Kingdom Of Heaven – Director’s Cut [Blu-ray Review]

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Marton Csokas, Liam Neeson
Directed By: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 194 minutes
Ratings: Canada – 14A, USA – R, UK – 15

Back Cover

Orlando Bloom heads an all-star cast in this sweeping, action-packed tale about a young Frenchman who travels to Jerusalem during the Crusades. There he must battle overwhelming forces to defend the city, save countless lives — and fulfill his true destiny as a knight.

Movie

Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut - Blu-rayRidley Scott certainly is no slouch when it comes to making films that exude epic scope. And, most of the time those films are highly successful in every regard. Kingdom Of Heaven, unfortunately, is not quite so successful.

When it comes to Kingdom Of Heaven, Ridley Scott made only one simple, yet disastrous, mistake. Casting Orlando Bloom in the lead role had a severe impact on the overall quality of the film for this reviewer… and I enjoy Orlando Bloom in everything else that he has done. His job was to be the glue that holds the entire world and plot together. While watching the film, it felt as though he was actually accomplishing the complete opposite effect. In fact, I felt most intrigued and captivated by the film during scenes where his character wasn’t even present. I just could not believe that he or his character were invested in their respective tasks. That was a truly sour note that kept resurfacing consistently throughout the 3 hours presentation. Also, it was very difficult to believe that he would have been able to rally thousands of men into standing against the opposing army at the walls of Jerusalem. His performance never once struck me as that of a man destined to be a leader.

Now, taking Orlando Bloom out of the equation makes the rest of the film quite impressive. Starting off with the production value, Ridley Scott does it again. The scenery and set design on this film are absolutely gorgeous. So much so that I was pleasantly surprised that I had many an interesting physical detail to distract me while Orlando Bloom was on screen. Everything from costuming to brickwork to extras living the lives of peasants in the background were exceptionally well orchestrated to create a vivid canvas that depicted the era of the Crusades with fervor. These observations also serve to compliment Ridley Scott’s direction as well. A man who knows his craft to the Nth degree knows how to make something look good. The only time I felt deprived of his masterful use of the camera was during extreme close-ups on Orlando Bloom. Otherwise, every frame had a story to tell beyond that of the scripted plot.

Much like Scott’s ability to utilize the camera, the supporting cast of the film are all magnificently multi-layered and multi-faceted. Of particular note, Liam Neeson, Marton Csokas, Alexander Siddig, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, and Jeremy Irons are all in top form. Edward Norton also surprised with a performance completely shrouded by a mask. I didn’t even know that it was him until I saw the credits. To be able to convey such wisdom and compassion from behind un unexpressive façade is not an easy task. Each of the performers I listed above make their characters relatable for the viewer without compromise. It was because of their performances in conjunction with the visual beauty of the scene environments that I was able to keep from turning the film off.

As for the historical nature of the film? There definitely was a slight lack of focus on the overall thematic aspects of telling a story set at the time of the Crusades. Perhaps done so intentionally to avoid anything too controversial regarding such a politically/religiously unstable and volatile time in human history, Ridley Scott could have definitely been more daring with regards to making statements. Instead, he dances merrily around the sensitive topics and tries to focus more on the individual character story arcs of people dealing with the instability of their surroundings. I believe it still works for entertainment, but the technique is not nearly as powerful or compelling as it could have been. Likewise, the battle sequences are modestly enjoyable while lacking that extra spice of originality. But, the film can’t really be faulted for remaining historically accurate to the weapons/tactics of the times.

A different casting for the main character and a touch more precision regarding the socio-political affect of the Crusades could have really helped this 3 hour epic feel much more epic than it actually does.

Crave Factor – 6

Extras

Normally a release without any extras gets a “not applicable” tag associated with it. However, having discovered that the DVD release of the director’s cut has 4 discs worth of extra content leaves a sour taste in my mouth regarding the superior presentation released on this Blu-ray. If anything, the Blu-ray should have received that treatment and not the DVD. Therefore, because of this fact, I have decided to give it a rating to reflect the poor attention given to this important aspect of a release of this nature. At least the commentary track would have given viewers something to sink their teeth into further.

