Kingdom of Heaven appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. From start to finish, the movie provided a strong transfer.
Sharpness was solid with virtually no softness on display. This meant the flick was tight and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I noticed no signs of source flaws. Edge haloes failed to appear, and I didn’t discern any signs of digital noise reduction.
Director Ridley Scott opted for stylized tones in Heaven. Actually, those elements dominated the first act in France, as it cast events in strongly blue/teal tones. Although I expected an arid tint to the Jerusalem sequences, they went with a more natural palette, albeit one that leaned amber. The disc demonstrated lush and vivid colors when appropriate, and the tones looked solid. Blacks were also deep and dense, while shadows offered appropriate definition. Overall, this was a very satisfying image.
I thought the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio sounded great, as the soundfield seemed very involving and active. All five channels received a good workout as they displayed a great deal of discrete sound throughout the film. Of course, the action scenes offered the showiest moments, though all parts of the flick depicted a nice sense of environment.
Audio quality was similarly positive. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, with no issues connected to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded clear and bright and displayed good range. Effects were clean and accurate, while low-end boomed nicely. This was a very good mix that supported the material well.
How did this Blu-ray compare to the the Director’s Cut DVD? Audio was richer and more robust, and visuals seemed tighter and more vivid. The Blu-ray boasted the expected visual and auditory improvements.
Stuffed to the gills, the two-disc “Ultimate Edition” Blu-ray boasts virtually all the extras from both the 2005 and 2006 DVDs. To start, the Blu-ray includes three separate editions of the film. We find the Theatrical Version (2:24:32), the Director’s Cut (3:09:34) and the Director’s Cut Roadshow Version (3:13:54). I already discussed the changes made between the Theatrical Version and the longer cuts in the body of my review.
How do the two editions of the Director’s Cut differ? The “Roadshow Version” includes an Overture at the start and an Entr’Acte at the midpoint. All other content remains the same; the shorter cut simply eliminates the music at the start and the intermission.
When we view the non-theatrical versions, the disc comes with an introduction from Ridley Scott. In this 61-second piece, he gives us a quick overview of the “Director’s Cut”. It’s not much, but it helps lead into the alternate versions of the film.
We also find three audio commentaries. The first features producer/director Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan and actor Orlando Bloom. Each sits alone and the results are combined in this edited piece.
A mix of topics appears here. We get a little info on the project’s genesis plus some remarks about casting and performances, sets and locations, various visual components, and changes made for the “Director’s Cut”. Bloom tells us a little about his training as well.
However, the majority of the commentary looks at story and historical issues. Scott dominates and gives us an overview of fact compared to historical liberties. Monahan chips in a lot of that information as well; he gets into his research and sets the record straight on various issues. All of this material helps broaden our understanding of the flick and makes it a richer experience.
For the second commentary, we hear from executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, and first assistant director Adam Somner. This one uses the same format as the prior track; all three participants sat separately and were edited together. A mix of production topics dominate.
Ellzey gives us general nuts and bolts like the script, locations, and other areas she covered. Unsurprisingly, Sewell hits on visual effects and various challenges in that realm. Somner goes over his work on the film, which includes elements like working with extras, technical and logistical issues, and dealing with the locations.
We also get insights that tell us what it’s like to work with Ridley Scott and how the participants deal with a flick as big as Heaven. Occasionally the conversation can be a bit dry, but it touches on more than enough useful elements to satisfy. It gets into many good bits, and Somner is such a colorful character that he keeps us entertained. Listeners with sensitive ears beware: Somner curses up a storm and makes this one of the most profane commentaries I’ve heard. Whatever one’s thoughts about those choices, this becomes a worthwhile piece.
Finally, we get a commentary from editor Dody Dorn all on her own. She gives us a running, screen-specific piece. Much of the time, Dorn addresses changes made for the extended cut of the film. She delineates these alterations and tell us why they were left out of the theatrical version.
Dorn also gets into a mix of other storytelling topics. She explains the rationale for a mix of decisions and lets us know how she sees the tale as a whole package. Dorn goes over the pros and cons of the editor being on the set, technological issues, and a mix of other connected areas. She makes this an informative and winning chat. We find a nice look at the extended cut and learn a lot about elements of the editor’s job in this solid commentary.
