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HTF REVIEW: Kingdom of Heaven



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#1 of 29 Michael Osadciw

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Posted October 05 2005 - 03:41 PM

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KINGDOM OF HEAVEN






Studio: 20th Century Fox
Film Year: 2005

U.S. Rating: R
Canadian Rating: 14A

Film Length: 144 minutes
Genre: Action/Drama

Aspect Ratio:[*] 2.35:1 Enhanced widescreen
Colour/B&W: Colour

Audio:[*] English Posted Image Posted Image 5.1 Surround[*] English Posted Image Posted Image 5.1 Surround[*] Spanish Posted Image Posted Image 2.0 Surround[*] French Posted Image Posted Image 2.0 Surround

Subtitles: Spanish, French

Posted Image Posted Image




Release Date: October 11, 2005.


Film Rating: Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Cast: Orlando Bloom (Balian), Liam Neeson (Godfrey), Marton Csokas (Guy de Lusignan), Jeremy Irons (Tiberias), Brendan Gleeson (Reynald), Sibylla (Eva Green), Ghassan Massoud (Saladin)

Written by: William Monahan
Directed by: Ridley Scott



France 1184 A.D. It’s been 100 years since Christian armies from Europe seized Jerusalem from the Muslims. In their religious beliefs, Christians, Muslims, and Jews believed Jerusalem was the center of the world in, but each group thought the other wasn’t fit to govern the city. The crusades, as we know them today were known then as a holy pilgrimage of taking up the cross in arms. Christians went to war with Muslims and vice versa to claim the city. The Pope claimed that if one were to take part in the war they would have the kingdom of heaven and forgiveness from all of one’s sins. So in the name of God, the pacifist philosophy of Christ to take up the cross was ironically taken up with swords.

Near the end of the second crusade, a French blacksmith sets out for Jerusalem after loosing his child, wife, his dwelling, and his faith. He is called on by a father he never knew to seek forgiveness in Jerusalem. After receiving his land and title, knighted Baron of Ibelin, Balian is quickly noticed by royalty and also despised by a few noblemen who have little allegiance to the king. He is soon found himself caught in a web between allegiance to the king, the princess, what is “right” for Jerusalem, as well as his own morals and beliefs of what is right. War with the Muslims is just on the horizon and Balian must exercise the sacred oath of knighthood of protecting the helpless, keeping peace and harmonizing religion and culture.

The story is based on part fact and part fiction. It’s not just about the crusades, but some of the characters in the film actually existed but their stories have been re-written for a little bit of Hollywood flavour. There is a lot to digest in this film for only 144 minutes. This theatrical cut of the film does tell the story so one doesn’t feel overwhelmed with all that happens. But on the same token it is clear that things are missing too. Whether or not they were cut from the script or in the editing room is yet to be known because the film as it stands raises a few small questions. A few times I felt like saying “what happened there?” or “why is this person acting this way now?”

The imagery of the film stretches from France to the middle-east, the sets are massive and the details in the costumes are terrific. The story doesn’t have the same dynamic, as mentioned before, as it stands it raises some questions about the characters. While honour and dignity triumph in Balian, the knight Tiberius, as well as the Muslim leader Saladin (a role for which actor Ghassan Massoud played brilliantly – too bad there wasn’t more of him in the film), Bloom’s character was emotionless, expressionless, quiet, and less than enthusiastic throughout the film. Even though he was depressed about the loss of his wife and child, there is no reason why we have to see him in a state of internal suffering throughout the movie. In reality, at least a year would have gone by for him to be able to smile at least once, but all we see in the film is Balian’s glum face. I think it makes it harder to connect with his character. Balian doesn’t let us get to know him very much and comes across as 2-dimensional. He has his morals, inner conflict, a love scene and goes to battle, but we don’t care for him as much as we did for Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Even the female lead, Princess Sybilla, starts off strongly but ends in an almost (crazy) mad state of mind. Again…what happened? Our two main characters have hollow stares for so much of the film that I couldn’t help but to wonder why…

Despite that, the action scenes in this film are great. Where the story lacks, the visual effects are fantastic. The recreation of Jerusalem is breathtaking and it feels like living in that time. It’s a combination of CGI as well as a full scale model. Believe me; I don’t think you’ll be able to tell what is real and what isn’t. It is that good! Battle scenes can be violent and are choreographed much like what we’ve seen in Gladiator. They aren’t as bloody and brutal as I wish they were since the 12th Century Europeans weren’t known for their elegance in battle. I guarantee you that you will be entertained.


