This is the eighteenth movie in my Ridley Scott retrospective.
Kingdom of Heaven disappointed me greatly when it was first released. I saw it in a press screening and had very little positive to say about it when I had to write my review. The movie was overlong, boring, devoid of logic and ammunition for the gun that was pointed at Ridley Scott’s head for not making those masterpieces we were used to seeing from him.
I dismissed Kingdom of Heaven completely and vowed never to spend another minute on it. To my huge surprise, a friend of mine, whose judgement I totally trust and who was not a fan of the Theatrical Cut, told me to check out the Director’s Cut. Of course I hesitated, because how could a movie that was already too long get better in an even longer form. Well, Mr. Scott managed to do it.
Scott has been known to go back to his movies and tinker with them. Sometimes with great success—like Blade Runner—and more often with dubious results—like Alien, Gladiator— although those last two were more marketing vehicles than visions of the director. Scott has said so himself. And on top of that there have been so many useless Director’s Cuts, Unrated Cuts and so forth in recent years that my misgivings were justified, I think. But with the endorsement from my friend in the back of my head I reluctantly decided to scrunch up a copy of Kingdom of Heaven, the Director’s Cut.
And I am so glad I did, because the Director’s Cut is so much better than the original. At more than three hours it is approximately forty-five minutes longer than the original release. Entire sequences are returned to the movie and several scenes are expanded on by inserting more dialogue to create a more complete picture of the motivations that drive these characters. It is truly stunning to see how different the two versions are from each other. The entire movie flows much better and is far more intelligent than what we saw before. It goes to show that sometimes the auteur really knows what’s better for his movie than the executive who stares at demographics and scorecards all day.
Scott is a director who doesn’t stick his doubts about religion and the trouble that can come from it under the table. In the Theatrical Cut of Kingdom of Heaven this sentiment was swept under the rug to create a movie that more resembled Gladiator, a movie that was more about a personal journey than the big picture. In the Director’s Cut Scott’s beef with religion and the juxtaposition with science is much more prevalent. Scott’s oecumenical approach to religion is one I can certainly ascribe to. I am myself of no faith, but I do not condemn others for having faith in a higher power. That is what Scott wants to convey with this movie. Love thy neighbor, as the Bible says. Another thing that returns a lot in Scott’s movies is the fanatical approach to religion and the way in which this has ruined so many lives. As the hospitaler says, played by David Thewlis, “I have seen religion in the eyes of too many murderers.” A very timely theme.
Kingdom of Heaven is now one of my favorite movies. I don’t watch it all that much, but when I do I get totally swept up in it, even though Orlando Bloom may not be the best actor out there, this is one of his better performances. The enormous congregation of fine actors, such as Edward Norton, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Ulrich Thomsen, Alexander Siddig and so many others also don’t hurt Kingdom of Heaven one bit.