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DVD Talk reviews Kingdom of Heaven, The Director's Cut (Thanks to Calimom for the heads up!)

The Movie

Ridley Scott dreams big – no stranger to larger-than-life films, his resume boasts one outsized work after another: Legend, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down - hell, even Hannibal feels operatic and infused with a sense of grandeur. It stood to reason that his 2005 offering, Kingdom of Heaven, elbowing for room in a year crowded with historical tentpole pictures (here's lookin' at you, Alexander and Troy), would deliver trademark Scott style, somehow standing out from the crowd. But it was not to be – Troy led the year off and flopped, while Alexander fared even worse, so it was with trepidation, rather than anticipation, that the world awaited Kingdom of Heaven.

The theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven is a technically impressive epic, devoid of soul and a cohesive narrative – sweeping battle scenes give way to strangely choppy exposition, rendering William Monahan's clearly well-researched historical drama an inchoate mess. Had 20th Century Fox not panicked in light of the two other high-profile misfires and drastically altering the flow of Scott's film (as has been hypothesized on several Internet sites), who's to say what impact Kingdom of Heaven would've had? While technically accomplished, it's also a breakout role for Orlando Bloom, who as Balian, sheds the nagging notion that he's merely a Tolkien pretty boy, unable to shoulder the load of headlining a massive period epic.

I'll skip summarizing the theatrical cut's plot (for that, check out my colleague Randy Miller III's review of Kingdom of Heaven) and will instead address the changes, revisions and additions to the film. It's estimated that between 40 and 60 minutes were snipped by Fox upon the eve of Kingdom of Heaven's release – the running time here is a healthy 191 minutes (the theatrical cut runs around 144 minutes, which suggests roughly 45 minutes were reinstated), offered in a roadshow format – which includes a 60 second video introduction from Scott, a 90 second overture that plays prior to the studio titles and a 140 second entr'acte beginning the second disc. The film is split neatly between the first and second discs, with one hour, 39 minutes on the first disc and one hour, 34 minutes on the second. According to several sources, this extended cut was released theatrically (briefly) at the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles in December 2005 and was critically hailed, even ending up on a few year-end best-of lists.

Some spoilers may follow for those who have yet to view the film. The most significant alteration to Kingdom of Heaven is that Sibylla (Eva Green) now has a son by Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), Baldwin V, who suffers from leprosy and meets an untimely fate at the hands of his mother. This subplot fleshes out precisely why Sibylla descends into madness in the film's final third and not only provides a handful of superb moments for Green, but makes her characterization that much richer. The village priest (Michael Sheen) seen burying Balian's wife at the beginning of the film is revealed to be his half-brother, which accounts for the tension between them. In addition, King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton, in his uncredited role) is seen refusing final communion and Balian crosses swords with Guy near the film's climax.

While all of these changes to the film indeed draw out its running time, in no way does Kingdom of Heaven feel overlong or laborious – with the narrative restored and characters given full, detailed arcs, screenwriter William Monahan and Scott fashion a palpably real world, one that draws you in and keeps you absorbed for the duration. The cast is exceptional throughout and the technical aspects are stunning. Put simply, Kingdom of Heaven is a masterpiece of filmmaking that has been restored to its proper glory. Ridley Scott's big dream is no longer a nightmare.

The DVD

The Video:

As with the theatrical cut, Kingdom of Heaven is presented with a sterling 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that doesn't suffer from a trace of damage – vivid, crisp and a glittering showcase for John Mathieson's stunning cinematography, the Crusades come to powerful life and will serve as near-reference quality material for many – Kingdom of Heaven looks truly glorious here.

The Audio:

Dropping the Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks from the theatrical DVD release, the director's cut features only Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks – having sampled both during the course of the film, DTS has a slight edge in terms of spatial clarity and warmth, although the Dolby Digital track is no slouch. Screams, clanging swords and immersive surround activity makes this one of the more kinetic home theater experiences I've encountered in quite some time. Simply put, this is pure aural enjoyment that will delight audiophiles no end. English, French and Spanish subtitles are also on board, as is closed captioning.