Posted ImageVIDEO QUALITY Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

I found it difficult to enjoy this movie because of the image quality. Yes, contrary to popular belief, I do watch movies for the film itself and not just for picture and sound quality. But picture quality does play a role, and for a film of 2005, I expect a much better DVD than this.

I’ll start with the bad because that just human nature; to dwell on what’s wrong in life rather than what is actually good. I found the movie unacceptably dim. This is my opinion of course, and not to step on the toes of the people behind the creation of this film and DVD, but let me give my opinion. I understand 100% that movies can and should look dim for artistic reasons. Heck, as an ISF calibrator I've seen a fair amount of displays that are dim to create an accurate picture. So, if anything, I'm not one to complain when the image is dim because I understand the intentions. But...if I can’t see what the heck is going on in the picture on an 8-foot wide screen then something is wrong, especially when this doesn’t occur with other films (my projector is calibrated and has more than enough light output). Shadow detail, to state it simply, is poor. In many scenes, there is very little detail in the darkest blacks – it’s all one level of black. I know the film has been altered intentionally to give it an overcast and cool-grey look, but I think it’s been overdone on this DVD and too much detail has been lost. As a quick check, I raised the black level of my projector knowing that there is minor variation in picture levels on DVDs, so maybe this disc had a lower black level. Not so; the blacks just turned to grey and I still couldn't see any new detail. My complaint is in the source. It affects the action scenes the most; I couldn’t tell who was who because the images were so undefined - and because I couldn’t follow it I felt lost in the movie and I didn’t feel connected at all to what was happening. I just sat back and waited for it all to be over and to see who was left standing and who was left dying on the ground. I haven't seen this film theatrically so I have no other reference, but it is common practice to re-tweak a release for DVD. The image here could be different from what was seen theatrically. BUT...if this DVD intends to have these undefined blacks, then this DVD is almost flawless.

Now onto the positive, scenes with sunlight and many interior scenes have acceptable contrast. This is where the video shines and it keeps consistant with the desaturated look. Colours are rendered nicely and are also desaturated with the film’s overall lower contrast. There is no film grain or dirt to speak of and compression artefacts are absent. This results in pleasing and highly detailed image.

Unfortunately, edge enhancement/haloing is noticed. There is a little more than usual and it’s distracting to me, somewhat taking away the smooth look the rest of the fine image seems to show.

A separate pan & scan 1.33:1 version is also available.


…oh, and should I mention to Fox while I’m at it (this comment only affects reviewers): please don’t make a habit of placing your BIG BRIGHT WHITE LETTERS on the bottom third of the screen just as you did with this title. It’s difficult to evaluate the disc emotionally and technically, especially when it’s a dark-looking movie.


Posted ImageAUDIO QUALITY Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

This is one of my favourite 5.1 soundtracks to date. First, I must say, it is VERY easy on the ears! I don’t recommend engaging any re-equalization circuitry when watching this film or else it may sound too muted. The top end of the soundtrack has a consistently smooth and extended response, and is more extended on the Dolby Digital option than it is with DTS (these soundtracks are not selectable on the fly, you have to go back to the main menu and select the audio option). All channels are very active in this soundtrack, but yet it sounds so quiet. Sounds of animals, people, insects, and just sounds of the day in the 12th Century wrap around the listener. These sounds are not exaggerated; they are so subtle that it feels very realistic around the entire 360 degree soundspace. This wrap-around experience is slightly more pronounced with the DTS soundtrack. Bass is presented very well in all channels and it’s presence in the front channels blends seamlessly with the midrange. Support from the LFE channel is always guaranteed and thankfully it isn’t overused.