Two text commentaries appear. First found on the original 2005 DVD – and available only alongside the Theatrical Version – we find The Pilgrim’sGuide. Referred to as a “historical reference track”, it provides a look at the facts behind the flick. This means no information about the movie’s creation.
Instead, we learn a lot about the background. This encompasses the Crusades and those activities, the real characters behind their cinematic counterparts, and nuts and bolts like armor, weapons and styles of warfare. “Guide” truly provides a thorough and engaging view of these elements. It peters out during the third act, but I won’t complain since it acts as such a great history otherwise.
For the second text track, The Enginer’s Guide looks at various technical aspects of the production. This discusses the “roadshow” format, the cast and crew, sets and locations, the production schedule, research, historical antecedents and script development, production design and costumes, stunts and effects, and a mix of other issues. A little history pops up along the way, but “The Pilgrim’s Guide” remains vastly superior in that regard.
Don’t take that as an insult toward “Enginer’s Guide”, though, as it never attempts to become a historical discussion. It deals with facts related to the movie’s creation, and it does well in that regard. Inevitably, some information repeats from the commentaries, but the “Enginer’s Guide” remains a tight and informative piece that aptly summarizes the production’s various elements.
When we shift to Disc Two, we get a six-part documentary called The Path to Redemption that runs a remarkable two hours, 21 minutes and 49 seconds. The show mixes movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We hear from Scott, Ellzey, Monahan, Bloom, Somner, Dorn, Sewell, production designer Arthur Max, costume designer Janty Yates, set designer Sonja Klaus, casting director Debra Zane, weapons master Simon Atherton, makeup designer Paul Engelen, director of photography John Mathieson, senior armoury technician Tommy Dunne, food preparer Paloma Hernandez, associate producer Teresa Kelly, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, supervising sound editor Per Hallberg, and actors Marton Czokas, Michael Sheen, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Alexander Siddig, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud and Khaled Nabawy.
“Redemption” starts with Scott’s interest in the subject and its initial development. We find out how the filmmakers narrowed the centuries of Crusades into the movie’s focus, the aborted Tripoli project, and the composition of the story’s script and its refinement. From there we get notes about pre-production that include research and various visual influences, casting, decisions about whether to include Sibylla’s son and how those effected production, rehearsals and various forms of actor training, and characters and how they looked.
As we progress, we move to various locations. We go to Spain and follow the shoot there. We learn about filming in that nation, weather-related issues, cinematography, sets, the constant presence of Bloom’s teeny-bopper fans, and various scene specifics. One filming concludes in Spain, it heads to Morocco. This segment covers location and set specifics, press-related controversies and security concerns, more weather issues, stunts, the accidental destruction of part of the set, and more sequence details.
After the end of location shooting, we go into post-production. This part examines editing choices and bringing the film down to a reasonable length, visual effects, the score, trailer ideas, color timing, and controversies over the inclusion of various sequences. Finally, we look at the film’s release and its promotion. The last segment examines goals for the movie and its reception.
Only that final piece comes as any sort of a disappointment. Yes, it mentions that the film didn’t do well critically or financially, but it also makes excuses and feels somewhat slick.
Otherwise, “Redemption” offers a fully successful documentary. Just because a program lasts a long time doesn’t necessarily make it good, but “Redemption” packs so much depth and detail into its space that it gives us a rich view of the production. We learn many useful notes, and the footage from the set is especially winning. (I particularly love a scene ruined by the honking of peacocks.) “Redemption” works very well and remains consistently informative and entertaining.
The other extras on Disc Two come under specific subheadings. Development opens with Tripoli Overview. This gives us a little text about the aborted project and follows with 23 screens of drawings and photos connected to its pre-production. These offer a decent glimpse of the cancelled flick’s early movements.
For some text, we find an Early Draft Screenplay by William Monahan. This presents exactly what it implies: an early take on the script. It’s fun to compare this with the final film to see what made the cut and what got the axe.
Story Notes cover 73 screens. These show us some of the comments created by Scott and Ellzey to annotate the screenplay. Since they come out of context, they’re not always that helpful, but they do give us an interesting glimpse of the behind the scenes thought processes.
