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Friday, November 04, 2005

Riddling Ridley

I watched Kingdom of Heaven a week or so ago, and it's taken me a while to decide if I liked it. I think I did, but then, maybe I didn't. Since this is my usual initial reaction to Ridley Scott's movies, and since I've generally settled in the end on not liking them (except for Alien, which I pretty much didn't like from the get-go), I may end up not liking this one all that much.

Kingdom of Heaven is about a blacksmith named Balian who ends up going to the Holy Land around the time of the Crusades, when he ends up losing his infant child and then his wife to subsequent suicide, murdering a priest, and meeting his long-lost father all in the space of about three days or so. (Talk about your mid-life crises.) Along the way, he meets some allies and some enemies, fights battles against some Muslims and some Christians, defends Jerusalem, meets a Queen and falls in love with her, and so on. This is the kind of movie where a life spared in the first hour turns out to be a very important person in the second, where our hero is at sea amidst impenetrably shifting allegiances, and where religious war takes a back seat to just good old fighting over territory. The constant suggestion (and, from my reading of history, there's more than a little truth to it) is that for all the stuff about the Crusades being a Holy War pitting the Christians against the infidels, they were also a way for men who couldn't find power and lands and titles in Europe to carve them out of the Holy Land.

I liked Orlando Bloom a good deal as Balian, although he doesn't seem to develop as a character so much as present one constantly unchanging character amidst people who are in so much flux as characters that we never know who they are at all. I also liked the film's insight in Balian's various enemies, in that sometimes people become our enemies for no real reason at all. And one thing about Ridley Scott is that he's a visual genius on par with George Lucas. This film is full of stunning shots, starting with cold, wind-swept Europe and ending in the hot, stifling Holy Land.

What I didn't like was the film's strange lack of emotion. I didn't feel like I was involved in the story, but rather simply viewing it. The actors seemed to be executing a ritual rather than acting in a film, and there was a curious lack of intimacy in the project. And it frankly didn't help that for all Ridley Scott's visual invention, his musical affinity is nearly non-existent. This film's score is a melange of original cues by several composers mixed with existing cues from other films by still more composers, culminating in the use of a Jerry Goldsmith cue from The Thirteenth Warrior that stuck out like a sore thumb. (Although, truth to tell, the Goldsmith cue probably worked better in Kingdom than it did in Thirteenth Warrior, seeing as how the latter is so bad a movie.) And if you rent this film hoping to get some understanding of what the Crusades were all about, well, forget about it.

Anyway, I guess I found enough in Kingdom of Heaven to recommend it. I don't consider the time I watched it to be time wasted, really. I know, that's a pretty tepid recommendation, but I found the whole film kind of tepid.

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