The volume levels are fairly close between Dolby Digital and DTS, with DTS being slightly quieter than the former. In terms of dialogue integration, it’s blended into the mix extremely well and never sounds out of place. The dynamic of the dialogue is mixed more realistically than other films because it never attempts to be as loud as the rest of the sounds in the front soundstage. I prefer lower-level dialogue because the sense of dynamic range between dialogue and sound effects is increased. In fact, there are times when dialogue can be whisper quiet, so make sure that your theatre room is sealed off from other noise from the house. You definitely don’t want the dishwasher or the laundry machine running in the background.

The music in this film is the stand-out performer. There seems to be a mixture of original and borrowed music credited on this film. Voices and instruments of the Middle East as well as the chanting of the 12th Century European choir blend together over the duration of the film to make both a soothing and adventurous soundtrack. The recording quality of this culture-blended music is very good. I’d listen to it apart from this film. I guess it’s time to look for the original motion picture soundtrack on CD.


Posted ImageSPECIAL FEATURES Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image / Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

Special features are split over two discs, but its disc 2 where the bulk of them are. My favourite feature is on the first disc; it’s called The Pilgrim’s Guide. It’s a fact-loaded information subtitle, craftily presented in a stretched crusader cross. When this feature is selected, facts about the real people many characters in this film are based upon and facts about the time. I’m a fact/history junkie and I found this feature difficult to part from. It starts when the movie starts and ends when it ends. Did you know that the crusades brought pepper, ginger, oranges, peaches, melons, silk, velvet and dye (for clothes) to Europe? Neither did I! Heck, the mid-east even taught the Europeans the importance of bathing regularly!

If you are a history lover like me, then I’m sure you’ll love the two A&E specials on disc 2. Both of them are approximately 45 minutes long. The first is titled History vs. Hollywood and it sets out to separate what is real and what isn’t during this film. It has interviews with Scott, Irons, Bloom, Green and Neeson. It is letterboxed at about 1.85:1 but is not enhanced for widescreen TVs because its coming from a broadcast tape of some sort with text over top of the black bar area.

The other video is an even more informative documentary on A&E Movie Real. I liked this one a little better because it is more historically focussed on the crusades rather than spending half of the time on the film like the other A&E show. Both of these are great to watch and I’m glad they were included on this set.

Getting back to movie-specific features, I know you’ll like playing with The Grid. This is an interactive feature that allows you to customize how you want to watch the development of this film from start to finish and it includes many people involved with the making of it. Imagine your screen with pre-production, production, and post-production across the top on an x-axis. Down the side along the y-axis you’ll find directing, crew, and cast. Each of the features along the y-axis can be viewed with information along the x-axis. So you want to know something about the crew during production? Move the curser until it lines up along the line attaching them both. Want to know about the director during post production? Do the same. Want to know everything? There’s a play all function for those of you who want to see it all at once. Total run time is about 1h23m. This entire feature is also enhanced for widescreen televisions. Awesome!

The four Internet Featurettes, Ridley Scott: Creating Worlds, Orlando Bloom: The Adventure of a Lifetime, Production Design: Bringing an Old City to Life and Costume Design: Creating Characters Through Wardrobe are short informational clips to prep up the film’s release in theatres. They are about 2 minutes each and are letterboxed in a 4:3 window.

At last we have the regular Fox Inside Look feature (2min) for the upcoming film Tristan and Isolde as well as the Kingdom of Heaven theatrical trailer.


IN THE END…

Ridley Scott, the master of the modern epic, has delivered a story that started almost 1000 years ago. Wow, times flies, doesn’t it? While we have never lived to see the day of the crusades, historical records have painted vivid pictures of the time, the people, and the motivations of wealth and salvation. Kingdom of Heaven is a large vision of this known history with elements of fact, fiction, and entertainment. The DVD serves the film well in terms of content and sound quality, but I’m still lamenting over the undefined black levels. I think someone behind this DVD should be seeking forgiveness for their work in that department. But then…why not forgive and forget and enjoy the story?

