When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice.
When I reviewed the theatrical cut of Ridley Scott’s Crusade-era epic Kingdom of Heaven, I made note that the film was long on spectacle and short on story and compelling characters. I was not in the minority in that opinion either. Fox, in order to bring the film down to a more commercial running time, pressured director Ridley Scott to cut it, emasculating the story in the process.
At the time, there was already work being done on this director’s cut, and I hoped that this version would restore the depth and substance that the theatrical version lacked. I am now pleased to report that this is exactly the case. This new, 196-minute version restores a number of scenes, sub-plots and entire characters that answer my objections and give this film a level of resonance worthy of the images on screen.
The key addition in the new version is King Baldwin’s nephew, the son the Sybilla (Eva Green), who briefly inherits the throne after the king dies. Restoring his character brings the relationship between Sybilla and her husband, Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) into sharp focus and satisfies my earlier criticism that Sybilla seem implausibly modern. Destined to rule in her son’s place until he reaches adulthood, she wouldn’t be concerned with her traditional role in society.
The film also fleshes out the relationship between Godfrey (Liam Neeson) and the local nobles, as well as the relationship between Balian (Orlando Bloom) and his brother, giving his grief over his wife’s suicide more depth than it had before.
Expanded scenes between Balian and King Baldwin (Edward Norton) also do much more to establish Balian’s character once he reaches Jerusalem. One thing that does not change is the fragile balance and peace between Christian and Muslim, as the leaders of both sides fight to control the more militant factions on their flanks. That is the one element that worked in the theatrical cut and it is still present in Scott’s director’s cut.
It is somewhat ironic that part of the studio’s intent in cutting the film was the focus the film more on matinee idol Orlando Bloom and his character, believing as they often do that movie audiences are too stupid to process anything but simple linear plots. Removing the various subplots, however, had the effect of diminishing the character of Balian by removing the context that gave his story any meaning.
Hopefully, this will be an object lesson to movie studios that underestimating the intelligence of your audience can actually hurt your box office, as it did here. I’m confident that the 3-hour version of Kingdom of Heaven would have fared much better with the audiences than the bastardized 154-minute version we originally saw.