|by Peter Sobczynski
In which your faithful critic hacks his way through another "Director's Cut" from Ridley Scott, contemplates John Wayne as Genghis Kahn and turns up Andy Warhol's favorite film for good measure.
When Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” made its theatrical debut last summer, many found it to be a peculiar disappointment that was thrilling on a visual scale but strangely puny in terms of simple narrative. The idea behind the film was sound enough–an epic story set in the time of the Crusades that illustrated that ill-advised and pointless wars against Muslin hordes in which thousands perished for no good reason have been going on for centuries–but it was largely ignored in an effort to get from one extended battle sequence to the next. So much seemed to be missing from the film–plot lines and characters were introduced and abandoned so often that it became nearly impossible in the end to discern who was fighting whom and why–that many assumed that Scott had cut a ton of material at the last minute in order to get it to a commercially viable length and would one day restore it on DVD, a format more forgiving to extended-length storytelling.
With the release of “Kingdom of Heaven: 4-Disc Director’s Cut,” those assumptions have been proven correct. For starters, the film has had roughly 50 minutes of previously deleted scenes reinserted into the narrative, extending the running time to 194 minutes. These are not simply bits of filler that add nothing to the proceedings other than extra bits of sex and violence–pretty much every one of the characters is fleshed out with scenes that further explain who they are and why they do what they do. (The transformation of Orlando Bloom’s character from blacksmith to warrior no longer feels as rushed and unbelievable as it once did.) Additionally, the story, which seemed to move in fits and starts in the theatrical cut, now flows much more smoothly in this version–even though the film is nearly an hour longer, it almost feels shorter than the one that played in theaters.
That said, “Kingdom of Heaven” still has its share of flaws, no matter what the length. Although he comes off far better here than he did in the theatrical cut, Orlando Bloom is still kind of dull in the central role–he looks good and is physically convincing but he simply seems too youthful and upbeat to bring to the role the gravity that it requires. (This is the kind of role that cries out for someone like Russell Crowe, who did play a similar part for Scott in “Gladiator.”) As a member of Jerusalem royalty caught between her desire for peace and her desire for Bloom, Eva Green is perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this extended version–her character, who seemed like little more than an afterthought in the shortened cut, now plays an integral part in the proceedings and she shows herself to being up to the task. Once again, though, the best performances come from the supporting players Edward Norton, Jeremy Irons, Martin Csokas and, best of all, Liam Neeson–these are guys who can take the cheesiest line and the most uncomfortable costumes and make them actually seem believable.
If you were one of the few who liked “Kingdom of Heaven” in its theatrical incarnation, this 4-disc set (which includes three commentary tracks–including Scott, Bloom, screenwriter William Monahan and others–an extended documentary covering every phase of production, including what was cut and what was reinserted for this version, another half-hour of extra deleted scenes, rehearsal footage, an early screenplay draft and much more) will feel like a dream come true. If you didn’t like the first version, you owe it to yourself to map out a chunk of time to check out this edition. When he set out to make the film, Ridley Scott clearly had a vision of what he wanted to put on film that was scuttled for various reasons–thanks to this DVD set, we finally have a chance to experience that vision for ourselves.
Written by William Monahan. Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson and Liam Neeson. 2005. 194 minutes. Unrated. A Fox Home Entertainment release. $34.98.
NEW AND NOTABLE
BARE BEHIND BARS (Blue Underground. $29.95): Sadistic guards, nympho nurses, torture chambers and shower scenes a-plenty–it’s no wonder that this 1980 slice of women-in-prison Eurosleaze inspired none other that fellow Bitchslapper Scott Weinberg to describe it as a “Chicks-In-Prison Flick That Will Make You Need A Shower.
THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION, VOL. 2 (Warner Home Video. $59.98): Changing gears slightly, Warners presents another box set of five titles from the filmography of one of the all-time great movie stars–“Old Acquaintance,” “Marked Woman,” “Jezebel,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and a two-disc version of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”–along with the requisite commentaries, documentaries and additional bonus features. All are recommended but the pick hits in my view are “Marked Woman,” a prime bit of 1930's muckraking in which she plays a “hostess” who helps ambitious D.A. Humphrey Bogart bring down a vicious mobster, and “Baby Jane,” a film that remains one of the most perverse and deranged films released by a major studio in the 1960's.
CHICAGO FILMMAKERS ON THE CHICAGO RIVER ($19.99): An intriguing curiosity–documentarian D.P. Carlson gathered a group of filmmakers who either came from Chicago or did their most significant work there (including Michael Mann, Stuart Gordon, Haskell Wexler, John Landis, Andrew Davis and others) and had them discuss their careers while floating down the river. Full disclosure–if you can find where they are hidden on the DVD, you will notice that I contributed some brief commentary about “The Blues Brothers” and local film restorer Michael Dawson.
CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS/WAR BETWEEN THE PLANETS (Dark Sky Films. $19.95): The good folks at Dark Sky, whose recent efforts have included the impressive DVD releases of “The Horror of Party Beach” and “Magic,” turn their sights toward some genre cult favorites on this double-feature disc. The former title, in which the androids created by man to help in rebuilding after a catastrophic nuclear war could either save or destroy civilization as we know it, was reputed to be a favorite of none other than Andy Warhol himself. The latter is a visually interesting spectacle in which some astronauts land on a seemingly desolate planet that is careening towards Earth and discover that it contains some horrifying secrets of its own. If that isn’t enough to satisfy the B-movie buff in you, this week also finds Dark Sky releasing the immortal 1965 camp classic “Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster,”a film that doesn’t actually feature Frankenstein (merely a robot named Frank) but does contain aliens with a dastardly plan to kidnap beach bunnies to serve as breeding stock for their dying planet. (Clips from this one were highlighted in the where-the-hell-is-this-DVD? “It Came From Hollywood.”)
DATE MOVIE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Finally, a comedy so dreadful, so offensive and so utterly devoid of even trace elements of wit, humor or style that it actually does make the efforts of Nick Swardson look like “Annie Hall” or “The Big Lebowski” by comparison. Yes, there is even an unrated edition (longer by one minute) but it will take someone with more intestinal fortitude and less self-respect than I to analyze the differences.
FREEDOMLAND (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. $29.95): How could a film with a storyline torn from the headlines (a low-income neighborhood is poised to explode in racial conflict when a white woman claims that a black man carjacked both her car and the baby in the back seat), a screenplay from the great Richard Price (who based it on his own novel) and stars of the caliber of Julianne Moore (as the distraught mother) and Samuel L. Jackson (as the detective trying to keep everyone cool while solving the case) possibly fail? Easy–put these sure-fire ingredients in the hands of Joe Roth, the auteur of “Christmas With the Kranks” and “America’s Sweethearts,” and watch as a once-promising project turns into one of the bigger disappointments of the year.
JOEY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video. $39.98): Thank God–instead of having to not watch this ill-advised “Friends” spin-off only once a week, you can now skip the entire first season all at once.
JOHN WAYNE-AN AMERICAN ICON COLLECTION (Universal Home Video. $26.99): Five John Wayne movies for under $30 sounds like a good deal until you look closely and discover that the titles being offered–“The Shepard of the Hills,” “Pittsburgh,” “Seven Sinners,” “Jet Pilot” and “The Conqueror”–are among the weakest efforts of his long career. Still, it might be worth the price just to check out the truly delirious “The Conqueror,” in which Wayne was spectacularly miscast as none other than Genghis Kahn opposite Tartar princess Susan Hayward.
NUMBERS-THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $54.95): Finally, a TV show about a cop who prefers pi to doughnuts. I hope this collection has the episode where Math Cop suffers an anxious night of the soul when an innocent man is sent to the electric chair because he forgot to carry the three.
PLATOON 20th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTOR’S EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.95): Or as Charlie Sheen might now refer to it, “the good old days.” If you haven’t already picked up a copy of Oliver Stone’s legendary Oscar-winning Vietnam epic, this edition collects all the bonus features from previous editions (including documentaries and commentaries from Stone and military adviser Dale Dye) as well as a few new deleted scenes to entice those who already own it into making an upgrade.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT-SPECIAL EDITION (Universal Home Video. $19.98): Okay, Universal–this is the third time you have put out a DVD of the Burt Reynolds-Jackie Gleason car-crash extravaganza that marked Hal Needham’s high-water mark as America’s favorite deep-fried auteurist (at least until “Megaforce”). Could you maybe now get to work on restoring the original version of “Smokey and the Bandit 3" that once featured Gleason playing both the sheriff and the Bandit until test audience confusion forced you to scrap half the footage and reshoot it with Jerry Reed as the Bandit? (And yes, the mind boggles at the thought of a test audience confused by the plot machinations of “Smokey and the Bandit 3.”)
THE VENTURE BROTHERS-SEASON ONE (Warner Home Video. $29.98): Another Cartoon Network series that takes an 1960's-era cartoon archetype–in this case, the beloved adventure series “Johnny Quest”–and turns it inside out by transforming it into a goofball spoof that is most certainly not for the kids. Pretty funny but it still doesn’t compare to the brilliant “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” (and when the hell is that long-awaited second-season DVD set going to turn up?)
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originally posted: 06/02/06 14:00:58
last updated: 06/09/06 20:09:08