Published May 01, 2005As awesome and awe-inspiring an achievement as The Lord of the Rings trilogy was and still remains to this day, it can also partially be blamed for the current glut of "historical epics" and the grandiose, sensory-numbing battles that accompany them. Their lack of plot, character development and good sense, however, are not Rings' fault. Whether it's Troy, Alexander or the newly unleashed Kingdom of Heaven, all pale in comparison to the staggering greatness of Peter Jackson's triumphant Tolkien trilogy.
And yet director/knight Sir Ridley Scott is no newcomer to rewriting history and staging grand battles, as his award-winning Gladiator ably demonstrated way before Orlando Bloom was making hearts swoon as an effeminate elf. In fact, one of the worse perpetrators of the "historical epic" phenom is not only Scott but Bloom also, who caused shit in Troy as a petulant prince and is at it again in Kingdom of Heaven.
While making Rings, Bloom probably thought to himself, "being Legolas is awesome, but man, I could be Aragorn, screw that Viggo guy. I've seen Braveheart, I've seen Gladiator, I'm freakin' in Lord of the Rings; I can grow a beard and look solemn." And so he did. But the problem is Bloom's not the brooding, gruff-looking, stoic type, and he's no Aragorn.
But, in honour of square pegs and round holes everywhere, in Kingdom of Heaven (which is already pissing off historians and religious-types with its inaccuracies and dubious portrayals), Bloom plays Balian, a blacksmith turned widower turned knight who journeys to Jerusalem in order to wash away both his sins and the sins of his post-suicidal wife. Of course, since Jerusalem is currently conquered by the "good guys" (i.e., the honkies), there's not a lot of crusading to do, so Balian inherits his father's knights and estate, enlightens the locals about irrigation and farming (apparently, nobody knows how to dig a well save a blacksmith), wins the trust/admiration of the current ailing king and bones his sister, who happens to be married to a war-mongering French knight who coincidentally wants Balian dead.
So, when the chance to marry the incredibly beautiful woman he's in love with, inherit the dying king's empire and have the man who threatened his life killed is presented to him on a silver platter, he obviously declines, because that would be dishonourable (but boning another man's wife is somehow not). And it all goes downhill from there, as Balian's "honourable" choice leads to war with the "infidels," complete with epic battles, impressive sieges and the odd bit of unimpassioned speechifying by Bloom.
However, while Balian's choices seem coincidental and/or forced to serve the story at the expense of believability, and the plot is never fully developed in detail (for a two-and-a-half-hour film, there's little exposition and less dialogue), Kingdom of Heaven looks beautiful and its battle scenes are sprawling takes on carnage of a truly massive scale, which makes the film better than most of the current crop of historical epics. In fact, Scott and cinematographer John Mathieson attempt to force meaning into every single languid shot and tense battle moment, which is obviously meant to evoke, well, something, but they're not sure what they want the audience to feel. It all looks and sounds like it should mean something, and the sweeping score drips of melancholy, but the story never follows through.
While some are interpreting Kingdom of Heaven as a "U.S.A. out of the middle east" statement from Scott, it seems a stretch (did they not see Black Hawk Down?) to ascribe increased meaning to a film that is more an excuse for the staging of gargantuan battles and Bloom to not shave as a leading man. (Fox)