10 - The Michigan Daily - Monday, May 9, 2005
'Heaven' scores on visuals,
but inaccurate story lagsr
By Amanda Andrade
Daily Arts Writer
It's easy to imagine the memo circulating through
Hollywood in the wake of movies like "Gladiator"
and "Lord of the Rings": "If it doesn't have snazzy
costumes and at least three CGI
battles, it doesn't run. Oh, and a Kingdom
love story. Chicks dig the love of Heaven
stories." Witness the result-
ing deluge of period epics that At Showcase
seem to be declining in qual- and Quality 16
ity almost as quickly as they're 20th Century Fox
plunging in profits.
Director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") returns to the
forum with "Kingdom of Heaven," and though he's
crafted a fine epic, it lacks novelty at this point. Audi-
ences may appreciate its political relevance; they may
approve of its well-orchestrated battle sequences.
They may even admire the sure-handed direction, but
they won't be thrilled - they've seen this all before.
The story is set during the Crusades, when
Christian forces held Jerusalem under the rule
of the benevolent King Baldwin IV. Baldwin
strives for peace with the Muslims and practices
an early form of religious tolerance, much to the
chagrin of the fanatical Knights of Templar, who
have papal sanction to slaughter the "infidels."
The film is extensively well researched, but Scott
clearly cut much of the historical maneuvering
in favor of moody close-ups and sweeping land-
scape shots, so audiences shouldn't expect much
of a history lesson.
However, "Kingdom of Heaven" deviates radi-
cally from history when it comes to the central
character. In reality, Balian of Ibelin (Orlando
Bloom, "Troy") was a knight of Jerusalem who
surrendered the city to the forces of the great Mus-
lim commander, Saladin (magnificently played by
Ghassan Massoud) after all the other knights were
killed in an ill-calculated assault on Saladin's army.
But in the movie, Balian gains favor with the dying
king, romances the new queen and has the foresight
not to go on the suicide attack, eventually bargain-
ing with Saladin for much better terms than he
received in real life.
These amendments are not significant prob-
lems; they make the story better. What becomes
problematic is that Balian's story, fudged as it
is, still isn't particularly interesting. Balian is
on a philosophic quest to make peace with his
god - not exactly movie material. Although
very few big-budget period dramas ("Gladiator"
included) have successfully tempered action
sequences with intimate personal drama, "King-
dom of Heaven" could have avoided becoming
the latest CGI battle monstrosity by stirring
audience emotion. Ultimately, that proves to be
beyond the scope of the film.
Above all else, "Kingdom of Heaven" is stun-
ning to behold. The cinematography is awe-
inspiring, and Scott is still a master behind the
"Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!"
camera. And, of course, Bloom's sweaty, sword-
slinging hero looks fine on display as well. He
isn't Russell Crowe, but he knows it, wisely play-
ing his character with quietness and effective
nuance rather than simmering intensity. Bloom's
speeches are tepid but short, and his contempla-
tive scenes show an unexpected gravitas. Even
better are Jeremy Irons ("Being Julia") and David
Thewlis ("Timeline"), who conjure magnificent
performances from minor parts.
But Scott's film is foremost a statement of
political relevance. It's an impassioned, eloquent
meditation on intolerance and religious funda-
mentalism. "Kingdom of Heaven" is a know-
ingly ironic title, given the bloodshed and hatred
that has occurred - and continues to occur -
in the region. Scott reminds us that Christians as
well as Muslims are capable of acts of terrorism
and acts of religious intolerance. When Balian
threatens to burn Jerusalem, Saladin smiles
sadly and replies with the foresight of centuries:
"Perhaps it would be better."
I am 92 years old, and I am here today from Seoul,
Korea with my 88 year old wife to congratulate our
lovely granddaughter, Juliana, of whom we are so
proud. I am really honored to be part of this splendid
commencement and I want to thank the Chancellor and
Professors of the University of Michigan. As a retired
professor, who spent 51 years of my life in teaching,
I would like to take this opportunity to impart some
wisdom to the graduating class.
There is an enormous difference between one's adult
life and one's collegiate life. As you meet people,
respect human dignity and take a positive stand on your
ideological inclinations. Let altruism be part of your
daily life, and let courtesy and righteousness influence
how you treat others. These things, when practiced,
will raise human value. Last but not least, I pray for the
health and happiness of the graduating class.
Professor Emeritus, KonKuk University