8 August 2010

Sunday Viewing: Kingdom of Heaven

Historical epics seem a long lost art in cinema, however thankfully films such as Kingdom of Heaven serve as a reminder of what can be achieved given the freedoms to do so.

Unfortunately that is only actually the case where the extended edition is concerned. During production, the studio executives, no doubt spurred on by the success of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, wanted the film to be made as an action-adventure rather than the intended historical epic. This involved asking (well demanding would be the more appropriate term given the power of the studio executives) director Ridley Scott and writer William Monahan to cut down the film to a more audience-friendly length whilst losing the complexities of the subplots.

The film was actually shot in such a way so as to allow scenes concerning King Baldwin (Edward Norton's uncredited role as the King was one of my personal highlights with respects to the acting in the film) and Sibylla's son to be easily edited out. Curiously enough, during production, Monahan was actually encouraged by Scott to write the script without regard to the finished length, allowing the story to evolve naturally.

Of course as is usually the case the studio executives essentially ruined the film through their interference and restraints. Once it opened in cinemas the edited version the executives wanted meant that it was an incomplete and stunted film, which seemed to lack any real depth. The marketing was so geared around the idea of an action-adventure that the trailer actually managed to reduce the film to a rather tawdry Hollywood affair. It was not a true reflection of the achievements of the film (although no clever editing or skewing of the story could quite hide Orlando Bloom's somewhat disappointing performance).

The film works only in its intended full length, allowing for the proper set up of the story arcs, as well as an exploration of the characters, of whom the cinema cut would suggest, were merely on the periphery of Balian's story. Although the studio executives refused to advertise it, thankfully they could not suppress the DVD release of the extended edition, which redeems the film that cinema goers felt so disappointed with.

Featuring an overture, before the typical studio animations are even seen, frames the viewer for a proper historical epic, and indeed the film even features an intermission as it moves from the first chapter into the second. The cinematography was also of note, with the epic aerial shots, colourful Jerusalem scenes and a well edited and shot siege battle. The use of light within the filming was particularly interesting. At a time when film makers spend vast sums on digitally altering their footage to replicate the mostly unintentional artifacts from the use of film cameras, the use of lighting in Kingdom of Heaven was sensitively thought out and helped to create almost painterly finishes in many of the scenes.

Cinematography and musical score aside, I was taken by the costume design within the film. The costume designer for the film was Janty Yates, who also worked with Ridley Scott in Gladiator for which she won an Oscar. She has since gone on to work with Scott in a number of his movies including American Gangster, Robin Hood and Body of Lies, all three of which also reunited the duo with Russell Crowe. Over twelve thousand costumes were created for the film, mainly for the extras playing soldiers on both the Christian and Muslim sides who required full sets of armour and weapons. Alongside the costumes for soldiers Yates also had to work on creating costumes for all the main characters who each had a number of changes throughout the film and required unique styles reflecting the domains from which they came.

I had initially intended to write a full costume analysis focusing on the male characters, but in truth, it was Sibylla, played by the stunning Eva Green, who stole the show...

At a time and setting when dress meant that a woman tended to cover even her face in public, drawing attention to the beauty of the eyes and hands was of particular importance. Kohl and henna, not to mention an abundance of jewelry and embellishments drawing the attention of the eye, worked in the film to emphasis those parts of Sibylla's body that would have been on display. The extent to which Yates sought to create fashionable looks from her historical costumes is questionable, however Eva Green's costumes would certainly not look out of place in a Couture show (I am looking at you Riccardo Tisci).

Currently playing: Vide Cor Meum - (composed by) Patrick Cassidy



  1. I remember Kingdom of Heaven being rather lackluster, maybe I should give it another chance since the dvd seems to do it more justice. Eva's costumes were stunning.

  2. You know I neve gave Kingdom of Heaven a second thought when it came out back in the day. Though from your screenshots, Eva Green looks completely stunning so maybe I should give it a go, if only for the costume!

  3. I so loved this film..but it was so sad when his wife died in childbirth and how the church treated him..this film is EPIC. Thanks for investigating into it.

  4. Actually, I have to think of Eva with such little on ..in the dreamers..hahahaha..very cool post

  5. wow it looks like such a beautiful movie, i've never watched it. I will definitely be seeing this in the future.

  6. I've always wanted to see this film. I love the photos from it. I adore Eva Green.

  7. looks interesting...ill check on it

  8. Haven't see this movie BUT last summer I did see Orlando Bloom in person, super cute ;) hehe

  9. I remember going to see this movie with a friend who bought 2nd row tickets. So not only was this lacking in any sort of depth it also hurt my eyes and neck from looking at the waaaaay too huge screen :P

    But I do remember having the biggest girl crush on Eva Green after those painful two hours. Visually, I enjoyed it a lot as a movie :)

  10. Really useful material, lots of thanks for your post.