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Photograph by David Appleby

Heigh-Ho, Silver: King Baldwin IV (no relation to Alec) introduces a new line of war paint in Ridley Scott's 'Kingdom of Heaven.'

Knightmare

'Kingdom of Heaven' is not-so-great Scott

By Richard von Busack

THE BILL for Kingdom of Heaven is appropriately astronomical. According to a promotional book sent out to document the cruel amounts of work, time and treasure spent on the film: 1.2 million feet of film were shot, 20,000 arrows forged, 3,000 shields made and 120,000 liters of propane burnt (the old-time publicists could have told you how many family barbecues that would have represented). Watching the mayhem, burning and slashing, you can rest assured that no expense was spared. That does make you feel fairly ungrateful for watching it dully, disinterestedly. The figures should prove it was harder to make than it was to watch, yet somehow they don't.

In 1184, a blacksmith is taken from his forge and led upon the Crusades. He hopes to expiate his sins and the sins of his wife, a suicide. Balian (Orlando Bloom) is revealed as the natural son of a baron (Liam Neeson), who dies leaving Balian his heritage: a few acres of palm-tree-covered sand in the Holy Land. As the Crusades were apparently sometimes like the Peace Corps, Balian brings his peasants an irrigation project.

Unfortunately, the times are out of joint. The current king of Jerusalem, a diseased but gentle peacenik, is being pushed by Christian hotheads to smite the Muslims. The great Saladin (Ghassan Massoud, in the film's best performance), had made a promise to deliver Jerusalem from the Franks. Thanks to the evil of a pair of unmemorable Western villains (one of them is Brendan Gleeson, disguised in strange tangerine-colored stage whiskers), the promised war arrives on time.

No one expects a broadsword battle to be delicate. Still, the battle scenes are the usual brutally crisp, choppy digital scrimmages that have become a grisly cliché since Saving Private Ryan. The images are exact in every detail—a crisp penumbra of white light on every slowly hovering drop of glossy blood—but it's still impossible to tell who just got stabbed. Playing a princess, Eva Green—the luscious ciné from The Dreamers—teases our hero, flashing her white hands, spotted giraffelike from henna. But she never gets much fun. When the chips go down, she slashes off her hair and stares into a mirror, pantomiming regret for a misspent life.

Possibly the film's summing up is a scene at the end. The walls of Jerusalem are breached, and the camera pulls up to see the writing armored bodies in combat; the antlike bodies go still. As night falls, they turn into so many dully gleaming grey pebbles. Kingdom of Heaven is a morbid epic, with all of the worst qualities of Scott's previous, Gladiator, and none of the redeeming ones.

The film is a long dirge, marching for what seems like three hours through a miasma of keening chorales. It begins with a funeral and ends with new fools going off to seek their graves in the stinking desert. William Monahan's script is a muddle of conflicts leading to a sort of climax. The message, seems to be that true meaning of life is found in how bravely a man dies horribly in a meaningless battle.


Kingdom of Heaven (R; 138 min.), directed by Ridley Scott, written by William Monahan, photographed by John Mathieson and starring Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Eva Green and Ghassan Massoud, plays valleywide.


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From the May 18-24, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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