The Extras:

The $64,000 question lingers: hold on to the two-disc theatrical release or pitch it on eBay? While the two-disc will likely be shoved aside in favor of this lavish four-disc set, those die-hard Kingdom of Heaven fans should keep it, as "The Pilgrim's Guide" text commentary, interactive production grid, the A&E and History Channel documentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes aren't ported over – if you want the complete picture, I'd argue for a six-disc set, incorporating both the admittedly flawed theatrical cut as well as these extras.

But enough championing of the previous release – anyone annoyed at a perceived lack of supplemental material on the first DVD release will be quieted by this stunning, dense set. Fox has given the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven a stylish presentation, placing the four discs in separate trays inside a fold-out slipcase which fits snugly within the slipcover. Very handsome. Spread over the first two discs is a trio of commentaries – Scott, Bloom and Monahan sat separately for the first commentary, which mainly details how each man came to the project and in the case of Scott and Monahan, how Tripoli gave way to this project, as Bloom fills in his take on the film and its subject. The second commentary features executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects supervisor Wes Sewell and first assistant director Adam Somner (all three recorded separately), which focuses on the more technical aspects of this mammoth production. The third and final commentary features editor Dody Dorn flying solo and detailing not only changes to the film, but her thoughts on Kingdom of Heaven. Supplanting "The Pilgrim's Guide" from the initial release is the "Enginer's Guide," newly created for this cut and outlining production notes and film trivia.

Discs three and four are where producer Charles de Lauzirika really earns his paycheck: on a par with the exceptional multi-disc re-releases of both Black Hawk Down and Gladiator, the six-part behind-the-scenes documentary "The Path To Redemption" is fat-free, compelling and essential for anyone with even a passing interest in Ridley Scott's film.

Disc three includes the first three sections of "The Path To Redemption," presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic and Dolby 2.0 stereo. Easily navigable and helpfully split in manageable chunks, I'll outline the contents of the various sections below (it should be noted that while these are listed separately, the option for playing them as one long documentary exists):

Part I: Good Intentions (featurette detailing the genesis of Kingdom of Heaven), 36 minutes and 26 seconds

"Tripoli" Overview and Gallery (text and images)

First draft by William Monahan (text)

Story notes (text and images)

Location scout gallery (text and images)

Part II: Faith and Courage (featurette detailing the pre-production process) 19 minutes and 53 seconds

Cast rehearsals featuring Bloom, Liam Neeson, David Thewlis, Csokas and Green (video) 13 minutes and 22 seconds

Ridleygrams (images)

Costume and weapon design featurette (video) 32 minutes and 14 seconds

Production design (video) six minutes and 52 seconds

Costume design galleries (text and images)

Part III: The Pilgrimage Begins (featurette detailing the production in Spain) 19 minutes and 31 seconds

"Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak" (Video) 26 minutes and 37 seconds

Storyboard galleries (viewable separately or together): "Balian's Village," "Forest Ambush" and "Pilgrim's Road" (multi-angle video and images)

Photo galleries (text and images)

Disc four includes the final three sections of "The Path To Redemption," presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic and Dolby 2.0 stereo. Easily navigable and helpfully split in manageable chunks, I'll outline the contents of the various sections below (it should be noted that while these are listed separately, the option for playing them as one long documentary exists):

Part IV: Into The Promised Land (featurette detailing the production in Morocco) 31 minutes and 14 seconds

"Unholy War: Mounting The Siege" (video) 17 minutes and 5 seconds

Storyboard galleries (viewable separately or together): "Kerak," "Battle Preparations" and "The Siege" (multi-angle video and images)

Photo galleries (text and images)

Part V: The Burning Bush (featurette detailing the post-production process) 37 minutes and 26 seconds

15 deleted/alternate scenes, presented in anamorphic widescreen, playable separately or together for an aggregate of 30 minutes with optional Scott/Dorn commentary (video)

Sound design suite – sample tracks of dialogue editing, ADR, Foley, sound FX editing and final mix (video and audio)

Visual effects breakdowns (viewable separately or together for an aggregate of 20 minutes, 35 seconds with optional Wes Sewell commentary) – "The Burning Man" (fire effects and face replacement), three minutes, 12 seconds; "Building Jerusalem" (digital matte painting and 3-D modeling), five minutes, 59 seconds; "Casualties of War" (artificial intelligence and virtual warriors), seven minutes, 38 seconds and "Medieval Engines" (the physics/firepower of Trebuchets), four minutes, 44 seconds.

