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Kingdom of Heaven

dir: Ridley Scott
[img_assist|nid=936|title=My, my Orlando, whoever accused you of being flat and wooden was certainly wrong. Plastic is more apt|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=300]
Finally, Hollywood has caught up with mobile phone technology. Now we are privy to the birth of a new age. The typewriter is dead. The clunky desktop computer is for squares and losers. Give us movies like Kingdom of Heaven. We're ready, and we're gagging for it. Just look at the way we're dressed.

Now we can watch films whose entire dialogue was compiled between two or more people sending each other text messages on their mobiles. How else does one explain the fact that no-one says more than ten words in any given sentence in this film? It's surreal. Even people in the Australian outback have longer conversations than this, laconic as they're supposed to be.

Nothing better represents this new risk-aversion to too much dialogue than Orlando Bloom's heartening equivalent of the St Crispin's Day speech from Henry the V, where he ends up yelling at the defenders of Jerusalem to "Come On! Come On!" to get them fired up. Um, isn't that what tennis player and Mensa candidate Lleyton Hewitt does to fire himself up during matches? Shakespeare, Kenneth Brannagh and Helena Bonham Carter should be rolling in their graves.

I actually counted how many words characters were using at any given time. Don't blame me, I listened to what they said, but then there'd be these pauses that I could advantage of without losing the gist of what was going on. On average I counted about eight. Eight words per line. Maybe actors are getting crapper at remembering lines, maybe studios think audiences can't really process more words than that at any given time. Maybe they're right.

Seriously, dialogue would proceed like this:

"In this era we don’t ever bathe?"
(sombre pause)
"No, not really."
(reflective pause)
"How say you that this came about?"
(confused pause)
"It be God’s will."
(intense facial expression and pause)
"The Will of God, you say?"
(pause-like pause)
"God's will it is, then."

for the majority of the 2 and a half hours that this film splayed itself across the screen. Ridley Scott has had his less than watchable moments at the cinema, but this will be remembered as one of his most unnecessary.

Let's not minimise Scott’s cinematic achievements. After all, he has made two great films (The Duellists and Alien), one good film (Blade Runner) and a stack of less memorable fare. I personally don't care that much for his other films, like post-post-post feminist classic GI Jane, "US militarism is nice" war flick Blackhawk Down, or absolute shemozzle Hannibal. He's got stacks more and few of them do much for me.

I really don't know what he was going for here. The tone is dour for most of the flick's length, reflected in the way that Orlando's character Balian maintains the same neutral expression on his face for two and a half hours. He smiles once, at the end of the movie.

He's not too bad. No-one really thought he could carry a film on his own, except for some teenage girls maybe, and that's probably right. He does't have the presence or the charisma. Going through a movie with what you think is a badass expression on your face is no substitute for actually being able to play a noble Crusader badass.

Balian is a blacksmith whose wife is dead right at film's start. It makes him sad. An annoying priest (Michael Sheen) taunts him with the fact that his woman offed herself and will spend eternity in Hell. At exactly the same time a noble knight, Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) happens upon the scene, and tells Balian that he is his father, and he'd very much like it if he could make up for 30 years of neglectful parenting by them spending some quality time together whacking their swords against each other on the way to the Holiest of Holy lands.

Balian plays hard to get, splays the priest and then joins Daddy for a few minutes before some people just happen to kill off Daddy and most of his knight buddies.

To Jerusalem, where some knights dislike Balian, but the Leper King of Jerusalem Baldwin IV (Ed Norton), the Sheriff of Jerusalem (Jeremy Irons) and the King’s sister (Eva Green) all like him. For no reason apart from it's convenient.

He inherits his deadbeat daddy's lands, which are all dusty and lie fallow. But Balian is no typical blacksmith. Not only does he get to fuck the King's sister, but he has these special civilisation advancing skills. He has the power of technology. Right then and there he invents the idea of digging a well. No shit. Just like that. He walks into the middle of the land, says "dig here" to his peasant folk and they discover the bounty of water. Hoorah!

Later on in the flick he spontaneously starts using trigonometry to fight battles and other tactics you wonder how a blacksmith in the 12th century would is privy to. Then you remember you're an idiot for thinking of such things about a Hollywood historical "epic" action flick, take another sip of your drink, let your mouth hang slightly open and remind yourself that it'll
all be over soon. Just like your youth.

By this stage the armies of Saladin (Ghassan Massoud) have conquered most of the lands surrounding Jerusalem. The only thing that stops him from collecting the last piece of the puzzle is seemingly some uneasy truce between his forces and those of the Leper King.

Saladin and his close adviser Nasir (Alexander Siddig, who used to play Dr Bashir on Deep Space Nine) are portrayed with dignity and class. No-one except Balian is shown to be as classy on the Christian side. That's all well and good, but if they were going to be so painstakingly politically correct perhaps they could have transferred some of that energy into composing a better script with more for people to say and do.

But alas, the dastardly Franks want war, the bishops want war, the imams on the Saracen side want war, so what’s a warlord to do?

Only noble Balian, wise Balian, pretty Balian can defend Jerusalem and set everything right. Unfortunately he has to overcome not being much of an actor in order to inspire some peasants, and that's just asking too much.

If this story sounds interesting, I assure you it isn't really. I've summarised it with brevity, mockery and wit (or what passes for it) in stark contrast to a script that lacks all three and much more. The performances are mostly flat, the action sequences quite dull, the war scenes are just the kind of thing any audience that's endured the last five years worth of ye ancient battles on film are getting thoroughly sick of and the ending is hardly rousing.

I couldn't really care about any of the characters or their fates, or the fate of Jerusalem, nor did I want or expect a historically accurate portrait of the Crusades. I also didn't necessarily want a Hallmark card level of hokey blandness and simple-mindedness representing such a complex time in human history: and the naff tokenism applied to notions of religious tolerance and people blathering on about freedom and liberty are pitiful attempts to just say the kind of crap to audiences they're hoping have been trained enough to react just like Pavlov's dogs.

I no more believe that the Roman legions, the Ottoman Empire, William Wallace, Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great or Balian of Ybelin fought for freedom, liberty and justice any more than I believe the junkies in the alleyways of Melbourne fight for the same ideals. Yet these movies keep telling me that's what human history has always been about. It seems that Hollywood continues to rewrite history essentially from a triumphant American perspective, and I'm starting to grow weary of it. Yet we're becoming increasingly inured to it, to our detriment, I suspect.

For a lot of people these kinds of films are going to be the only history that they ever remember. That's downright fucking frightening, that is.

Kingdom of Heaven is not a film worthy of study, analysis, or even watching, really. I don't think it’s any better than Troy or Alexander except that it's only 2 and a half hours long as opposed to the fifteen hours that the others comprise.

As for watching it, well, I did it so the rest of you don't have to.

5 times out of 10 that you'll want to stab Orlando Bloom in the crotch with a claymore just to see if his facial expression changes.
--
"A kingdom of conscience, peace instead of war, love instead of hate. That is what lies at the end of the Crusade." – Godfrey of Ibelin, making probably the most uproarious statement possible in Kingdom of Heaven.

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