Having greatly enjoyed Blackhawk Down, I thought I’d give Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven a chance.
This was in spite of poor reviews from critics (whom I don’t follow) and enthusiasts alike.
I stopped paying attention to the “critics” and their elitist drivel when they savaged the Burt Reynolds movie Smokey and the Bandit. It was a movie that was intended as pure, blue-collar entertainment (and that’s all it was). But the “critics” tore it apart because it wasn’t high-brow enough. This movie was released in 1977 but I never forgot my reaction to the reviews.
Kingdom of Heaven opens at an interesting moment in history. We are told by Scott’s affinity for prologue prose:
“It is almost 100 years since Christian armies from Europe seized Jerusalem.”
“Europe suffers in the grip of repression and poverty. Peasant and lord alike flee to the Holy Land in search of fortune or salvation.”
If you know nothing of history, you’d think that was pretty brutish and imperialistic of those “Christian armies from Europe.” Before the movie even begins you have a bias against the Christians and for the peace-loving, seemingly indigenous muslims of Palestine.
But the truth is this—
Although the eastern Mediterranean area was conquered by the Aravs in the seventh century, Christians had been permitted to visit the sacred places in the Holy Land until 1071 when the Seljuk Turks swept in from Asia and defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert. Seizing all of Asia Minor as well as the Holy Land the Seljuk Turks soon impeded Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem, forcing the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Comnenus, to ask Pope Urban II (1088-1099) for help against the Turks in the early 1090s. ~ The End of Europe’s Middle Ages: The Crusades, Applied History Research Group, University of Calgary, 1997
The movie opens with our hero “Balian” (played by Orlando Bloom) getting over the suicide death of his wife, who was stricken with grief over the loss of their child. The seedy village priest then steals the silver cross from the neck of Balian’s wife and orders his 2 surly cohorts to decapitate her before putting her in her grave because she was a suicide.
Now I do know that, according to Catholic doctrine, a suicide can not be buried in consecrated ground:
That suicide is unlawful is the teaching of Holy Scripture and of the Church, which condemns the act as a most atrocious crime and, in hatred of the sin and to arouse the horror of its children, denies the suicide Christian burial. ~ online Catholic Encyclopedia
Historically, both Catholic and Jewish doctrine deny funeral rights, or burial in consecrated ground, to those who kill themselves. ~ The Taboo Of Suicide, by Michael Dunn of The Tampa Tribune
But neither do I know anything nor was I able to find anything on such a decapitation practice (nor am I aware of the doctrine that suicides are automatically condemned to Hell). Scott seems to have created this idea to help the audience despise the “priest.”
Here Balian’s “father” shows up (Liam Neeson, “Godfrey”) to claim his bastard child, beg him for forgiveness and offer to take him to Jerusalem to get involved in the Crusades (but later we find out, “Godfrey” does not fight for Christ nor the Pope).
To the script-writer’s credit (an immediate “sure I’ll go” would’ve been cheesy and unrealistic), Balian denies everything and says, despite the bait given by Godfrey to find forgiveness there, that he’s happy to be the village blacksmith. But we all want Balian to go, don’t we?
In walks the seedy village “priest” who goads Balian with how his wife is in Hell for her suicide, and then brags with a smile that she has no head in Hell (because he had it cut off). Of course Balian then brutally murders the “priest” but thanks to the ridiculous scene being outrageously over-the-top the audience is fully with him.
It is the beginning of a trend within Scott’s movie: all of those dedicated to serve Christendom are ignorant, barbaric, insensitive brutes who abhor logic, compassion and reason. With bias that would make Dan Rather blush, Scott shows only one such muslim late in the movie for a few brief moments and all the rest of his fanatics are resoundingly Christian—not Catholic (as the historical period would dictate) but Christian. The nuance is important because, until the Reformation of Martin Luther, the “directions” for what it means to follow Jesus (the Holy Bible) was simply unavailable to the general public.
For Scott to create such an Islamo-centric movie, in these dark times, is beyond reason, logic, patriotism and good taste (as is all of Leftist thought). For more on the truth about Islam visit my article on the subject.
Of course now Balian must flee his village (because the peasants loved their ass of a “priest”) and he runs after his “father.”
