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, 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. Blacks are 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.
Detail is very sharp and lovingly presented, too. Check out the frozen snot glistening on the end of a peasant's nose in Balian's glum village, or the bright golden sparks from his brazier. 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.
However, denying this picture a full ten out of ten is the evidence of some green tracing along the edges in some very occasional shots, particularly of interior middle-ground figures. I've seen two different copies of this R1 Kingdom Of Heaven now, and both exhibited this slight effect. But, to be fair, this is still a spectacular transfer, overall.
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.
Gregson-Williams' score reaches terrifically clear high ends and often submerges you in glorious choral pieces that are simply mesmerising. Another nice touch is the deranged shouting of Reynald from his prison cell, which echoes all the way around you. 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. Come on, then - release the Extended Gladiator with DTS! I don't mind buying it again.
Commencing with Scott's brief Introduction explaining the basis of this Extended Cut, the film itself carries three fact-packed Commentaries spread over the first two discs, the style and dedication of this deluxe package is clearly revealed. The first track, featuring Scott, writer William Monahan and Orlando Bloom is a terrific, all-encompassing piece. We get the views of the writer on how his script for the film Tripoli morphed into Kingdom when studio execs baulked at his and Scott's initial collaboration, as well as how the story evolved as the production went along and his feelings about the filming process and how amenable and accommodating Scott is towards the scribe. We get the actor's point of view from Bloom, who had literally stepped off the plane from filming Troy to being offered the role of Balian in another sword and shield period piece. He also offers plenty of colour and anecdote to the vast undertaking and proves to be very interesting and entertaining throughout. And, of course, we are treated to another of Ridley Scott's tremendously detailed and frank dissections on what amounted to the biggest production he has helmed thus far. Folks, this is a great track and very rewarding, however, it must be stated that the three speakers have been recorded separately and spliced together. Therefore, the track is not as spontaneous and free-flowing as it could have been. Monahan, in particular, sounds quite tired and is not as verbose as the other two ... but, overall, this is smart and incisive overview.
The second track, featuring Executive Producer Lisa Ellzey, First Assistant Director Adam Somner and Visual Effects Supervisor Wesley Sewell is, by nature, less of a draw, but still offers great value if you stick with it. All three, again recorded separately, follow the on-screen action well, with in-depth regard for the script, the characters and the actors, delivering a hugely detailed and comprehensive analysis. Sewell likes to point out such things as where they had to CG-over electrical boxes that set-designers had erroneously left on palace walls, or add a little more gore (for this Director's Cut, that is). All in all, another great track.
And then we get a third Commentary, this time from the Editor Dody Dorn. Now, Dorn actually supplies a marvellous track all by her lonesome. She admits to not knowing a lot of the real historical facts about the events she had spent months and months cutting together, only to then remove an awful lot for the theatrical cut and then have to reinstate for this Cut, but this doesn't stop her providing a huge number of weighty asides about the script and the motivations of characters and the evolving theme of the story. She also gives a good account of the often-unsung heroes in the editing-suite, supplying an important examination of her role and making it very clear that it is not just snipping and splicing scenes, but a complete marriage of story awareness and clear intent of tone, thrust and narrative dynamics to create a coherent whole. Another fascinating chat-track.
The movie's two discs also carries what is called The Enginer's Guide - that's their spelling, not mine, as it refers to the medieval builders of the war machines seen in the film. This offers up a huge amount of text factoids splashed across the bottom of the screen on scrolls that cover virtually element of the film's production, lots of historical information and a fair degree of anecdotes and cast titbits. My advice is to have this running concurrently with one of the commentaries for a fuller hit of Kingdom Of Heaven fact-overkill.
Disc One also carries a preview for the DVD release of Tristan and Isolde.
Now, the next two discs carry so much material that it would be pretty pointless for me to describe every little thing that they offer. In fact, if I did, this already long review just wouldn't end. So, I will try to just provide an overview of what treasures await you.
Firstly, spanning discs three and four is a massive making of documentary going under the title banner of The Path To Redemption. Set out in 6-parts, this huge and exhaustive collection covers everything you could possibly want, or imagine you might want, about the film. And even more besides. Each part takes in a stage of the film's production from Pre-Production, the filming, the location work, the Post-Production, etc.
The huge documentary covers the initial script for the doomed Tripoli and how it transformed into Crusade (still a better title, in my opinion) and then Kingdom Of Heaven and we even see meetings set around model-work and storyboards for the film that has yet to be made. Also explained are the historical aspects of the plot, how they arrived at this particular time period and how they used the real-life characters, created others and drafted in a whole back-story to flesh-out the little-known Balian, who really did fight to defend Jerusalem. We can even read Monahan's first draft of the screenplay. Check out the script meeting that takes place in the back of a London cab!