Michael Osadciw
05.10.05

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#2 of 29 Craig S

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:02 PM

Disappointing news about the PQ. Given the rumors about an eventual Director's Cut megaset (a la Blackhawk Down), I think I'll just wait.

Three truths about movies, as noted by Roger Ebert:

 

* It's not what a movie is about, it's how it is about it.

* No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough.

* No good movie is depressing, all bad movies are depressing.


#3 of 29 Elijah Sullivan

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Posted October 05 2005 - 04:39 PM

Wow, that really is a huge bummer about the image, Michael. I saw the film twice in theaters and neither time did it appear as you described. The shadow detail is incredible and the dim action sequences are incredibly lucid and easy to follow (even more dynamic and comprehendable than those in Gladiator, in fact, despite similar approaches). Have you seen the film theatrically, and can you comment on the differences?

In fact, the last time I watched it I made sure to memorize certain color renderings and spots of difficult-to-maintain shadow detail so that I could compare with the eventual DVD. It doesn't sound like I'm going to be too impressed.

I'd like to repeat: this film looked amazing on a cinema screen. Oscar-caliber photography to be sure, with very subtle lighting and careful treatment of low light and chaotic movement. This should have easily been a reference disc for audio and video.

A shame. Oh, well. I get my copy tomorrow at lunchtime. I'll make my final judgments then.

#4 of 29 todd s

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Posted October 06 2005 - 03:20 AM

What are the rumors of a Directors Cut??
Bring back John Doe! Or at least resolve the cliff-hanger with a 2hr movie or as an extra on a dvd release.

#5 of 29 DustinPizarro

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Posted October 06 2005 - 03:59 AM

Interesting review Michael. I was undecided about purchasing this title since the inevitable Director's Cut seems to be the trend lately. But after reading your impressions about the video quality, it pretty much helps my decision making easier. It's a rental for me. Thanks!!!

#6 of 29 Aaron Silverman

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Posted October 06 2005 - 09:10 AM

Quote:
What are the rumors of a Directors Cut??


From the review:

Quote:
Studio: 20th Century Fox

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#7 of 29 Michael Osadciw

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Posted October 06 2005 - 09:26 AM

Elijah

I haven't seen this film theatrically (I've updated the review to include that) so I have no other reference on the image. I'd like to believe the picture quality could be better, but I haven't made any changes in my system to have it go bad!

Mike

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#8 of 29 Max Leung

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Posted October 06 2005 - 10:40 AM

Mike, is there any (slight) chance that your DVD player is clipping below-black levels? It is possible that the details are there, but they put those details below the level 16 reference.

I know that my Panasonic S97 DVD play does clip everything below reference black, unless I tweak the player's brightness setting (it probably elevates the below-black detail to make them visible - but that is another topic altogether).

Either way, I'll probably hold out for a director's cut - I haven't seen this movie theatrically, but judging from the reactions of those who did, a lot of stuff seems to be missing!
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him...a super-callused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Gamesh....

#9 of 29 Adam_WM

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Posted October 06 2005 - 11:25 AM

I'm also going to wait for the possible special edition. I liked the movie, but I thought you could see where they trimmed quite a bit of the 2nd half of the movie, especially in terms of character development.
.

 


#10 of 29 Michael Osadciw

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Posted October 06 2005 - 04:22 PM

Hi Max

I use a Denon DVD-3910 using HDMI out @720p through a Monster M1000HDMI cable into my projector. After re-calibrating my projector through this player, it was functioning flawlessly. Projectors used for this review were a Panasonic PT-AE700U (on Da-Lite DA-MAT) and the disc was cross referenced with a Sharp XV-Z12000 and an XV-Z2000 (on Stewart Firehawk). At all three projector performance levels the results were the same.

