While North American audiences are probably familiar with Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital, not everyone knows that it was a lose remake of a Danish television series called simply The Kingdom (or, in Denmark, Riget), that was broadcast in four parts and directed by none other than Lars von Trier (he of Dancer In The Dark fame). It did quite well both at home and aboard where it developed a big cult following, but it left a lot of unanswered questions. As such, von Trier reassembled most of the original cast and crew members to produce four more episodes that essentially pick up where the first four episodes left off.
The second run of The Kingdom is split up into four episodes as follows: Part Five - Mors In Tabula, Part Six - Birds Of A Passage, Part Seven - Gargantua, and it all concludes with Part Eight - Pandemonium. Here's a general (and intentionally vague so as to avoid spoilers) look at what happens in the 291 minute running time that make up The Kingdom 2...
When the series begins, only a scant few days have passed since the events that occurred at the end of the first series took place. Sigrid Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes) is back in the hospital and once again, she starts feeling that there are spirits roaming the building and that those spirits want her help so that they can move on. While Drusse is trying to help, Stig Helmer (Enrst-Hugo Jaregard) is conspiring against everyone, and he hopes to use his newly discovered Haitian potion to turn one of his co-workers into a zombie. Meanwhile, Rigmor Mortensen (Ghita Norby) is gunning for Helmer, Dr. Moesgaard (Holger Juul Hanson) is losing his mind, Krogen (Soren Pilmark) and Judith (Birgitte Raaberg) are dealing with her pregnancy, and people are starting to die. Or are they?
If you enjoyed the quirky, mysterious and atmospheric first entry, it's a pretty safe bet that you'll enjoy the second batch of episodes just as much. Like its predecessor, The Kingdom 2 doesn't answer everything right off the bat, instead it builds and builds, teasing us with snippets of information along the way. Despite the fact that this second installment should have answered more questions than it posed, again like its predecessor it doesn't. By the time that the last episode finishes, there are still a whole lot of plot points that could have been further developed and a whole lot of bits that only sort of make sense, but that's half the fun of the series. Like Twin Peaks, a series to which The Kingdom is rightfully often compared to, it lets us interpret a few aspects of the series on our own. Von Trier has crafted a rich nightmarish world with this series, and were all the answers spoon fed to us, it simply wouldn't be as much fun to watch.
The Kingdom 2 isn't quite Dogma 95 material but von Trier did shoot it in a fairly minimalist style on 16mm film. As such, the image is a bit grainy and at times a little rough around the edges but this makes the shadowy corridors and strange lights of the hospital all the more eerie. Peppered with an interesting cast (including the immortal Udo Kier!), The Kingdom 2 is just as well acted as the first batch of episodes and the pacing, cliffhangers and strange cast of characters all mesh as effectively as they have prior. Ultimately the series is miles above most television productions. It looks fantastic and it's full of haunting and striking visuals and it makes good use of ethereal sounds. Technically impressive, well written, well acted, and unusually fascinating, this is one that fans of the bizarre will definitely want to seek out.
The 1.33.1 fullframe image looks appropriately grainy and almost scuzzy in spots. There's some grit evident throughout and sometimes the lighting makes things look pretty pale, almost washed out in spots. This is obviously on purpose and while sometimes this type of stylistic choice falls flat, here it works quite nicely and it captures the tone and the mood of the series very well. There's some mild evidence of compression artifacts in a couple of spots, you'll be able to spot them in the black areas during some of the darker scenes, but thankfully it's not too horrible. Edge enhancement is kept firmly in check and line shimmering isn't ever anything more than a mild annoyance. Overall, The Kingdom 2 looks good on DVD though it hasn't been properly flagged for progressive scan playback and as such, some viewers will notice combing effects.
The Danish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack is fine, and suffers from no noticeable hiss or distortion. The dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and the sound effects and music come through nicely. The levels are balanced properly and the optional English subtitles are free of any typographical errors and easy to read.
Disc One contains In Lars von Trier's Kingdom, a forty-minute Danish documentary (with optional English subtitles) that shows his arrival for the first time at Cannes and that documents his rise to prominence as a director. He talks about his 'dogma' manifesto, and discusses his work and his style in a fair bit of detail. Along the way we're treated to clips from a few of his movies as well as some behind the scenes footage. Von Trier talks about some of the people that he's worked with and gives us his feelings on them, though many of von Trier's answers to the interviewer's questions appear to be intentionally odd. The documentary doesn't have much to do with The Kingdom but it does give a decent over view of the man's career up to a point.
Disc Two contains a music video for The Shiver (1:52, it features clips from the series and an appearance from von Trier) as well as a blooper reel for that video (1:58). The second disc also includes a trailer for the first The Kingdom and some DVD credits.
Included for each of the four episodes in this collection is a partial commentary track from Lars von Trier, joined by scriptwriter Niels Vorsel and editor Molly Stensgard. These are fairly brief but they do serve to illuminate on a few aspects of the production, primarily the intricacies of the script and the more technical side of the production. Full commentaries or a documentary would have been a better way to examine the series than these shorter discussions but regardless, they are interesting to listen to.
Both discs contain some nice menu screens and each of the four episodes is divided up into chapters. Inside the keepcase is an insert catalogue for Koch Lorber Films.
Until a third series is created (some of us still hold hope!), this represents the end of one of von Trier's finest moments. Many questions remain unanswered and many plot points remain rather loose but The Kingdom 2 does stand as an excellent follow up to the wholly original first series. Great performances, solid direction, and a fantastic blend of supernatural horror and black comedy earn this release a 'highly recommended' rating even if the transfers and the extras could have been better.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.