Enter Liam Neeson as—you guessed it—the seasoned warrior mentoring our hero (a-la, Star Wars: Episode I, a-la Batman Begins, etc.).
Balian is magically and miraculously a bad-ass with a sword and we know neither how nor why but “Godfrey” tells him never to use his “low guard,” always go into battle with his “high guard”…which is something I’ve never heard in my many years of martial arts training. The basic “garde” position, with the tip of your blade pointed towards your foe’s neck or face allows the most distance between you and your opponent (giving you time to react to what he might do and keeping your blade as a buffer between you).
Again I get the sense of—instead of authenticity—Scott padding his movie with b.s. to push his audience into where he wants them rather than entice them there. It’s the kind of heavy-handed, sledge-hammer tactics I’ve come to expect from the likes of Spielberg. But who am I to argue with success?
The small group of Godfrey, Balian and Crusader knights is quickly overtaken by soldiers from the local bishop who wants Balian for murder. Godfrey then nobly claims, “I am also a murderer” at which point the soldiers brutally ambush and kill most of the knights and mortally wound Godfrey before being driven off.
Again, the scene is over-the-top in it’s drain upon realism. The Christian “bishop” and his representatives are only too eager to kill Crusader knights lead by a nobleman to make Balian pay for killing a seedy priest. The leader of the soldiers comes across to Godfrey as an arrogant ass, further backing the audience into the Balian/Godfrey corner.
But the encounter conveniently puts Godfrey on his deathbed, where he bequeaths his name (the “Baron of Ibelin”), sword, signet ring, Palestinian property and knighthood upon Balian who must go on without him.
Balian is then shipwrecked while traveling to Jerusalem. He awakes on the beach, miraculously alive, to find a horse in what’s left of the ship’s hold even more miraculously alive. They were destined to be together.
That is, until 2 loud arabs confront Balian as he at last corrals his horse at a water hole. One Arab speaks for the other claiming that Balian must give up his horse or fight. Reluctantly, Balian dispatches the haughty Arab but spares his “servant” and asks him to take him to Jerusalem.
Once there, Balian shows the “servant” magnanimous mercy. Although the servant offers himself as Balian’s slave, Balian releases him with the gift of a horse and the promise of prayers for the man he killed. Such a promise is the closest thing we get to any semblance of Balian’s faith. According to Scott, the less passionate you are about being a Christian, the more compassionate and reasonable you are towards your fellow man.
The “servant” leaves Balian promising him with reverence; “Your quality will be known among your enemies before ever you meet them.” Ahh, the set-up is sown to wow the audience later. No one would think for a moment that we might see this “servant” again, where the mercy will be repaid (muslims are renowned worldwide for their mercy)!
And such realism! We can always expect good deeds to come back to us a short time later…can’t we? We can always expect those to whom we do good deeds to humbly and reverently accept them…can’t we??
Normally, I am willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of a worthy movie…unfortunately Kingdom of Heaven is not such a movie. So I proceed with cynicism.
Balian goes to the very hill where Christ was crucified…but alas he finds no peace. He only wrestles with the idea that his wife is damned.
Again, we don’t have to worry about fairness to historical Catholic doctrine because the movie never makes it clear that Catholicism rules Christendom at this time.
Balian is accosted by knights who seem to be servants of Godfrey. Repatriated, they now serve Balian.
Next, a mysterious and assertive woman gallops into the courtyard where Balian is staying to call upon him (“Sibylla,” the sister of Jerusalem’s king, played by Eva Green).
Then we are treated to a dialogue between Balian and his “Hospitaller” (a special order of knights commissioned with the treatment and care of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land, played by David Thewlis). It comes extremely close to giving a much-needed explanation of the heart of Christianity verses the apostasies and outrages of “religion”…but doesn’t.
Because Balian found no peace on the hill where Christ was crucified he claims that he has lost his religion. The Hospitaller then says, “I put no stock in religion,” to which every good Christian screams, “Right! It’s all about a relationship with Jesus Christ that brings FAITH alive! ‘Religion’ is man-made and misguided—the reason behind every abuse done by so-called Christians!”
But don’t hold your breath. Instead, the Hospitaller tells us that, “By the word ‘religion’ I’ve seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will [sic] of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who can not defend themselves. And goodness, what God desires, is here [pointing to the head] and here [pointing to the heart]. By what you decided to do every day you will be a good man. Or not.”