We get a section that bubbles over with Pre-Production, and it is here that we get to meet Production Designer Arthur Max, Costume Designer Janty Yates, Set Designer Sonja Klaus and hear about the casting decisions. We see rehearsals, costume ideas, weapons designs and even Orlando Bloom looking really fresh-faced and innocent without the macho stubble and scowl he wears in the film. There are script read-throughs - which are even covered in a separate feature that allows us to sit in on a session with Scott, Bloom, Green, Thewlis and Neeson. There is a neat little screen-test for Bloom in costume, shortly after he had completed Troy and we even get to see him learning how to be a blacksmith.
It is great to watch how they created the fake snow for the dismal French introduction, and along the way we get the chance to view Scott at work directing certain scenes. And there are extensive fun interludes that reveal the scary extent of the effects of Bloom's fans camped outside the set, how to combat torrential rain that wrecks your just-built palaces, and nasty little dogs that don't realise you are a big movie star, and even get to see first hand how a huge movie crew undertakes the journey from country to country. The effects work is covered, the stunts and the painstaking CG. All this culminates with the editing of the movie and its final release theatrically. With lost of talking heads (most of the cast crop up to have their say), actual footage - most of it specially filmed for this documentary - sketches, Ridleygrams, storyboards and inspirational paintings, this really does take you deep into the filmmaking process. And the documentary is superb, folks - very candid, very frank and very revealing. And always fascinating.
But, it doesn't end there. Each different part of the main Documentary is accompanied by stills galleries and more featurettes. We get to hear from historical scholars as they deliver a sermon on the film's veracity, whilst also educating us on the real Crusades. There is the afore-mentioned script run-through - where Scott actually does most of the talking. A Production Design Primer adds colour and there is a splendid seventeen-minute featurette on The Siege Of Jerusalem, that covers the groundbreaking spectacle of mediaeval warfare from storyboards to model-work, action and stunts to CG augmentation. There is a set of Visual Effects Breakdowns - for The Burning Man, Building Jerusalem, Casualties Of War and Medieval Engines. With a Play All, these run for 21.47 mins and there is some really cool stuff to be found herein - Michael Sheen ablaze, intricate matte shots, models and virtual set-building. We see how the amazing aerial shots were accomplished and, best of all, we get to watch the little CG armies going at each other in mock-ups, simulations and test-footage. There's even some great film of one of the real-size trebuchets snapping in half during the filming of the siege.
Then we have 30.21mins of Deleted and Alternate Scenes with an optional commentary from Scott and Dody Dorn. There is a lot of character stuff going on here such as a prophetic exchange between Balian and Sir Godfrey, a more fulfilling sequence of Balian wandering around Jerusalem and climbing up Golgotha and even some more gore - check out the amazing upper-body-bisecting that Reynald delivers! These would have added more to the film in the way of narrative and overall historical flavour, but I can see where the line had to be drawn.
Another great little feature is the Sound Design Suite. Here you can listen to part of the ambush in the woods sequence in various stages of completion, with the different effects - dialogue, ADR, Foley, Effects and Final Mix - set out on an interactive grid. But the best element is the addition of little featurettes that explain each of the elements and give examples of the actual processes involved. One of these primers, for Foley, is very comprehensive, with the crew creating sound effects for the on-screen action as they watch the film on their own huge screen. Michael Sheen also gives a very thorough rundown on the ADR aspect of the sound design, and we get to see him going through his screaming routine for when Balian sets his character on fire. It is bizarrely brilliant to see him writhing on the floor of the sound studio to recreate the mood! Excellent stuff again!
There are four Theatrical Trailers and a whopping fifty TV Spots - yes, fifty! - a Press Junket that offers us the tour of the sets and costumes that the production took the world's press on, red carpet footage from several world premiers, a Special Shoot Gallery - which is just more cast photos (and some really bad images of Eva Green) and a very, very extensive Poster Exploration gallery. This has some truly ravishing designs, with a lot still going under the title of Crusade. Just look at how similar to some of the posters for Gladiator a lot of the favourites are here.
And finally, there is a great little featurette called Paradise Found: Creating The Director's Cut (8.31 mins) that details how no-one was surprised that Scott would eventually release an extended version. Various crew members, from sound design, production and editing have their say about how they reinstated footage and built the film back up to its fighting weight.
Oh, and there's a little production booklet, too. And special mention must go to the packaging, which is wonderfully eye-catching with a windblown grey rock effect and some smart imagery. Looks so much better than the R2 cover.
Well, folks ... what more could you ask for? There are features on the original release that aren't on this, but this 4-discer remains one of the best DVD packages around. A rare delight, indeed and, just like the film, truly epic in scope. Bring on Blade Runner.
A fractured film on theatrical release, Kingdom of Heaven finally receives the credit it is due. The longer cut works almost perfectly, with only one or two niggles, and the AV quality is pure reference. It's just a shame that the Extended Gladiator didn't get a similar DTS track!
For fans of Kingdom, this is absolutely essential - even if you already own the first release. For those of a more casual interest, this is still a classic slice of historical drama and rip-roaring action and certainly the better version of the film. But no-one, regardless of their feelings towards Scott's epic, can deny the sheer weight and class of material that has been bestowed upon this release. Ridley Scott, together with Peter Jackson, truly deliver the best DVDs around.
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