“Development” concludes with a Location Scout Gallery. This presents 50 shots of Scott and others as they inspect various spots. We get a decent view of potential locations here, but I can’t say it seems terribly fascinating.
From there we shift to Pre-Production and its six components. Cast Rehearsals runs 13 minutes, 23 seconds as it shows early cast interactions. We get some comments from Bloom and Scott but mostly view footage from the rehearsals. We see Bloom, Neeson and Scott work together on some scenes, and we also watch David Thewlis join them. In addition, we get Bloom and Scott with Czokas and with Eva Green. All these segments are quite fun to see, as it’s compelling to check out the principals as they get to know each other and learn their roles.
Colors of the Crusade goes for 32 minutes and 14 seconds. The show includes remarks from Yates, Bloom, Green, Thewlis, Gleeson, Csokas, Massoud, Siddig, Atherton, Neeson, Klaus and Max. It talks about wardrobe decisions and challenges like chain mail, the design and execution of various armaments, and heraldry. The level of detail here would have been too much in the main documentary, but it’s much appreciated here. “Colors” delves into visual choices with real gusto and cleanly lets us know how and why the filmmakers did what they did.
Called Ridleygrams, the next area looks at the director’s self-drawn mini-storyboards. We get 168 of these, and they’re more detailed than prior “Ridleygrams” I’d seen. Since they often accompany script segments, they prove particularly insightful.
A Production Design Primer lasts six minutes, 54 seconds. It features Max and Klaus as it relates information about the sets, their building and related issues. Unlike “Colors”, this program probably should have been inserted into the main documentary. It acts as a short look at its topic; it includes decent notes but isn’t quite as full as I’d like.
Two more collections of stills finish off “Pre-Production”. We get a Production Design Gallery (176 frames) and a Costume Design Gallery (63). Both prove valuable, though I prefer “Costume Design”. “Production Design” gets a little tedious with all its shots of the same subjects, while “Costume Design” provides a nice glimpse of the appropriate details.
The next segment looks at Production. It starts with a featurette called Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak. This 26-minute and 38-second piece includes remarks from Scott, Ellzey, Monahan, Bloom, Massoud, Green, writer/theologian Dr. Donald Spoto, Columbia University’s Professor of Iranian Studies Dr. Hamid DaBashi, and UCSD’s Dr. Nancy Caciola. They discuss the Crusades and how the events depicted in Heaven match the realities of that era. I like the concept of this program but find the reality to be less exciting. It gives us a few decent details but doesn’t dig into things in a terribly rich manner.
Storyboard Galleries accompany three scenes: “Balian’s Village” (80 drawings), “Forest Ambush” (57) and “Pilgrim Road” (8). Unit Photography Gallery offers 110 shots from the Spanish set. Both sets of images are fine, though neither seems especially scintillating.
Unholy War: Mounting the Siege lasts 17 minutes, four seconds as it presents notes from Scott, Klaus, Max, Somner, Ellzey, Siddig, Atherton, and special effects supervisor Neil Corbould. As expected, the featurette examines the elements used to create the big battle sequence. We watch planning sessions and learn concerns about logistics, the building of various sets and props, extras, and shooting issues on the set. All of this acts as a nice synopsis of the topics connected to the climax. It’s not quite the area-by-area dissection I expected, but it provides more than enough information to prove useful.
Additional stills pop up in the other two areas. Storyboard Galleries come for three sequences: “Kerak” (125), “Battle Preparations” (14) and “The Siege” (325). Unit Photography Gallery includes another 201 shots from the Moroccan set. My comments from the earlier galleries continue to apply here.
Under the banner of Post-Production, we locate three more pieces. 15 Deleted & Extended Scenes run a total of 30 minutes, nine seconds. That’s a lot of material, but not much of it sticks. Some scenes that expand the relationship between Godfrey and Balian help, and we see more of Sibylla and her son, but most of the others seem superfluous or simply dull.
We can watch these with or without commentary from Scott and Dorn. They chat about various story issues related to the scenes and usually – but not always – let us know why the sequences failed to make the cut. Their remarks offer decent explanation of the appropriate topics.
