Kingdom of Heaven in 2005 will be what Gladiator was in 2000. Ridley Scott has delivered a worthy follow up to his Oscar winner, which is also based on medieval times, with a central heroic
character, and supporting casts of characters based on history.
The sets are as spectacular, instead of just Rome and the Collesuem, we have the Middle East and Jerusalem. The costumes are beautiful, from intricately remade Knights armour, to the desert garb of the Muslim warriors. The soundtrack is a mixture of sounds with middle eastern influences, but somehow pales in comparison with Gladiator and lacks a central theme.
Much is said about how the film portrays religion, given the sensitive subject of the Crusades, but I feel that Ridley has achieved a wonderful balance between how Christianity and Islam are portrayed. Both are given fair airtime on their ideologies, and the film tries to preach (pardon the pun) about tolerance, yet highlights the dangers of fanatical followers of both religions, of misguidance from men in search of worldly power.
Which Christianity took a beating - where senseless battles are waged in the name of Christ, where insensitivity breed contempt. Preists are cast in negative light and given lines like "convert to Islam, repent later" when all around seems lost. It is emphasized in the show that what matters is in your head and in your heart - that noble actions speak louder than mere empty and repetitive "praise the Lord" chants, as if that will protect you during Judgement Day.
Orlando Bloom plays Balian, a blacksmith who became a fugitive, but inherited land and army from his father, Godfrey, played by Liam Neeson. The film can be broadly categorized into 3 acts - the first in which Balian searches for his identity and new life in Jerusalem, the second in which the focus is on religion and politics of the time, and the last, the spectacular siege and war.
Bloom puts up a commendable performance, so to his detractors out there, you're in for a big surprise. Edward Norton had the difficult task of acting through a mask as leper King Baldwin, and I applaud Ridley's decision of casting real Muslim actors to learn from them.
Fans of Eva Green might be disappointed that the relationship between Balian and Queen Sibylla was played down to focus on the battles, but I feel it's a fair trade off.
Firstly, some of you might not like the quick-cut-MTV style editing in Gladiator's fight scenes, especially the close ups. This is repeated here though, in a blood splattering manner. The pan-out and general landscape sweeps are mindblowing, and will leave you wanting more. Think about the battles that you see Lord of The Rings Two Towers and Return of the King - the siege on Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith - Kingdom of Heaven delivers the equivalent, probably even better (without the fantasy elements). This is one medieval war movie whose battles will stick in your mind for some time.
All things said and done I found this movie to be very entertaining. It's visually stunning, reasonably well acted with a decent script and some nice characters. What it lacks in coherence and story it makes up for with a strong and quick pace (for the genre) and some truly impressive action scenes. Wolfgang Petersson and Oliver Stone should watch this before they even think of making another historic epic. Because Ridley Scott has learned the important lesson so well put in "Gladiator": the people want to be entertained
The Muslim characters in the movie consists of Saladin (Ghassan Massoud)and , Muslim Grandee (Nasser Memazia who want Jerusalem for other uses such as for the nation of Islam. I should say the Muslim characters in this film get a large bulk of screen time. Furthermore, their characters are treated with respect and almost admiration. In fact Scott tells us their back story as well and we see display of Muslim religion in the movie such as Muslim praying in mosques and in the city of Jerusalem.
This reminds me of the Palestian/Israeli conflict of sorts where you have both sides that believe in God but are battling for the control of one city, despite the fact that they both profess to believing in God. Some questions to ponder are these other people with religious ideals worse than we say they are, or are they merely some religious fanatics misusing the name of God for power? Couple that the moral questions that almost every character goes through and the questioning and denouncement and spiritual awakening of God and my you got yourself a thought provoking film
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