Kingdom of HeavenRidley Scott is a great director, let’s get that sorted first and foremost. After all this is the man that has brought us “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “1492: Conquest of Paradise” and “Gladiator.” With his 2005 film “Kingdom of Heaven” he attempts to add yet another picture to the sword-and-sandal historical epic genre he helped revive himself. And once again he succeeds in creating a world that is rich in lavish period detail, an awesome achievement in itself.

The story concerns blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who takes up arms to follow his long lost father (Liam Nesson) to Crusade in the 12th Century. Jerusalem has been in the hands of Christians for over 100 years but is beset on all sides by Muslims who would do anything to have the city back for themselves. Pronounced Lord of Ibelin, Balian fights a desperate struggle against cruel and greedy templars who would see a full scale war started. Along the way he falls in love with Eva Green’s princess and must ultimately lead the armies of Jerusalem when besieged  by Saladin’s armies.

Inevitably, comparisons will be made between this and it’s bigger brother “Gladiator” and the films do have quite a lot in common: Both are set in times beset by political (and in this case religious) turmoil, each protagonist has suffered the loss of a wife and child. The visuals are certainly on par with the Roman epic: the visual effects look more polished and the battles are very well staged. In particular the altercation at the castle of Kerak is impressive. In addition every shot is absolutely bursting with rich costumes, armour and weapons, all in all as realistic a representation of the crusades as one will get in a Hollywood movie.  Yet it is exactly these comparisons that are ultimately the downfall of “Kingdom of Heaven.” Where “Gladiator” succeeded was in the story behind the Colosseum and Germania set-pieces and the characters that were created and developed throughout. Despite the fact that “Kingdom of Heaven” is almost three hours long the story feels rushed at every turn and no one character is fully realised. Balian is no Maximus and even though he has some admirable aspirations (becoming the perfect knight) we are afforded no insight into this man’s personal life. In simple terms Liam Neeson turns up in his village, declares himself Balian’s father and after killing a priest the blacksmith follows him without question. What motivates this man? Where exactly was the transition from simple man to great military leader?

Similar problems affect the villains of the plot. We really feel Jerusalem would be better off in the hands of Saladin anyway and so it falls to greedy templars Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) and Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas of elvish fame) to do the evil. Usually magnificent, even Gleeson has difficulties here. His character is given so little screen time that it seems he wants a war for the sake of a war, one he is guaranteed to loose. The only character of note is the leper king of Christian Jerusalem (an uncredited Ed Norton) who is desperately trying to keep the peace among all the warring factions.

Kingdom of Heaven OSTThe music for the film was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, one of Hans Zimmer’s proteges at Media Ventures/Remote Control. However, Harry has not been influenced by the typical “Zimmer” sound and has produced a score authentic to the period and very enjoyable to listen to. This usually involves choirs performing the main Ibelin theme. Curiously there is a reference to Jerry Goldsmith’s “The 13th Warrior” in one of the many horn solos – doubtlessly one of the many instances in which Scott disregarded Gregson-Williams’ score – but this does not distract from the overall listening experience.

So then to my verdict: while the film has many merits it is ultimately dwarfed by the far superior “Gladiator”. The score on the other hand is a superb effort from Gregson-Williams and should really form part of your score collection if it doesn’t already.

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