Has this guy ever met George Lucas? He spouts the same feel-good, mumbo-jumbo you get out of your average Star Wars movie! By the way, the best actor in the original Star Wars, Sir Alec Guinness, felt the same way—
Guinness, one of the grand figures of British film with more than 60 cinematic appearances to his credit, told the new chatter magazine Talk that he convinced series creator Lucas that Kenobi would be a more effective mystical mentor if he appeared to Luke as a ghost. Lucas liked the idea, rewriting the first film to include the Jedi Knight’s death in combat with former protégé Darth Vader.
However, Guinness said he had less purely artistic goals at heart.
“What I didn’t tell him was that I just couldn’t go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo,” he told Talk interviewer Fintan O’Toole.
As a result, Kenobi’s role was dramatically pared down in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi”, fortuitously minimizing Guinness’ involvement with the blockbuster series. Sir Alec Guinness hated Star Wars so much he talked George Lucas into killing the Obi-Wan Kenobi character, he revealed in a recent interview. ~ Alec Guinness Blasts Jedi “Mumbo Jumbo”, posted: 07:54 am ET, 08 September 1999, Space.com
From this dialogue the audience can easily deduce that anyone passionate about Jesus Christ easily fits into the category of “fanatic” whose ideals are “lunacy.” This is re-inforced throughout the rest of the movie via the characters of “Guy de Lusignan,” and “Reynald de Chatillon” who show that they believe their greatest service to Jesus Christ is to murder and pillage muslims in order to incite war with the beneficent Saladin.
Although the foundation of the movie, the reason for Balian’s existence and the moral authority for action and bloodshed is the defense of those who “can not defend themselves,” it is more useful to comicbook writers than to Christians. The idea that we are “good” or “bad” based upon our daily actions is the worst sort of blasphemous heresy—one that St. Paul spent great amounts of effort to counter:
21 But now apart from the Law the Righteousness of G-d has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the Righteousness of G-d through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of G-d,
24 being justified as a Gift by His Grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25 whom G-d displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
NASU (capitalization and abbreviation added to counter translational disrespect)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the Free Gift of G-d is Eternal Life in Christ Jesus our L-rd.
NASU (capitalization and abbreviation added)
8 For by Grace you have been Saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the Gift of G-d;
9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
NASU (capitalization and abbreviation added)
12 There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Next we see a courtyard in Jerusalem where 2 knights are about to be hung. We are told by the Hospitaller (obviously Scott’s voice of reason) that the king of Jerusalem (the leprous King Baldwin IV, played by Edward Norton) keeps the peace and allows all to worship in the city, the way the muslims did “before we came.” The 2 knights are Templars who murdered arabs to incite good king Saladin to war. They are hung.
At no point in the movie is a muslim depicted in the same way as these radical Christians and, as we’ve just learned from history, the very reason for the First Crusade was because muslims ceased allowing Christians to worship in Jerusalem—Scott perpetrates a flat-out falsehood for the sake of his Islamo-phile propaganda.
It never ceases to amaze me how fools on the Left rush to defend that which they know nothing about—but, in fact, threatens to do them and their country great harm. There are many such examples but the one that sticks out for me are the London bombings of July  in which everyone from London Mayor Ken Livingstone (who invited many a radical muslim to his city) to Prime Minister Tony Blair to President George Bush who all rushed to the microphones to proclaim that the bombings were acted out by radicals who have hijacked the “religion of peace.” WHERE ARE THE MUSLIMS WHO BELIEVE THIS?
If Ridley Scott approached Christianity with half the empathy and compassion he did Islam he may have come a little closer to getting this movie right.
Soon we learn that the fetching princess Sibylla is married to the boorish Guy de Lusignan who further shows how mean he is by insulting our boy/hero. It is soon obvious that she has a thing for Balian but, again, Scott gets around this by having his audience immediately feel the pain of poor Sibylla being married to such a brute.
According to Wikpedia.org, there are several aspects of historical accuracy to the story like the leper Baldwin IV and his sister Sibylla, however there are many more deviances like the romance between Sibylla and “Balian.”
