PictureThe SD edition of Kingdom Of Heaven Director's Cut had a spectacular transfer that really proved to be a showcase for what DVD could do. But, although this image is probably culled from the same print, the resulting 1080p (MPEG-2 encoded at 24 mbps) transfer can be simply breathtaking. A lot of what you read here will be familiar because practically all of the good points previously picked up on are enhanced still further with the higher definition.
The framing is exquisite and perfectly captures Scott's searingly beautiful compositions with a super-steady surety that makes you wish his elaborate panning shots would last a little longer. The fidelity of the vast colour spectrum employed is marvellous and never once leads into smearing, bleeding or over-saturation, despite the screen often being bathed in swathes of blue or orange. From the frosty, blue-filtered introduction in rural France, through the crisp clarity of the sea-port of Messina, to the opulent colours of the palaces of Jerusalem and, of course, culminating in the dusty, heat-haze filled vistas of the immense deserts, the image never loses integrity. Scott's use of filters diffuses the image without sacrificing the contrast, allowing the image to live and breathe in total clarity within varied, enveloping hues.
As before, the costumes and flags (Ridley loves his flags, he does!) - from intricate chain-mail to embroidered tunics and fine silks - are smartly rendered by an image that remains scintillatingly clear, and predominantly sharp and colourful whether taking in the crowded streets of Jerusalem, the columns of troops snaking out into sweltering heat and desert winds, or whether honing in for beautiful close-up intimacy of faces, eyes or gleaming weaponry. The transfer finds every speck of dirt on the ground, every smear of blood or sweat and holds them up for scrutiny. The huge blood pool congealing in the decimated Christopher Gate is much more apparent now. Blacks are often profoundly deep, the contrast sublime with many shots showcasing light and dark to marvellous effect - the Saracen fireball bombardment that lights up a serenely dark sky, for example, now appears even hotter and more vibrant with a greater sense of depth afforded by the higher definition. But there are occasions when the black level seems to lose its vital density - during some interior scenes, for instance. Despite this, there is now a definite three-dimensionality to the film which is proudly apparent during the great siege, the forest skirmish and the many shots of figures against a desert background. Viewed on a 52 inch screen, the realism of this added depth was nothing short of extraordinary.
Detail, as you would expect, is extremely sharp and lovingly presented, too. I referenced the frozen snot glistening on the end of a peasant's nose in Balian's glum village in my last review, and the bright golden sparks flashing from his brazier. These are now etched with an even closer eye for the finite. And, once more, distant detail is equally well-delineated, such as a horseman perched upon the sweltering horizon, or the structures and buildings punctuating the landscape. The swaying grass and the elegant spraying of blood, the warm burnished glow of torchlight and the confusing, swirling mass of soldiers in the thick of battle - the transfer never puts a foot wrong. In fact, the roiling mass of limbs, swords and armour in the melee at the Christopher Gate is now the type of image that you just want to freeze in order to inspect all that is going on - so clearly (even amid the dusty haze of battle) is the action presented. Of course, the same can be said of any scene that features Eva Green, who is even more radiant when bathed in Blu-rays. But, by far, the most striking thing about this image is its display of fire, with angry flames of all sizes and patterns really scorching the screen in dazzling sharpness and clarity.
One thing that I noticed on the SD release was evidence of some green tracing along the edges in some very occasional shots, particularly of interior middle-ground figures. I am pleased to say that I did not notice this here. But, the higher resolution has brought with it some finite grain that is noticeable in darker regions of the image. And there is a curious degree of softness affecting the picture from time to time that, although it doesn't the detail in any way, still seems a little odd on an otherwise top notch transfer. The only other negative I can think of to mention is the slight judder on long panning shots - though this may just be down to my Samsung player.
Although I know some people claim this is pure reference material, in my opinion Kingdom Of Heaven will have to stick with a well-deserved 9 out of 10.
Please note that the pictures used are from the SD edition and are for illustration only.
SoundIn many ways, this has been the easiest review to write, as practically everything I said about the SD version is still worthy of mention. And this goes for the sound mix too - except that here on BD, the downsampled DTS-HD Master Audio Lossless track (DTS Core only) is better again, featuring greater directionality, stronger bass and a soundscape that has been opened out a little further.
The aural atmosphere evoked is marvellously immersive and makes fine and consistent use of all the speakers. I really cannot fault it. The swoosh of arrows, the clang of full-tang broadswords impacting upon steel shields and helmets and the clattering of horses' hooves during the early scenes set around Balian's home-turf immediately let you know that you are in surround-heaven with this mix. The steerage is tremendous and powerful, really thrusting you deep into the action. One of the standouts of Gladiator's original DTS mix was the hugely satisfying unleashing of the Roman ballistae during the Germania battle, and here in Kingdom, we have its brother-in-arms - the simply awesome fireball assault on Jerusalem, Balian's ferocious counterattack and then the vigorous destruction of the Christopher Gate. This is pounding stuff, indeed, bone-jarringly delivered with supreme split-speaker directionality and whipping pressure-rushes as the sound roars around your living-room. Even Balian's newly-added duel with Guy clatters, thuds and clangs all around the set-up with thunderous and all-encompassing precision. All of this now has a greater weight and immediacy than before, and manages to sound that little bit cleaner. For comparison, I played the funeral sequence, the fireball bombardment and the great bit when Balian takes on the Templars - with the downmixed DTS-HD MA track taking the honours in the dynamic and aggressive stakes.
Gregson-Williams' score reaches terrifically clear high ends and often submerges you in glorious choral pieces that are simply mesmerising. These less bombastic moments, along with the deranged shouting of Reynald from his prison cell, which echoes all the way around you, still come over exceptionally well. Dialogue is clear, rich and well-presented amid all this aural splendour, too.
So, Kingdom Of Heaven presents us with a thunderous all-speaker workout that produces a well-designed and fully-enveloping soundscape. Just imagine how good this will sound when we can finally make full use of that DTS-HD Master Lossless audio.
ExtrasWith all the BD 50's capacity used up for the best sound and visual presentation possible, there is sadly no room left for any extras, other than the theatrical trailer. However, if you are as big a fan of the film as me, you will probably already have the incredibly extensive material to be found on the 4-disc edition to hand. And, to be honest, the loss of features for this BD release is palatable when you consider the truly impressive AV quality the new format lavishes upon the movie. Thus, you should not be put off by the lowly 2 I have awarded it in this category. The other point, by the way, is for the classy-looking Smart Menu system.
VerdictThe Director's Cut adds significantly to Scott's vision, turning a flawed and broken film into an epic of grand emotion and enthralling imagery. Fox's 50GB Blu-ray release is pretty much demo material with a picture that is awe-inspiring and able to stand up to extremely close scrutiny and sound quality that is simply excellent. This edition may lack the incredibly extensive extras from the 4-disc version, but the AV quality is the thing that counts here and those with the right equipment will reap the rewards of this scintillating transfer.
Highly recommended. Now, Mr. Scott ... where's Gladiator? I don't mind buying it all over again!
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