Kingdom of Heaven is a victim of its own doing. Its story begins rapidly, moving into the characters before you even realize critical information is being provided. Given how quickly it begins, it's the expectation that this will move just as briskly to the inevitable battle during the crusades. It doesn't.
Advertised as an all out war epic, this is a plodding, dull, and flat out boring interpretation of the Catholic/Islam crusades around 1,000 years ago. Ridley Scott is a brilliant director, and once into the actual battle, it shows. Actually, it shows all the way through, with great lighting and set-up shots. It's a shame this is lost on pointless dialogue.
This one comes in just a little over the two and half hour mark, staying way past its welcome. It's aggravating to wade through so much dialogue. Had it served a purpose, it would be gripping and entertaining. It just keeps going though, and when it's all over, you can only look back and think of all the scenes that could have (should have actually) been cut. It's nice to see both sides given a chance though. Religion is obviously the catalyst, and both Islam and Christian are given a fair chance. Whether either side comes out as a winner is debatable.
This bloated production is ruined by its failure to entertain, the fantastic acting and set pieces losing any value in this mess. Yes, the final battle in Jerusalem is incredible, arguably beating down some of those from Lord of the Rings. It's intense and gory. In other words, everything this movie should have been.
The special effects in the final few war sequences are the best type: the ones you don't even know are there. It's odd that the early ones go so wrong. A few shots of boats out in the water barely qualify as special effects.
It's admittedly almost refreshing to see an epic like this have the countless lines of dialogue. It's simply not engaging to the viewer, and the sole purpose of any film is to entertain. That's not what happens here. (** out of *****)
This is an impeccable transfer, so all of that dead dialogue time can be spent admiring the clarity. You could spend it trying to figure out the flaws too, but that effort will prove wasteful. The only problem here, aside from a few shots of expected compression, is light grain. It's never distracting, and the battle sequence at the end can truly be appreciated in this widescreen print. This is a great looking DVD. (*****)
Available in standard 5.1 and DTS, this is (as you expect) a loud, overpowering audio mix. Bass is brutal, and it's best to be sure levels are set to a reasonable level. Surround usage is surprisingly subtle, definitely there, but not as forceful as it should be. The separation in the stereo channels is a little hard to decipher in the huge battle, though noticeable in the early scenes as horses move about. (****)
Extras are higher numbered in nature than the box indicates. Disc one offers a subtitle track called the Pilgrim's Guide, a fact track that runs along with the movie, pointing out inconsistencies and explaining things deeper than the film does. It makes the film go by a little quicker. An "Inside Look" at the upcoming Tristan & Isolde is the only other option here.
Disc two is where things are packed, almost all outstanding inclusions, and become the reason to own this set. History vs. Hollywood is some of the History Channel's most interesting work, their 42-minute show on the event depicted is included here. A&E Movie Real is a little more focused on the film at nearly 45-minutes, with some repeated information from the History Channel special. Both are still worth watching all the way through for their interesting take on the movie.
Four brief internet featurettes are mostly throwaway pieces, far too short to be interesting and too promotional to be informative. That's all forgiven with the Interactive Production Grid. This full, rounded, and packed section of the DVD shows production of the film (in various stages) from multiple perspectives (actors, director, crew) through an easy-to-understand menu. If menus are not your thing, just play it all. Make sure you have time to spare. You'll be here a long time. A commentary track is the only thing missing from this 2-disc set. (****)
It's hard to imagine such a dark, brutal period in human history this boring. That's just the trap Kingdom of Heaven falls into. The DVD makes up for many of the shortcomings (the Production Grid is special, and expect to see more discs use this), but the film isn't strong enough on its own.