Sunday, February 26, 2006

Kingdom of Heaven

Saw Kingdom of Heaven Friday night. Well, Marie saw all of it - I fell asleep through exhaustion. I'm about to watch it fully again, but first I'll blog about it (after all, I did catch the gist of it).
  • Marie knew nothing about the background of this, and enjoyed it. I knew it hadn't done well at the box office, and had also attracted criticism over it's historical accuracy and philosophical bias. However I tried to watch it as if watching for the first time, and enjoyed the parts I stayed awake for. (Believe it or not, I slept through most of the battles, surround-sound notwithstanding)

  • It was an engaging story, that helped me understand this part of history that neither of us knew much about before. Sometimes the story of an individual or a family helps us understand a time and place like nothing else.

  • Visually stunning. Absolutely amazing. But somehow, we didn't care passionately what happened to Balian, our main character (portrayed by Orlando Bloom). Tried to figure that out, and came up with two theories:
    • Orlando Bloom's just not that great an actor? I'm actually loath to say this, because I have just an inkling about what kind of tough job acting is. But maybe he didn't have what it takes. Liam Neeson did a great job, but his was just a supporting character.

    • Alternatively, maybe we didn't know enough about Balian to begin with. Within ten minutes (I think) his wife and child are dead, and he kills his priest. We don't know if he's the kind of guy who usually kills people, or if this is something unusual for him. He just comes across as an angry man, and not in the way that makes us sympathetic towards him.

  • Apart from this main heart that's missing in the story, everything else - the attention to detail, the sets, the costumes, the fights, the supporting actors - were fantastic.

  • A note on historical accuracy. There's a documentary on the special features which looks into the portrayal of the crusades which generally agrees with the film's premise. But what nobody addresses directly is why the Christians took Jerusalem in the first place. We hear nothing of Muslim militancy; instead we are left to infer that the Muslims of the 9th and 10th centuries were peace-loving, pluralistic peoples. Sure, there were some like Saladin that did get a reputation for mercy, but it's a misrepresentation of the concept of Jihad to assume the Muslims wanted to just live in peace, and the Christians were the ones waging war for land and glory.
What's really sad is that the film did so badly after such an incredible amount of work. Just goes to show - character and narrative are the most important part of every story.

Questions to take away:
  • How can I create characters that people love - and yet have hard edges on them, etc.
  • What is 'narrative drive' and can I have some?
  • Is there still a public appetite for historical epics? Gladiator seems to be the last one that was commercially successful - Troy, Alexander and Kingdom of Heaven have all been disappointed. Meanwhile, fictional epic adventures like Lord of the Rings and Narnia have soared. What does this mean? Does it mean anything?


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