series, considering the score on IMDB and assessing whether the number is fair, should be higher or should be lower. Providing your experience is the 194 minute version of the film, Kingdom of Heaven should be higher.
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*The costume elements in question