Ridley Scott dreams big – no stranger to larger-than-life films, his resume boasts one outsized work after another: Legend, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down - hell, even Hannibal feels operatic and infused with a sense of grandeur. It stood to reason that his 2005 offering, Kingdom of Heaven, elbowing for room in a year crowded with historical tentpole pictures (here's lookin' at you, Alexander and Troy), would deliver trademark Scott style, somehow standing out from the crowd. But it was not to be – Troy led the year off and flopped, while Alexander fared even worse, so it was with trepidation, rather than anticipation, that the world awaited Kingdom of Heaven.
The theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven is a technically impressive epic, devoid of soul and a cohesive narrative – sweeping battle scenes give way to strangely choppy exposition, rendering William Monahan's clearly well-researched historical drama an inchoate mess. Had 20th Century Fox not panicked in light of the two other high-profile misfires and drastically altered the flow of Scott's film (as has been hypothesized on several Internet sites), who's to say what impact Kingdom of Heaven would've had? While technically accomplished, it's also a breakout role for Orlando Bloom, who as Balian, sheds the nagging notion that he's merely a Tolkien pretty boy, unable to shoulder the load of headlining a massive period epic.
I'll skip summarizing the theatrical cut's plot (for that, check out my colleague Randy Miller III's review of Kingdom of Heaven) and will instead address the changes, revisions and additions to the film. It's estimated that between 40 and 60 minutes were snipped by Fox upon the eve of Kingdom of Heaven's release – the running time here is a healthy 191 minutes (the theatrical cut runs around 144 minutes, which suggests roughly 45 minutes were reinstated), offered in a roadshow format – which includes a 60 second video introduction from Scott, a 90 second overture that plays prior to the studio titles and a 140 second entr'acte beginning the second disc. The film is split neatly between the first and second discs, with one hour, 39 minutes on the first disc and one hour, 34 minutes on the second. According to several sources, this extended cut was released theatrically (briefly) at the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles in December 2005 and was critically hailed, even ending up on a few year-end best-of lists.
Some spoilers may follow for those who have yet to view the film. The most significant alteration to Kingdom of Heaven is that Sibylla (Eva Green) now has a son by Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), Baldwin V, who suffers from leprosy and meets an untimely fate at the hands of his mother. This subplot fleshes out precisely why Sibylla descends into madness in the film's final third and not only provides a handful of superb moments for Green, but makes her characterization that much richer. The village priest (Michael Sheen) seen burying Balian's wife at the beginning of the film is revealed to be his half-brother, which accounts for the tension between them. In addition, King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton, in his uncredited role) is seen refusing final communion and Balian crosses swords with Guy near the film's climax.
While all of these changes to the film indeed draw out its running time, in no way does Kingdom of Heaven feel overlong or laborious – with the narrative restored and characters given full, detailed arcs, screenwriter William Monahan and Scott fashion a palpably real world, one that draws you in and keeps you absorbed for the duration. The cast is exceptional throughout and the technical aspects are stunning. Put simply, Kingdom of Heaven is a masterpiece of filmmaking that has been restored to its proper glory. Ridley Scott's big dream is no longer a nightmare. The DVD
As with the theatrical cut, Kingdom of Heaven is presented with a sterling 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that doesn't suffer from a trace of damage – vivid, crisp and a glittering showcase for John Mathieson's stunning cinematography, the Crusades come to powerful life and will serve as near-reference quality material for many – Kingdom of Heaven looks truly glorious here. The Audio:
Dropping the Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks from the theatrical DVD release, the director's cut features only Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks – having sampled both during the course of the film, DTS has a slight edge in terms of spatial clarity and warmth, although the Dolby Digital track is no slouch. Screams, clanging swords and immersive surround activity makes this one of the more kinetic home theater experiences I've encountered in quite some time. Simply put, this is pure aural enjoyment that will delight audiophiles no end. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also on board, as is closed captioning. The Extras:
The $64,000 question lingers: hold on to the two-disc theatrical release or pitch it on eBay? While the two-disc will likely be shoved aside in favor of this lavish four-disc set, those die-hard Kingdom of Heaven fans should keep it, as "The Pilgrim's Guide" text commentary, interactive production grid, the A&E and History Channel documentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes aren't ported over – if you want the complete picture, I'd argue for a six-disc set, incorporating both the admittedly flawed theatrical cut as well as these extras.