Inside the Sound Design Suite, we learn more about that area. When you select “Craft”, you find a 24-minute and 58-second featurette that covers dialogue editing, ADR, Foley, sound FX editing, and the final mix. “Sample” lets us hear examples of each stage. It presents comments from supervising sound editor Hallberg, actor Sheen, dialogue editor Simon Chase, ADR supervisor Paul Conway, Foley editor Alex Joseph, SFX editors Sue Lenny, Oliver Tarney and James Harrison, and re-recording mixers Myron Nettinga and Michael Minkler.
They discuss all the aspects of their work and the various challenges involved in creating good audio for a film like this. The featurettes delve into the elements concisely and make this an informative package. I especially like the insights from Sheen about doing his ADR. We rarely find notes about that issue from the actors themselves, so it’s fun to get a deeper look at looping.
Visual Effects Breakdowns looks at the work behind four sequences. We get “The Burning Man (Fire Effects and Face Replacement)”, “Building Jerusalem (Digital Matte Paintings and 3D Modeling)”, “Casualties of War (Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Warriors)” and “Medieval Engines (The Physics and Firepower of Trebuchets)”. When viewed together, these four featurettes fill a total of 21 minutes and 53 seconds.
They cover the subjects mentioned in their subheadings as we learn more about various visual effects techniques. These show the different elements used for the sequences along with commentary from visual effects supervisor Sewell. He talks about what each scene needed and why they made the decisions they did. These come out as interesting segments that provide nice insight.
I especially like Sewell’s notes about working on the set. We usually only hear about post-production visual effects efforts, so I enjoy the glimpse of how he collaborated with Scott during the shoot. The images of CG tests are also a lot of fun to see.
As the disc nears its finish, we go to Release and its subdomains. Trailers & TV Spots includes four of the former and a whopping 50 – yes, 50 – of the latter. I’ve never seen anywhere near that many TV ads for one movie. Heck, I didn’t even think any studio ever created that many TV promos for a single flick. (And eight years after I originally wrote that comment about the 2006 DVD, I still find it stunning that we get so many TV spots!)
A Press Junket Walkthrough takes up six minutes and 17 seconds. We find shots of Max, Klaus, Atherton, and assistant costume designer Robert Worley. They lead reporters through a glimpse of some movie props, sets and costumes. This piece offers a decent look at the publicity side of things but isn’t interesting in its own right.
Next we head to the World Premieres. This three-minute and 41-second compilation leads us to London, New York and Tokyo to observe the movie’s premieres in those spots. We see the various participants as they arrive at these openings and get a few fluffy comments from Scott, Bloom, Irons, and Neeson. My response to this? Yawn! It’s not an interesting collection of clips.
We see more stills in the next two areas. Special Shoot Gallery presents 44 posed publicity photos, while Poster Explorations depicts 267 promotional ideas. Many of these offer variations on the same theme, but they still create a fine impression of the various possibilities.
Paradise Found: Creating the Director’s Cut goes for eight minutes, 29 seconds. It involves Dorn, Ellzey, Hallberg, Mathieson and Kelly. They talk about the desire to create a longer edition and the issues related to this activity. Frankly, this is a dull piece. We don’t get much real data, as the participants mostly tell us how happy they are to get to do the extended cut.
Disc Two continues with Director’s Cut Credits. These give us four screens of text.
That ends materials from the 2006 Director’s Cut DVD, but Archives ports over additional materials from the original 2005 DVD. As was the case there, we can view these via an Interactive Production Grid. Here’s how the disc’s menu describes “How It Works”:
“If you want to follow the making of the film from a particular point of view, simply choose ‘Directing’, ‘Crew’ or ‘Cast’. If you want to see what happened during a particular phase of production choose PRE (pre-production), PROD (production) or POST (post-production). If you want to learn about a certain phase of production from a specific point of view, simply click on the intersection between those two tracks. For example, if you want to learn about what the director did during post-production, select the button on the grid where those two paths cross. Or if you just want to watch everything, press ‘Play All’”.
In the interest of completeness, that’s what I did. Taken as one long package, this creates a program that runs a total of one hour, 23 minutes, and 45 seconds. It presents the expected mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews.
