Back when it was initially released in 2005, Kingdom of Heaven was a poorly received film and a flop at the North American market, earning almost $48 million against a $130 million budget. The star power of Orlando Blood, fresh from Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean hype and Ridley Scott, who saw a recent string of critical and commercial success with Gladiator and Black Hawk Down was considered a fail. And rightly so, the theatrical cut just wasn’t that good. But a year later changed all that changed.
In case you have forgotten (and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you have), Kingdom of Heaven is epic historical directed by Ridley Scott set during the events of the Second Crusade. It follows the French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) as he fights for the people of Jerusalem. That’s the plot in a tiny nutshell as the film is very dense with history (embellished) and multiple characters, all played by great actors I might add too. The reason for our hero’s leaving of France, the politics of Kings and religion are all heavily featured here, creating a very meaty, often dense viewing experience.
It’s common knowledge that studios often cut their films to make them more appealing to a general audience rather than making the better overall film. They will cut a 3 hour film down to 2 if they believe it will result in more people paying to see it. Three hour films are a hard sell already, so Fox Studios decided to trim around 45 minutes out from the picture. That is a huge chunk of film being removed from the story and it honestly made a huge difference for Kingdom. The theatrical cut was in turn a poorly made film and currently sits at a 39% average on Rotten Tomatoes. The film had poor pacing, unclear character motivations and plot holes galore.
Scott, thankfully, was having none of that and decided it was time to put his magic touch to work by releasing a director’s cut of the film a year later. Director’s cuts can go either way, they either add a whole new layer to the film and enhances the overall experience, or deleted scenes get stuffed in for the sake of it, creating a viewing experience that is not as focused. Kingdom’s thankfully falls into the former. Of all the director cuts out there, this would surely be one of the best. In my opinion in the top 5 ever made. It took a mediocre film and elevated it beyond expectations. If the original was to be given a score of 2.5/5 from me, the director’s cut would get a 4.
Scott reinstated many scenes into the film, so much so that the run time went from 144 minutes to 190 (that is a whole lot of content cut from a film, no wonder the theatrical felt kind of choppy). In this cut, Bailan is given clear motivations this time around for going to Jerusalem, creating a depth and reasoning not seen in the original cut. Without spoiling, the original motivation was to redeem the soul of his wife, whereas the director’s cut adds a complicated layer of darkness surrounding Bailin and his family, creating a new reason and a new perspective on the character that ultimately creates a better character arc.
Another rather large addition to the film is the entire sub plot concerning Sibylla (the always fantastic Eva Green) and her son, who like her King brother, is a leper. The entire motivation for the Templar attack on the Muslims who follow Saladin makes all the more sense as we discover just how her nefarious husband Guy de Lusignan took command. Without spoiling it, the director’s cut reinstates a subplot which creates a dark motivation for Sibylla to allow Guy to go to battle despite it being against the will of the King and more importantly, going against everything we’ve come to learn about her character. In the theatrical cut after the king’s death, Guy is crowed and they attack. There is no context and the whole ordeal felt really out of place and made no sense.
There are more additions to the plot but I recommend watching and discovering for yourself. I wanted to note in conclusion that the director’s cut reinstates the violence that was neutered in the theatrical cut, showing a lot more blood and gore. Personally, I find that if a movie is about war, it should not shy away from the reality of it, thus violence is a necessary factor that elevates the world building of the fiction.
In short, this version of the film allows a lot more characterization to come through, creating a film that makes a lot more sense and also making it easier to become invested in these characters as we understand their motivations. Combine this the fact that the film is a marvel of set design and costume, with a fantastic cast (Bloom, Green, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Sheen, David Thewlis) along with Scott’s epic scope and yeah, Kingdom of Heaven becomes a truly better movie that it was originally presented as.
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