Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

This is the second time I have watched Kingdom of Heaven. The first time I watched it on a tiny TV and thought that may have been the reason why it didn’t work for me. A few years later and with a big screen and a good sound system it still didn’t work. And this despite the fact that it is a Ridley Scott movie, the cinematography is stunning, the music – Hans Zimmer  Harry Gregson-Williams – is good and…. That’s it. … There is nothing else I can add to the plus side. OK, maybe the battle scene towards the end which seems to be one of the Top 10 battle scenes of all time. It’s good, yes, but after 2 straight hours of utter boredom, it’s hard to redevelop some sort of enthusiasm.

Balian (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith, travels to Jerusalem with his father, Godfrey de Ibelin (Liam Neeson). Ibelin dies on the way but Balian travels on. The movie is set during the reign of Baldwin IV, the so-called leper king (Edward Norton behind a mask). During his reign, Jerusalem is a Kingdom of Heaven in which Christians and Muslims live together in peace. After Baldwin’s death,  the husband of Baldwin’s sister becomes king. He wants Jerusalem to be Christian. He attacks Saladin’s army but loses the battle and Saladin marches towards Jerusalem where Balian heads the army that stayed behind. After the final epic battle is lost, Balian leads the people out of the city while Saladin and his people take over.  This is more or less the core of the story.

It’s ironic really as it is precisely this boring movie, or rather what it stands for, which was the source of the only really controversial and heated discussion on this blog. A while ago I wrote a post on Movies on the Crusades: A List. It is the only post on which people still comment frequently, calling each other names and being extremely emotional. I know I could close the comments section but I don’t want to do that. I’m not a fan of censorship. I usually reply to every comment but I do not do it on that post anymore as the discussion is turning in circles and answering seems pointless. What fuelled the anger is one person’s comment that Kingdom of Heaven wasn’t historically accurate. Whatever. None of this will make me change my mind – I don’t like the Kingdom of Heaven. Here are some reasons why:

  • The story. Why do we need the side story of someone going back to get his illegitimate son and fight along with him? This story part adds at least half an hour to a movie that would have needed some serious cutting plus a main character who totally lacks charisma.
  • The length. It is way too long. I was bored after the first 25 minutes, yet had to suffer through another 2hrs.
  • The actors. Orlando Bloom is not a good actor. No amount of make-up will ever make him one. Eva Green is one of those actresses you see and forget the moment the camera isn’t on her anymore. Not exactly a fascinating couple. While some of the other actors are very good, their combinations makes the choices look very random.
  • The cinematography. It’s stunning, as I said in the beginning, but if that’s the only thing a movie has to offer it becomes annoying. “One more bluish picture and I scream”, was what I was thinking.
  •  The characters. Even if the main character had been played by someone else, it would still have been a very boring character. In his only strong moment, when he frees the slaves and decides to defend the city against all odds, he sounds like a parakeet and mimics his late father. As Orlando Bloom is a bad actor, it sounds as if he was reciting a badly learned text.
  • The history. It isn’t accurate or rather it seems a hodgepodge of historical elements.

All in all it is too bad as the movie had potential. If you would like to see a really great movie on the Crusades, watch Arn – The Knight Templar instead.

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Robin Hood (2010) or This is the Robin Hood we were waiting for

I don’t care if Robin Hood is really a war movie. There is a lot of warfare and talk of war but the purists would probably deny it the access to the war movie realm. I can’t. I am biased. I am partial to Russell Crowe – my favourite actor – I am partial to Ridley Scott – watch all of his movies, they are worth it – I am partial to Cate Blanchett – one of my favourite actresses. In short Robin Hood  is well done, has a great cast and is very entertaining. It doesn’t make the world a better place or will revolutionize cinema history but  it is well woth watching.

I waited for this to come out on BluRay before I watched it and was looking forward to it like a child (Is it available yet? Is it available yet?). I was not disappointed. I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

What we get to see is the pre-history of Robin Hood, the years before he becomes an outcast (will there be a sequel?). At the beginning he is in the middle of a big battle in which  King Lionheart is  fighting against the French. Robin Longstride  is not a noble man and since he is too outspoken he endangers himself and those who follow him. He is sentenced and if King Richard hadn´t died, he would have been bad off. But Richard Lionheart is killed and Robin takes advantage of the chaos that follows the king’s death and escapes with his buddies to the sea.

Sir Robert Loxley who is to bring the crown back to England and hand it over to the new king is murdered on his way home. At that very moment Robin and his men come along and the dying man asks him to return his sword to his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). Robin decides to pretend to be Sir Robert Loxley and first brings the crown to the new king and then travels on to the estate of the Loxley´s where he meets Marion, Roberts widow. Of course there is a love story but it is not corny. The country is in bad shape. People suffer. They are famished and impoverished and exploited by their king. The noblemen from the North want to overthrow the new king but there is a threat coming from the South. One of the king´s people is a traitor and conspires with France. It will take combined efforts to save Britain from invasion.

I won’t tell you if this is achieved and how Robin Hood got his name, nor will I tell you why he became an outcast. You got to find out for yourself.

Some historical facts about Robin Hood can be found on the  BBC British history page.

Arn: Knight Templar aka Arn: Tempelriddaren (2007) or A Fantastic Movie about the Crusades

What a fantastic movie. A lavish historical epic with likable characters and a great story. So much better than Kingdom of Heaven although that is not a bad movie at all. Only, I did not care much about the characters and the story. Big difference here. Arn: Knight Templar makes you care. You want to know what happens, you feel outrage when the main characters suffer wrong and you admire them and enjoy watching them.

Based on the novels by Jan Guillou this multinational co-production (we hear at least 5 different languages: Swedish, English, French, Arabic and Latin) centers on Arn, the son of a Swedish noble man. He falls in love with Cecilia, who is promised to another man. When their love is found out they are sentenced. Cecilia is to spend her days in a convent, Arn must join the Knight Templars and travel to the Holy Land. He will experience the brutality of the Crusades but still remain true to himself and stay just, courageous and open-minded. Cecilia on her side endures many hardships. The worst is certainly that they take away her newborn son, as he has been conceived in sin.

We see many a battle scene, breathtaking landscapes (the movie was filmed in Sweden, Scotland and Morocco) and we wonder once more how people can fight bloody battles in the name of religion.

Even though a major part of it,  the battles, the fights and the beauty of the scenery are not the the only good aspects of the movie. The depiction of the Middle Ages, centering on a bloodthirsty Catholicism,  is what makes this movie memorable. How horrible the Catholicism of those times has been, with its belief in sin and eternal damnation, its attempt to spread the faith all over this world, and even in bringing warfare to every corner of the earth. And the way they treated women and people of other faiths… Abominable.

Last but not least this is also a beautiful love story.

The cast is quite interesting. We see, once more, Stellan Skarsgard, but also Vincent Perez, Milind Soman, Bibi Andersson (she gives a chilling performance as a frankly sadistic nun), Sofia Helin and, starring as Arn, Joakim Nätterqvist.

I have a seen the shorter version. There are apparently two. I believe the longer one is better. A word of caution: there is some weird jumping in the time going on. This needs some getting used to. Maybe it is due to the cuts.

Be it as it may, watch it as soon as you can. You won´t regret it.