We have been in the mood for swords and armor. After watching the two seasons of HBO’s Rome, which we still miss (Wasn’t there supposed to be a movie? Could Vorenus still be alive? We never saw his corpse), we put on the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven.
Kingdom of Heaven, if you will recall, is Ridley Scott’s 2005 epic starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, and Eva Green. It was one of those occasions that unite audience and critics: They hated it. Many found it incoherent (Scott has never been great at exposition). Some found it too pro-Muslim—Saladin was civilized and merciful, the Crusaders, especially Reynald de Chatillon (a cartoonish Brendan Gleeson), Guy de Lusignan (a glowering Marton Csokas) and the patriarch of Jerusalem, were fanatical brutes. Much of the ire was directed at Orlando Bloom, who was deemed too pretty and callow to play Balian, the defender of Jerusalem.
We saw the mess but loved it anyway. We still quote from it. (“I am Jerusalem,” wheezes the leper-king Baldwin IV, played by Edward Norton in a mask.) Granted, show us some catapults and siege towers and we’re happy. But we sensed that there was more to Kingdom of Heaven than spectacular battles and a flimsy love story. This was confirmed by the Director’s Cut, which is almost an hour longer than the theatrical version.
This version makes so much more sense. When Balian is introduced, we learn that he’s not only a blacksmith but an engineer who has created siege weapons for his employers. In the movie version it would seem that he went overnight from being a fashion catalogue model to defending the citadel from 200,000 Saracens. Bloom is actually very good in this one; we forgot he was Legolas. And the story of Sibylla and her son, cut out of the theatrical version, has a terrifying poignancy. (Balian, Sibylla, Baldwin and the other characters are loosely based on historical figures. The real Balian was married to the widow of the former King of Jerusalem, and he supported her daughter’s claim to the throne against Sybilla. However, Balian did lead the defence of Jerusalem.)
Kingdom of Heaven is worth seeing again, but in this more substantial version.