Part VI: Sins and Absolution (featurette detailing the release of the theatrical and director's cut) 18 minutes and 20 seconds

Four trailers (presented in anamorphic widescreen with optional Scott commentary and viewable separately or together for an aggregate of six minutes, 43 seconds) and 50 TV spots (viewable separately or together)

The ShoWest presentation (video)

The press junket walkthrough at the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena (video) six minutes and 17 seconds

Footage from the New York, Japan and London premieres (video) three minutes and 40 seconds

Domestic and international poster gallery (images)

Special shoot gallery (images)

"Paradise Found: Creating The Director's Cut" (video) six minutes and 27 seconds

Director's cut credits (text)

Final Thoughts:

If you've made it this far and still can't figure out why picking up this deluxe edition of Ridley Scott's intended vision for Kingdom of Heaven is a no-brainer, then there may be no hope for you – a masterful film that ranks among Scott's best, a thorough, utterly compelling selection of extras and top-notch audio/visual presentation makes this four-disc set a cinch for DVD Talk Collectors Series status. This is how DVD is done – Kingdom of Heaven in its director's cut incarnation, will be on many, many year-end lists.

:towel:

We can't wait, preciousss!!!

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I'm getting more and more anxious about next Tuesday! It's wonderful that word is getting out how wonderful this movie is, and especially how Orlando absolutely shines in it!

I believe (and so will everyone else)! :crusader:

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While technically accomplished, it's also a breakout role for Orlando Bloom, who as Balian, sheds the nagging notion that he's merely a Tolkien pretty boy, unable to shoulder the load of headlining a massive period epic.

:blow: Wow. Our Orlando is starting to get the recognition that he deserves. Oh wow. I can't wait for next Tuesday. Oh yes, it is return of Balian, indeed. And he is better than ever! Watch out, world! And thank you, Geri, for posting this. Sigh.

I believe!

:crusader:

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Woohoo! This is just glowing, isn't it?! Thanks for posting this, it makes me feel really good to see the film and Orlando receive the validation they deserve.

Jules

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This is how DVD is done – Kingdom of Heaven in its director's cut incarnation, will be on many, many year-end lists.

This is great news, a day year late and a dollar 50 minutes short though it may be.

Thanks Faye and Geri.

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I first saw this movie a year ago today. It's been way too long, and Tuesday can't come fast enough.

Thanks, girls!

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What a wonderful, absolutely wonderful review. :cheer: While we always knew there was a great movie waiting to be seen, it does my heart good to see there are critics out there willing to take this second look, and tell everyone what a classic this is. Do we have a bursting at the seams smilie?

:yahoo::getdown:

Thanks Calimom and Geri.

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The way this writer puts it.that because Alexander and Troy were such flops, FOX decided to hold back releasing the full-length version of KOH, demanding Scott edit the theatrical release so more seats could be filled in what they believed would be another flop, it makes me sick ! :bat:

I hope Ridley Scott and Orlando will be aware of the rave notices that the DC DVD has gotten, and will get some small satisfaction from them. They deserve so much more. :clap:

Edited by Geri

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We so believed and we've been rewarded . but oh to have seen this version on the big screen!

While technically accomplished, it's also a breakout role for Orlando Bloom, who as Balian, sheds the nagging notion that he's merely a Tolkien pretty boy, unable to shoulder the load of headlining a massive period epic.

I just won't be able to read that statement too many times. :crusader:

Thanks Geri and Calimom for making my day!

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I love that this movie is enjoying a sort of second life and that Sir Ridley and Orlando are receiving the accolades and praise that they deserve.