In a brief bright spot Baldwin tells our boy/hero that he and he alone will be accountable for his actions before God and no excuses can be made for those who influenced his decisions. Self determination and personal responsibility are not politically correct ideas but, not to worry, the movie does not dwell upon them—but not before Baldwin re-emphasizes the mantra of the boy/hero, “protect the helpless.”
Balian arrives at his lands to see that not even his father knew how to dig wells for water. Humbly, the boy/hero rolls up his skirts and personally helps to dig wells.
The scene changes to muslims at prayer where we get another very brief ray of sunlight. Sibylla tells us that “their prophet says ‘submit’…Jesus says ‘decide.’”
Again, not to worry, our boy/hero quickly changes the subject to why they can’t “get it on.” Because she’s married? They do anyway! This is important because it’s completely unfounded in history (as is the role of “Balian”) and for another reason I’ll discuss shortly.
We then switch to an Arab caravan Reynald and Guy are about to savage, but not before the Christian “fanatics” in their band give out the cry “God wills it.” This is repeated in the next scene where, before Baldwin’s court regarding the incident, another Christian fanatic (looking like some sort of cleric) shouts, “There must be war! God wills it!” It’s for sure, all Christians are annoying morons.
The magnanimous Saladin is forced to march at last. But who is there to protect the innocent? —Our boy/hero, of course! He organizes a suicidal stand in which he is miraculously incapacitated without being seriously injured so that, you guessed it, he can be dragged before the Arab he was nice to, who is actually a man of prestige himself, and his mercy is repaid him. Awww.
Although his men are slaughtered, the leper-king arrives in time to pow-wow with the great Saladin. He says, “Reynald will be punished.” So Saladin takes his 200,000-man army…and turns around to go home! He’s a reasonable guy! It is subtly implied that he was at a tactical disadvantage but the warmth towards the character by Scott, as a non-fanatical man of reason is unmistakable.
The king’s march to intercept Saladin has put him on the brink of death, so he offers to kill Guy de Lusignan and marry Balian to his sister so that he can accede the throne and do lots of wonderful things! Of course the audience is saying, “Wow! Kill the bad dude, get the babe and the glory! Go for it!!”
Balian, nobly declines to the astonishment of all involved. Violating Guy’s wife in adultery is one thing, but politics is quite another!
Sadly, there is nothing here even remotely akin to reality. In fact, at this time in history, Sibylla had already given birth to a “Baldwin V” fathered by William of Montferrat whom had since died. In reality, she seems much more dedicated to Guy then Scott preferred. In an effort to please oppositional forces in the Court of Jerusalem, she annulled her marriage to him, only to remarry him!
So the evil Guy is crowned with Sibylla and then quickly leads his armies to the slaughter at the hands of the great Saladin.
The rest of the movie is all about Balian’s courageous and ingenious defense of Jerusalem, making the wonderful Saladin pay so much that he is forced to give incredibly generous terms in its surrender.
Of course Balian returns home to be a blacksmith once again, this time with his adulteress, Sibylla. Not even close to historically accurate. Do I allow Scott artistic license? Again, not when he puts out propaganda like this.
Originally, the critics attacked Orlando Bloom’s performance and I have to agree with their reasoning:
Does Bloom have the charismatic authority to hold the screen solo in an epic adventure set during the Crusades? Although he bulked up…to play the defender of Jerusalem, the answer would appear to be “no”…he simply lacks the heroic stature to command the screen. Watching him struggle to make an impact in Ridley Scott’s intermittently exciting but often ponderous epic, it’s hard not to conclude that they sent a boy to do a man’s job. ~ Tim Knight, Reel.com
It’s quite obvious that Bloom has “pretty boy’s disease”—that total absence depth of character due to good looks having provided a relatively pain-free existence. A couple of examples of extremely rare exceptions to these (in my mind, at least) are Kirk Douglas in so much of his work and, to a lesser but still surprising degree, Christian Bale as the lead in Batman Begins.
Overall, I give this movie a “2” out of a possible “10.” Scott is good at pageantry and film-craft but, if you love Jesus Christ, the content of this movie goes alternately from disingenuous to silly to inaccurate and back again. If you see it at the $1 theater or can wait until it hits the bargain racks at Blockbuster, see it only to be aware of it (we Christians do not hide from attacks).
The replay value is an absolute “0.” No sense what-so-ever in watching this more than once.