Kingdom of Heaven

May 11, 2005

Before I got a chance to write a full-on review of Kingdom of Heaven, I responded in depth to a review by Ken, and wrote pretty much everything I would’ve in my own review. If only to feel like I’ve gotten the review done, I’m reposting all of that here. There’s some hyperbole below, but welcome to the Internet.

Kingdom of Heaven is so frustratingly hollow that the more I think of it the more I dislike it. Like Bloom’s Balian, the picture is a beautiful list of theoretically admirable traits with little or no explanation for their inclusion, presented with a holier-than-thou scoul and a desire to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

The more I watched Balian the more I realized he isn’t just vague or flat, but genuinely obnoxious and unlikeable. He’s too good to do what his King (whom he’s sworn to protect before the people) and his lover want of him — to marry her — but he’s not too good to sleep with her and then demean her infidelity. He seems to think that his ability to reason and judge is superior to that of all other men, yet he does virtually nothing to actually change the minds of others for the better. Instead, he broods, suggests “I told you so” and is considered a hero for getting thousands killed before surrendering anyway. All this because he can claim association with the far superior Liam Neeson. Had the movie actually been about Liam Neeson and Jeremy Irons (who was in this movie only so his name could be on the poster, I guess) characters, I might have had more interest.

I am also sick to death of characters with modern American values preaching to hordes of historical soldiers. When I buy that the anachronistic hero believes what he’s saying, it’s the bearable fee I put up with to see dudes sword-fight. When a miserable character (whose arc begins and ends at “Miserable” after passing briefly through “Snobbish and Boring”) does it in a fim that drapes itself in the flag of history so it can stand on the stage with respectable types, it’s an aimless contrary waste. By that point, I was already done with this movie anyway.

I really thought I was going to like Kingdom of Heaven, and not just because of Alexander Siddig and the marvelous David Thewliss or the two hours’ worth of splendid medieval costumes (damn, the Saracans know how to dress). I thought I might enjoy the story and the subjects the characters choose to talk about. In place of actual dialogue, though, I get the stock four-line scenes of dialogue that “accomplish” “needs” and “hit” “necessary” “beats” so that Mr. Monahan can line up those 3×5 cards like a professional screenwriter.

Ultimately, I wish I’d just put Harry Gregson-Williams blessedly not-Zimmer score on my iPod and listened to that while the pretty pictures went by. The trailer was better.

Fortunately, I saw Primer that same weekend, which managed to be exciting, lively, handsome and fascinating despite its modestness and novice flirtations with obscurity. Kingdom of Heaven was every other bland and formulaic historical epic done with rigid malaise, but Primer was several other Star Trek episodes done with a clever voice and infectious green vigor.

And this from a guy who normally enjoys Hollywood vending-machine fare. I’ll hope that this summer’s other “Liam Neeson teaches sword-fighting” picture with a British/American hero, Batman Begins, is more entertaining and less frustrating. If nothing else, it looks to feature some wonderful photography of Chicago in the starring role as Gotham.

Though this movie is unarguably lovely, much of it is also weakly Ridley. In Braveheart, every battle shot is a little anecdote (“This guy lost a hand!”). In Kingdom, there are shots of squibs going off around palm trees and seige engines in which nothing really happens.

Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis and Eva (Ah, Eva) Green perform wonderfully. The glam-rock dude playing Guy is laughably ridiculous(ask my wife, she actually laughed at loud at him), though I don’t honestly know what else he could be with a role so flat and moronic. And then Brendan Gleeson (the sometimes-plays-a-good-guy version of the even more excellent Brian Cox) has nothing else to do but dance and fart so as to trump Guy so he can become “the silly one” and justify his absurdly wonderful and villainous beard. Yet, all of these performance are a sad loss, ultimately, because… I couldn’t muster a damn. I cared about them already when I walked into the theatre, I liked them based solely on casting and trust through most of the sea-port city stuff, but the movie ground the rest of it out of me.

At the end, I just didn’t care anymore.


About the Music in Kingdom of Heaven:
The scene when Balian makes every-damn-body a knight? That music is from 13th Warrior, by Jerry Goldsmith.

When Balian fights off assassins (which was one of the great fights in Gladiator but amounts to the vague suggestion of an interesting fight move in this picture, done to a guy with a wicked awesome blue cross on his shield), that music is from Graeme Revell’s score to either The Crow or The Crow: City of Angels (I haven’t checked my memory against my CDs yet.)

When Balian has surrendered Jerusalem and comes walking through the broken wall back into the city, that music is from the straight-to-video The Crow: Salvation by Marco Beltrami, though with some of the electronic elements removed and the crescendo cut off.

Maybe this odd saturation of stolen music (not rerecorded or similar, mind you, but lifted directly) is due to the oddities of Media Ventures’ business, but it’s remarkable that these key moments were somehow missing from Gregson-Williams’ otherwise well textured and evocative score.



  1. While I can’t speak to the quality of KINGDOM, I want to address the use of “tracked” music in film. If Will’s right — that so many tracks have been imported from other composers’ scores — it’s far from the first time:

    DIE HARD features music scored for ALIENS.

    ALIENS features music scored for ALIEN.

    And the tracked and retracked scores in the STAR WARS pictures are too numerous to list.

  2. You and I have discussed the use of ALIENS music in DIE HARD before, and certainly I know that these things happen, but the tracked cue in DIE HARD was for a post-test-audience addition to the film, while ALIENS was notoriously re-edited (as well as its score) up to the last minute. Were these pivotal scenes in KINGDOM OF HEAVEN all added or edited to heavily so late in the process as to make this use of music necessary?

    Given the word of KINGDOM’s shortenend running time in reaction to test audience notes, it’s certainly possible. Regardless, it’s also worthy of remark. So I remarked.

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