I have to wonder, though, what the marketing department and higher ups at Fox are doing now. Hopefully, they are kicking themselves for judging KOH based upon the shortcomings of other films in the genre and not upon the movie's own merit.

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While technically accomplished, it's also a breakout role for Orlando Bloom, who as Balian, sheds the nagging notion that he's merely a Tolkien pretty boy, unable to shoulder the load of headlining a massive period epic.

:blow: Wow. Our Orlando is starting to get the recognition that he deserves. Oh wow. I can't wait for next Tuesday. Oh yes, it is return of Balian, indeed. And he is better than ever! Watch out, world! And thank you, Geri, for posting this. Sigh.

I believe!

:crusader:

My feelings exactly! :2thumbs:

Kim :crusader:

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Just one more week to go! I'm so excited! Now the movie will finally make sense to those of us who didn't know every little thing about it! I remember having to fill in the blanks for those friends I took along with me to the theatre. This is so exciting!

Mary :heart:

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This is how DVD is done – Kingdom of Heaven in its director's cut incarnation, will be on many, many year-end lists.

Well, I can honestly say that it most defintely won't be on mine.because I'll already have it! :lol:

Let's hope that we see many, many more reviews like this one.

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I might be wrong, but I think when the author refers to year-end lists, he's talking about best-of-the-year lists, not lists for Christmas. Though I'm sure it will be on plenty of those, as well. :wink:

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:clap: I am reading this during my lunch break at work and I am fit to burst - I love this review. Sir Ridley made a brilliant movie and I am so happy that he and his leading man are getting the recognition they so richly deserve.

Thank you CaliMom and Geri for sharing this with us.

:hug:

Charlie

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Didn't we all know it, nice to have confirmation again that Ridley didn't suddenly lose his brilliance to make fine movies. I can't wait to hold this in my hands, what's a month more of waiting. :crusader:

Rise my knight.

Hugs

Isa

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I might be wrong, but I think when the author refers to year-end lists, he's talking about best-of-the-year lists, not lists for Christmas. Though I'm sure it will be on plenty of those, as well. :wink:

Sorry Geri, I was having a dense moment! :doh:

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I just wish I had the chutzpah to call in sick next Tuesday, hit the store early, and just lay back and enjoy (with occasional potty and food breaks).

Hey, it's either that or stay up all night watching and try to work on Wednesday!

Thanks for the tip, Faye. :hug:

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I just checked with my Walmart and they're supposed to have it in by midnight! So you can guess who isn't getting much sleep that night. :yawn:

I told the clerk about these great reviews and that it looks like it might be a lot more popular than is perhaps expected. They didn't have any advance PR up, and he had to go look it up, so it could catch some stores unawares. If you're getting it in a store, it might be good to get there early.

I BELIEVE!

Beth 37

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I just wish I had the chutzpah to call in sick next Tuesday, hit the store early, and just lay back and enjoy (with occasional potty and food breaks).

Hey, it's either that or stay up all night watching and try to work on Wednesday!

Thanks for the tip, Faye. :hug:

Hey, I volunteered to work at the ka-Bloomettes' school book fair on Tuesday. What was I thinking?! :doh: Well, I e-mailed our librarian so I could re-schedule for Wednesday. Thank goodness she didn't mind. Of course I didn't tell her why I couldn't work on Tuesday. :whistle: I didn't want her to think that I was choosing a movie over helping her. She might not understand that I was actually choosing Orlando over her. There is a difference! :lol:

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While technically accomplished, it's also a breakout role for Orlando Bloom, who as Balian, sheds the nagging notion that he's merely a Tolkien pretty boy, unable to shoulder the load of headlining a massive period epic.

I just won't be able to read that statement too many times. :crusader:

Nor will I. His accomplishment in this film via his acting and the way he carried this role should have received high critical praise.

I've pre-ordered this already and cannot wait to get it. As others have said, I'm sure the Director's Cut will fill in many gaps that the screen version left open.

Great review. Thanks Geri!

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