Can We Talk About [Kingdom Of Heaven]?

Be without fear in the face of your enemies

I didn’t have a ton of interest in watching Kingdom of Heaven

Be brave and upright that God may love thee

And then for some reason, I got a hankering for a sword and sandal film

Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death

And I watched it

Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong

And I liked it…

That is your oath

But I definitely need to talk about it…

Was that good or bad?

I know that I liked Kingdom of Heaven, but after certain movies, I often wonder about the collective opinion. Judging by the fact that there was generally not a lot of buzz around this movie upon its release, I doubt people loved it. More objectively, our normal metrics for measuring the public opinion of a movie, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are split. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 39% and Metacritic a 63/100. 

I imagine it divides along that grossest of lines… public opinion was poor- story was tough to follow, it was a low-grade Gladiator etc… and film critics thought it was solid- beautiful cinematography (more on that later), it had weight and significance etc… 

I’ll be more specific with my own thoughts. I didn’t like the beginning, but I loved the ending. The beginning was all necessary but wonky. We were flying through this story. He’s a blacksmith, his wife is dead, he hates his father, he loves his father, he’s an epic knight, he’s shipwrecked… Upon looking at the entire film, this weird pacing looks necessary- they had a lot to get to and dwelling on the events in the back half rather than the front half was prudent- but it seemed like too many plot elements were being juggled at once. It prevented me from being all-in. However, when I finished the movie, it all stuck in my brain like a parasite. I still can’t stop thinking about it. And thus… this post.

How’d they do that?

I do not delve into analysis of film as an art in any meaningful way. If a movie is shot in an amazing way using some unheard of or challenging method, I could really care less, unless it makes the movie-experience better. So therefore, I am always factoring the quality of the form into movies, without being able to say how they impacted me. For example, one time I watched a YouTube video on how Spielberg’s use of quadrants and camera dimensions aided in the storytelling of Jurassic Park. Cool stuff, but like… just make the movie good, and I won’t have to worry about it. 

The result of this is twofold- I am unable to descend into that gross field of discourse that values the way a movie is made over the film as a whole, but it also puts me into situations where a movie impacts me, and I have no idea why, and that makes me frustrated. I should probably try to bridge the gap, but I don’t know… who has the time?

Kingdom of Heaven did this to me. I enjoy sword and sandal films, and the peak of any such movie is when the army’s gather together and face off. And generally speaking, there is a baseline to that experience. When armies gather together in Troy, it is a similar experience to that in Alexander, and I use these examples because though in the same genre, those two movies couldn’t be more different. But the common ground is there, the collection of armies does not often vary, even in films of a great degree of variation. Plug in other movies if you will… Gladiator, 300. Expand the genre if you want… Lord of The Rings, The Last Samurai. Move to TV shows if you must… Game of Thrones. They all have armies, and they are all presented differently, but on an ethereal level, I experienced those armies in the same way. Sometimes awed by their movement or organization, sometimes awed by their size, but they always seemed the same amount of ‘real’ to me. 

For some reason, the armies in Kingdom of Heaven blew my mind. They seemed so much more real to me. And I know there is a secret recipe for this effect- part music, part visualization, part costume- but I can’t verbalize it. I just love, and can’t stop thinking about, the scene where Saladin sets up in front of Raynald’s castle, a massive, imposing and awesome army. And then the King’s army comes over the rise, even more massive imposing and awesome. And I didn’t experience those armies in the same way as armies in other movies. They were more terrifying, more imposing… more human. A gross collection of men ready to do battle and die. That scene alone makes Kingdom of Heaven worth watching and re-watching.

Full Bloom

I guess Orlando Bloom was made for movies like this. He was Legalos in LOTR, Paris in Troy, and now Balian in Kingdom of Heaven. He does indeed look very… medieval, and he has a solid accent and dark and stormy look in his back pocket. But was this a good addition to that filmography?

The Boston Globe stated that he was “not actively bad.” That might be the correct phrasing, but I wonder if this more has to do with being outshone by others rather than anything Bloom did. Like of all the characters that got time, I wanted to watch Bloom the least, and I was forced to watch him the most. I was sad when Liam Neeson’s character died, and not just because that was sad, but because he was infinitely more interesting than Bloom, and now I am stuck with Bloom. And then on and on we go with Norton as the king, Eva Green as Sibylla (whose name alone is better than anything Bloom did), Jeremy Irons as Raymond, and Brendan Gleeson as Raynald. Then there were relative unknowns who were awesome, like Ghassan Massoud as Saladin and Martin Csokas as Guy and others, all of which were infinitely more interesting than Bloom and on screen significantly less.

It hurt the story to be switching from these awesome performances back to Bloom, who was doing his Bloom thing, and it wasn’t actively bad, but it was bad in comparison. Every movie is a whole different movie with a new actor as the main character, but this one… feels like it would be on a new level.

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6 thoughts on “Can We Talk About [Kingdom Of Heaven]?

    1. I have been informed quite a few times now that I need to see the director’s cut. So I’m going to hop back in and watch that one soon. I am excited to see the difference. A lot of people have said it is significantly better


      1. It is. It’s rarely that exciting to be told there’s a slightly different version of a film you just watched, but I do recommend it if you like this.

        There are longer versions of Robin Hood and Gladiator (and weirdly a shorter one of Alien) but they are all still the same film. The longer version of KoH is about 45 mins longer and is very different. It’s a more serious film and the pacing issues and character problems are largely fixed. The opening is much longer, the plotting more complex and the whole thing is more carefully paced (the shipwreck is still a bit sudden). Bloom’s character also makes more sense as he’s not really a blacksmith but an engineer.

        I think the long version is very good and it’s a mystery why so much was left out in the original release. I’m sure Scott has final cut anyway, but he’s his own producer so he can’t blame anyone else. He must have just got cold feet about the length. A shame, because the long version is one of his best films.

        Liked by 1 person

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