We find comments from director Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan, production designer Arthur Max, costume designer Janty Yates, set decorator Sonja Klaus, armorer Simon Atherton, first assistant director Adam Somner, executive producer Lisa Ellzey, extras casting Billy Dowd, special effects supetvisor Neil Corbould, composer Harry Gregson-Williams, editor Dody Dorn, visual effects supervisor Wesley Sewell, supervising sound editor Per Hallberg, sound re-recording mixers Myron Nettinga and Michael Minkler, and actors Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Marton Czokas, Jeremy Irons, Eva Green, Brendan Gleeson, Ghassan Massoud, and David Thewlis.
The route these components take will differ dependent on your selections, but via “Play All”, we open with thoughts about Scott’s long-term interest in a project about knights and this one’s development. From there we go through historical influences and liberties, assembling a crew, costume and set design, building needed items, casting and research, rehearsal, storyboarding, using the natural elements, Scott’s approach on the set, complexities of the movie’s scale, extras, practical and computer effects, score and editing, sound design, and the movie’s relevance in the modern world.
Given the program’s length and breadth of information, we can expect a good overview of the topics. However, I must admit it leaves me a little unsatisfied. To be sure, it tells us a lot about the production and goes through all the standard issues in a concise and informative manner. Unfortunately, it feels like more of a puff piece than usual. Too much of the show relates how big and impressive the project is, and the praise flows freely. There’s more than enough here to make this a valuable set, but it fails to deliver the impact I’d expect.
After that complex effort, we find two separate cable TV documentaries. From the History Channel comes History Vs. Hollywood. The 42-minute and 55-second show includes comments from Bloom, Neeson, Irons, Scott, Green, military historian Kelly DeVries, Route 66 AD author Tony Perrottet, Purdue University’s Dorsey Armstrong, No One But God author Reza Aslan, California State University’s Candace Gregory, Saint Louis University’s Thomas Madden, the University of Houston’s Lorraine Stock, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Jeffrey Forgeng.
We get a quick synopsis of the movie’s story and then take a trip to Spain to visit one of the film’s locations. We learn about its history and then find out about why so many regard Jerusalem as an important spot. From there we get notes on the Crusades and how they were executed, the real-life Saladin, elements of battle, and the costs of the Crusades and the motivations of participants.
If you expect a rich historical lesson from “Hollywood”, you’ll leave disappointed. At times it feels more like promotion for the movie than anything else. It does provide some decent notes about the history behind the flick, but it doesn’t offer a lot of substance. I can’t say I feel like I learned much from this show.
In the A&E network’s 44-minute and 28-second MovieReal, we hear from Scott, Bloom, Green, Madden, Dartmouth College’s Christopher MacEvitt, New York University’s Jill N. Caster, University of Notre Dame’s Paul M. Cobb, and Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi. This program digs into the Crusades. The show traces the various important events and runs through all the important facets and personalities. “MovieReal” ends up as a vastly more satisfying piece than “Hollywood”. Sure, it still features some promo for the movie, but it focuses significantly more heavily on the history and does so in a satisfying way. Watch this one and skip the fluffy “Hollywood”.
The disc concludes with four Internet Featurettes. These include “Ridley Scott: Creating Worlds” (2:37), “Orlando Bloom: The Adventure of a Lifetime“ (2:11), “Production Design: Bringing an Old City to Life” (2:18), and “Costume Design: Creating Character Through Wardrobe” (2:12). We get notes from Bloom, Thewlis, Scott, Neeson, Max, Yates, and Sewell. I expected a lot of promotional bombast and that’s what I got. Bloom offers a couple of interesting notes about his increased public profile and preparation for the film, but otherwise this is tedious advertising.
While the theatrical rendition of Kingdom of Heaven largely left me cold, this extended “Director’s Cut” offers a better-developed tale. It expands its characters and story to a satisfying degree. The extra footage doesn’t make Heaven a great film, but it becomes a much stronger one than its choppy theatrical edition. The Blu-ray brings us terrific picture and audio as well as an exhaustive, impressive collection of bonus materials. All that for a list price of less than $25 makes the “Ultimate Edition” Blu-ray a great value.
To rate this film visit the original review of KINGDOM OF HEAVEN