But enough championing of the previous release – anyone annoyed at a perceived lack of supplemental material on the first DVD release will be quieted by this stunning, dense set. Fox has given the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven a stylish presentation, placing the four discs in separate trays inside a fold-out slipcase which fits snugly within the slipcover. Very handsome. Spread over the first two discs is a trio of commentaries – Scott, Bloom and Monahan sat separately for the first commentary, which mainly details how each man came to the project and in the case of Scott and Monahan, how Tripoli gave way to this project, as Bloom fills in his take on the film and its subject. The second commentary features executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects supervisor Wes Sewell and first assistant director Adam Somner (all three recorded separately), which focuses on the more technical aspects of this mammoth production. The third and final commentary features editor Dody Dorn flying solo and detailing not only changes to the film, but her thoughts on Kingdom of Heaven. Supplanting "The Pilgrim's Guide" from the initial release is the "Enginer's Guide," newly created for this cut and outlining production notes and film trivia.
Discs three and four are where producer Charles de Lauzirika really earns his paycheck: on a par with the exceptional multi-disc re-releases of both Black Hawk Down and Gladiator, the six-part behind-the-scenes documentary "The Path To Redemption" is fat-free, compelling and essential for anyone with even a passing interest in Ridley Scott's film.
Disc three includes the first three sections of "The Path To Redemption," presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic and Dolby 2.0 stereo. Easily navigable and helpfully split in manageable chunks, I'll outline the contents of the various sections below (it should be noted that while these are listed separately, the option for playing them as one long documentary exists):
Part I: Good Intentions (featurette detailing the genesis of Kingdom of Heaven), 36 minutes and 26 seconds
"Tripoli" Overview and Gallery (text and images)
First draft by William Monahan (text)
Story notes (text and images)
Location scout gallery (text and images)
Part II: Faith and Courage (featurette detailing the pre-production process) 19 minutes and 53 seconds
Cast rehearsals featuring Bloom, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Csokas and Green (video) 13 minutes and 22 seconds
Costume and weapon design featurette (video) 32 minutes and 14 seconds
Production design (video) six minutes and 52 seconds
Costume design galleries (text and images)
Part III: The Pilgrimage Begins (featurette detailing the production in Spain) 19 minutes and 31 seconds
"Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak" (Video) 26 minutes and 37 seconds
Storyboard galleries (viewable separately or together): "Balian's Village," "Forest Ambush" and "Pilgrim's Road" (multi-angle video and images)
Photo galleries (text and images)
Disc four includes the final three sections of "The Path To Redemption," presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic and Dolby 2.0 stereo. Easily navigable and helpfully split in manageable chunks, I'll outline the contents of the various sections below (it should be noted that while these are listed separately, the option for playing them as one long documentary exists): Final Thoughts:
Part IV: Into The Promised Land (featurette detailing the production in Morocco) 31 minutes and 14 seconds
"Unholy War: Mounting The Siege" (video) 17 minutes and 5 seconds
Storyboard galleries (viewable separately or together): "Kerak," "Battle Preparations" and "The Siege" (multi-angle video and images)
Photo galleries (text and images)
Part V: The Burning Bush (featurette detailing the post-production process) 37 minutes and 26 seconds
15 deleted/alternate scenes, presented in anamorphic widescreen, playable separately or together for an aggregate of 30 minutes with optional Scott/Dorn commentary (video)
Sound design suite – sample tracks of dialogue editing, ADR, Foley, sound FX editing and final mix (video and audio)
Visual effects breakdowns (viewable separately or together for an aggregate of 20 minutes, 35 seconds with optional Wes Sewell commentary) – "The Burning Man" (fire effects and face replacement), three minutes, 12 seconds; "Building Jerusalem" (digital matte painting and 3-D modeling), five minutes, 59 seconds; "Casualties of War" (artificial intelligence and virtual warriors), seven minutes, 38 seconds and "Medieval Engines" (the physics/firepower of Trebuchets), four minutes, 44 seconds.
Part VI: Sins and Absolution (featurette detailing the release of the theatrical and director's cut) 18 minutes and 20 seconds
Four trailers (presented in anamorphic widescreen with optional Scott commentary and viewable separately or together for an aggregate of six minutes, 43 seconds) and 50 TV spots (viewable separately or together)
The ShoWest presentation (video)
The press junket walkthrough at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena (video) six minutes and 17 seconds
Footage from the New York, Japan and London premieres (video) three minutes and 40 seconds
Domestic and international poster gallery (images)
Special shoot gallery (images)
"Paradise Found: Creating The Director's Cut" (video) six minutes and 27 seconds
Director's cut credits (text)
If you've made it this far and still can't figure out why picking up this deluxe edition of Ridley Scott's intended vision for Kingdom of Heaven is a no-brainer, then there may be no hope for you – a masterful film that ranks among Scott's best, a thorough, utterly compelling selection of extras and top-notch audio/visual presentation makes this four-disc set a cinch for DVD Talk Collectors Series status. This is how DVD is done – Kingdom of Heaven in its director's cut incarnation, will be on many, many year-end lists.