Mike

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#11 of 29 Elijah Sullivan

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Posted October 06 2005 - 06:30 PM

Michael,

I just scanned through the DVD just now on a THX-optomised television (NOT a projector) and it looked almost exactly as it did theatrically. In fact, if anything I would say it was too bright, but I'm probably alone on that.

So, if you guys liked how it looked in the cinema, you should be pleased with the DVD. The colors are spot-on, too, and I thought detail was quite respectable, considering that this was a Super-35 production and always looked pretty soft.

#12 of 29 Steve Christou

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Posted October 06 2005 - 11:53 PM

Well I missed it at the cinema but the region 2 dvd's picture and sound looked and sounded great on my 32" tv. Loved all the special features, trivia track, 90 min making of, and two 45min history behind the film docs, sadly no commentary from the man himself but still great value - great set. As nearly all Ridley Scott's films on dvd are, with the notable exception of arguably his most famous movie which has yet to get even a decent 'one-disc' dvd release, let alone a much deserved/needed double disc super set.Posted Image

Dave hören... auf, wille stoppen sie Dave... stoppen sie Dave... Mein gehirn geht... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin gefühl es... Ich bin ängstlich Dave... Guter Nachmittag. Ich bin ein HAL 9000 computer. Ich wurde funktionsfähig am HAL-Betrieb in Urbana, Illinois auf January 12 1992.


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#13 of 29 Harold Wazzu

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Posted October 07 2005 - 01:20 AM

I'll probably buy this in case they leave out some of the extras (or DTS) on the Director's Cut.

#14 of 29 Ron-P

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Posted October 07 2005 - 03:33 AM

Thanks for the review Michael. This will be a blind buy for myself. Bummer to hear about the lack-luster PQ. I just bought a Z3 and hung is yesterday so I was hoping to a better image from this title.
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#15 of 29 Arnie G

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Posted October 11 2005 - 01:57 AM

I can't wait to get this today. I saw it in the theaters & the cgi effects are incredible, practically impossible to spot. I really liked the movie.Posted Image
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#16 of 29 Todd Robertson

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Posted October 11 2005 - 04:56 PM

Man, I think it looked pretty damn good on my 34" Sony WS. Razor sharp.
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#17 of 29 Robert Harris

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Posted October 12 2005 - 12:49 AM

Michael,

I too, received one of those wonderful discs with the ***** letters covering the bottom 25% of the image -- on my screen a good eight inches and height and continuous.

I chose not to review based upon my inability to see beyond the bright white which literally overtook the image.

I'm wondering if this might be the cause of the image problem you noted?

RAH

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#18 of 29 Steven Simon

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Posted October 12 2005 - 03:48 AM

Im gonna give this disc a spin on my Marantz Vp12S3... I look foward to comparing your comments on the video quality Mike...

#19 of 29 ClaytonMG

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Posted October 12 2005 - 05:33 PM

I watched this film last night, and I turned up the brightness just to see if it was my display making it so that I could not see what was going on on screen, but this movie is just TOO dark! Hopefully if there's a director's cut released (Which I am not sure i'll buy) the picture will be lightened up a bit. I agree 100% that all the black levels for the movie are all the same shade of black too, which is what made it so difficult to see.

#20 of 29 Yumbo

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Posted October 12 2005 - 11:37 PM

Just watched this on the 185" screen.

1. the opening credits were sharp, but I guess the black background helped.

2. the opening scene was just fine with amazing detail on the wife's face.

3. there is nothing wrong with the picture except for VERY fine EE which kinda goes on for a bit.

4. sound is almost perfect.

5. movie is enjoyable especially compared to Gladiator (better video and opening battle scene), and Harry's score is more in context, the album is kinda weak on its own.

if you want DARK, watch Batman Begins instead! with the over-frenetic action, one really could NOT see what was going on. whoosh, whoosh. there, Hans' score seemed out of context, and is more enjoyable on its own!

ps. Liam Neeson in both is the man!