Firstly, some background. Until last years’ Après vous…, I had never walked out of a cinema before. The closest I had come, however, was in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. I still believe it to be one of the most over-rated pieces of cinema in history. So, I awaited with some anxiety the release of Scott’s follow-up epic, Kingdom of Heaven. Were it not pretty much the same film, I may have been more interested.
The same film, you ask? Spoilers herein… Gladiator tells the story of a former general, made prisoner, beloved of the ailing king, who rises up against the king’s evil successor, before finally being victorious after the new king commits gross folly. Kingdom of Heaven tells the story of a young knight, formerly a blacksmith, beloved of the ailing king, who rises up against the king’s evil successor, before finally being victorious after the new king commits gross folly. Wait, that sounds familiar – oh, that’s right, the only difference is that Orlando Bloom plays little guy made big, whereas Russell Crowe plays big guy made little.
Were it not so blatant, I may not have minded, but it’s almost as if Scott thought he might get away with it. Surely this minor change in his plot couldn’t fool everyone, could it?
There is much to dislike in this overblown epic. A running time of 145 minutes doesn’t tell the true tale of the padding and excess in this film. I spent much of my time wondering when we were going to get to the story. The fight scenes are exciting at times, sure, but there is a sense of ‘haven’t we seen this fight before?’ about Kingdom of Heaven – the final battle for Jerusalem being so close in nature and style to that at Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers, I think they may have borrowed many of the props to cut down on costs. The music is often intrusive, and the bizarre choice of one operatic piece stunned me. (I had a feeling it was Patrick Cassidy’s Vide Cor Meum from the Hannibal soundtrack, another film directed by Scott, although I am no expert in this field).
Bloom is actually pretty reasonable, giving me some hope for his future career. He is suitably dour and yet inspiring in his leadership – although I found several of his ‘hero-moment’ speeches grated a little. The supporting cast are adequate, but truly the main focus is on the spectacle, and the likes of Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Martin Csokas and David Thewlis are lost in the hubbub.
The cinematography is often grand, and yet the close action scenes are terribly cut and edited – there is often no clue to the viewer who is fighting whom, and which side they represent. The frantic nature of the editing ensures there is no time to orient yourself before you lose track of the action again. This is a major weakness for a film purporting to be about war fought predominantly hand-to-hand.
There is also pretension – I found the text over the final fadeout to be quite offensive. It’s not enough that Scott makes us sit through this ‘spectacle’ based on the wars over Jerusalem, but to then claim some kind of moral standpoint on the Middle Eastern troubles of today? I suppose he deliberately avoided taking sides in this depiction of the ancient struggles fought over the Holy Lands, but that doesn’t make him an expert, nor does it excuse him for making the troubles there ‘entertainment’…Rating: