In the summer of 2005, Ridley Scott's epic film "Kingdom of Heaven" was released to mixed reviews and dismal box office. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment now presents the film in a massive, Four-Disc Director's Cut Edition that will hopefully introduce it to a wider audience and resolve the initial disappointments of its theatrical release.
"Kingdom of Heaven" tells the story of Balian (Orlando Bloom), a young blacksmith in 12th Century France who has lost his family and his faith. When Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), a great knight of the Crusades, reveals himself as Balian's father, the young man is swept into the spirit and struggle of the historical battles and embarks on a journey to Jerusalem in search of spiritual absolution.
Once he makes it to the Holy City, Balian finds himself in the midst of a fragile period of peace between the Muslims and the Christians under the rule of Baldwin IV (Edward Norton), the fabled leper king who hides his disfigured face behind silver masks. Balian also develops an illicit romance with Sibylla (Eva Green), Baldwin's sister and the wife of Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), a fanatical Crusader intent on destroying the Muslims.
As tensions rise between the Christians and Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), Balian is faced with the extraordinary task of defending the city while upholding Baldwin's philosophy of protecting the helpless and maintaining peace between religions and cultures.
The new director's cut of "Kingdom of Heaven" lasts 194 minutes, nearly one hour longer than its theatrical version. Much of the early criticism of this film revolved around the hero's apparent lack of motivation and rather sketchy (or non-existent) character development. As Scott explains in several of the extensive bonus features included in this set, he was pressured by Fox to trim the film's running time and produce a more action-oriented feature, which resulted in his sacrificing some imperative footage. All of that has been blessedly restored to create a more sophisticated, detailed story that should clear up some of the initial confusion and flesh out the main character's quest. No stranger to director's cuts, Ridley Scott has previously created alternate versions of both "Alien" (1979) and "Blade Runner" (1982), the latter of which is probably one of the most popular and controversial director's cuts of all time. "Kingdom of Heaven" now joins those two masterpieces in this definitive edition.
As is deserving of a film of this size and scale, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has served up a feast in what is probably one of the most highly anticipated DVD sets of the year. The film is presented in a beautiful, anamorphic widescreen transfer that is clear of blemishes and full of rich, vibrant colors. The masterful cinematography is preserved in all its glory, with fine detail and a crisp image that boasts deep blacks and excellent contrast. Split over two discs to ensure the highest quality, the movie is also delivered in an exclusive "roadshow" presentation, complete with overture, intermission, and entr'acte, recalling the grand epics of Hollywood's golden age. Ridley Scott provides a brief video introduction.
The soundtrack, which is offered in both 5.1 DTS and Dolby Surround tracks, is absolutely dynamic. Dialogue is clear, while sound effects remain sharp and pronounced without being intrusive. Harry Gregson-Williams' haunting score is done full justice here, with its melodic lyricism and thunderous crescendos showcased with equal strength.
Three audio commentaries highlight this new set. The first features Scott along with Orlando Bloom and screenwriter William Monahan. The second is given by executive producer Lisa Ellsey, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, and first assistant director Adam Somner. Film editor Dody Dorn provides the third. While three commentaries (each lasting over three hours) sounds like quite a lot for just one film, it is amazing how different they all are, a testament to the film's artistic complexity and technical intricacy. In addition to these excellent features, there is also the "Engineer's Guide," a reference track that accompanies the film with pop-up trivia and production information. These four tracks alone give the viewer over twelve hours of invaluable insight into the making of the film.
As if that wasn't enough, discs 3 and 4 offer "The Path to Redemption," an in-depth, six-part documentary that covers every aspect of the film from its conception to its release, with behind-the-scenes footage and candid interviews with cast and crew. This indispensable feature provides a wealth of information about the film's bumpy history, most prominently concerning Ridley Scott's passionate devotion to the project and his quest to realize his vision onscreen. On a lighter note, we also get to see the effects of Orlando-mania on the set during production in Spain.
The bonus discs feature a slew of wonderful featurettes. On disc 3, viewers will be treated to "Colors of the Crusade," a closer look at the magnificent costumes designed by Janty Yates. "Production Design Primer" boasts comments by art director Arthur Max and set decorator Sonja Klaus on the design and construction of the massive sets and props. We also get a rarely filmed look at Ridley Scott's usually private cast rehearsals.
For my money, the best featurette on this disc is "Creating Accuracy: The Scholars Speak." This gives us an historical overview of the Crusades, with commentary by historians and professors. The filmmakers discuss the liberties taken in the movie, mostly with the lead character and his backstory, as well as some of the details that they tried to keep faithful to history.
Disc 3 also provides an overview of "Tripoli," a canned historical project that Scott was undertaking with William Monahan before "Kingdom of Heaven" was conceived. Viewers may also read an early draft of Monahan's screenplay for "Kingdom of Heaven" and glance through a series of photo and storyboard galleries.
Believe it or not, the fun does not end there. Inserting disc 4 will bring up even more featurettes, including "Unholy War: Mounting the Siege," a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the film's heart-pounding climax. "Paradise Found: Creating the Director's Cut" provides information on Scott's decision to extend the film after the studio forced him to shorten it for its theatrical release, a choice that most likely contributed to the film's failure at the box office.
"Sound Design Suite" is an interactive feature that reveals the wizardry behind the film's amazing sound effects. Here, we get to see sound editors and foley artists in action as they work to make "Kingdom of Heaven" sound as authentic as possible. There is also a visual effects breakdown, focusing on four of the film's most memorable sequences.
Viewers are also treated to over 30 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, with optional commentary by Ridley Scott and editor Dody Dorn.
In addition to more storyboard and photo galleries, a brief press junket walkthrough is included, with more information on the costumes and props, along with footage from the movie's premieres in London, New York, and Tokyo. A seemingly endless number of trailers and TV spots round out the disc and the set.
There is little else to say except that this DVD set surpasses all expectations. It is a triumph in every way, offering nearly 20 hours of bonus features for a movie that is definitely worth the time. "Kingdom of Heaven" is an extraordinary work of art, a plea for religious tolerance that works because of sheer filmmaking prowess and good, old-fashioned storytelling. This brand new director's cut reveals the work of a true master, a man who knows what he wants and how to make it happen, regardless of what Hollywood studios demand. This is what DVDs were made for, and 20th Century Fox has given us a set that should not be missed.