Crave Factor – 1

Video

2.35:1 Widescreen / MPEG-2

20th Century Fox has hit a homerun with this transfer of Kingdom Of Heaven on Blu-ray. There is no denying that this transfer is a champion for the format’s visual capabilities. The amount of detail visible is astonishing. Weapons, armour, sand particles, fabric textures, skin textures, wayward strands of hair, etc. If you pause the film at any point and take a close look, you will be amazed and how much detail you can make out. The colours of the film are also quite vibrant and realistic; which is surprising given the not so obvious artistic decision to fractionally mute the overall presentation with a grey/blue colour palette. Equally surprising is the fact that this all does not affect the black levels of the film. The depth and richness of night scenes really wakes the eyes to a level of detail I have never before seen in low light conditions. The only times that I could witness any blending of depth separation lines was when backgrounds were intentionally film out of focus. There is an absolutely remarkable visual presentation from this Blu-ray transfer… especially considering that it is an MPEG-2 encode and not AVC!

Crave Factor – 10

Audio

DTS HD MA 5.1

Much like the visual presentation, this audio track stands up to the best of them. The most impressive element is the consistency in always adding to the environment via full 5.1 surround sound support. Every scene is represented with impeccable ambience detail through every speaker. Obviously, most of these details are subtle and mixed so as to not be distracting. However, unlike most other films, they are at least noticeable without having to seek them out. Battle sequences are obviously where the track really shows its true colours as your viewing space becomes ablaze with sounds of war. Objects flying around the room, cries of pain, cries of victory, swords dancing, balls of fire exploding, etc. The audio track is so effective during these sequences that the only way to describe it is as a ballet for the auditory senses. These battles really help to show off the integrity of the sound spectrum present in the film as well. Swords clashing provide ample proof that the treble is supremely mixed and has a very high fidelity rate to it. Cavalcades of horses thundering into the fray leave the walls of your house shaking for fear that they are about to be rushed as the subwoofer comes to life with furious delight. And dialogue is always impeccably reproduced as can been noticed during scenes with Edward Norton’s masked character during many different scenes with varying levels of ambient audio detail. One of the best tracks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

Crave Factor – 10

Menu

The menu design for this Blu-ray is breathtaking. The screen is bordered with a side-scrolling stone artwork design while the menu options float in the forefront near the bottom of the screen. These menu options are overlayed onto a type of spiralling iron latticework image. The middle of the screen presents side-scrolling still images from the film while motion clips are blended in and out of them. And, the entire screen is tinted with a hue that makes everything being presented appear to be basked in moonlight. A very dramatic piece of the films score is overheard throughout menu navigation. The overall effect is really quite impressive. The menu interactivity is slightly choppy in presenting subsequent menu and those options drop into the middle of the screen without any artwork attached. However, they all do have transitions to keep the menu flowing.

The playback menu pops up along the left side of the screen and offers menu selections from top to bottom within the same menu artwork design as the disc menu. The main difference from the disc menu is the means by which subsequent menu options appear. They transition into view along the bottom of the screen with the same latticework design as present in all menus instead of dropping into the middle of the screen. This keeps the main viewing area clear for the viewer to enjoy the film while making menu decisions.

Crave Factor – 10

Conclusion

As far as quality is concerned, Kingdom Of Heaven on Blu-ray lives up to the hype of the format. The presentation is stellar in every respect. Video and audio quality is nothing short of immaculate. However, nothing is ever entirely perfect. The inherent problems with this release lie within the lack of ANY extra content, and the hit or miss plot/character development of the film itself. Not everyone will enjoy the film despite it looking and sounding amazing. I highly recommend a rental/borrow viewing of this title before making an outright purchase. Regardless, the Blu-ray is still, without a doubt, the way to go in either case.

Overall Crave Factor – 9

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