Monday, May 9

Kingdom of Heaven

Bloom gets bloody in this Crusader epic.

Yesterday, me and my friend Pot made a pilgrimage to the shopping holy land of Greenhills to watch the new Ridley Scott chainmail epic, Kingdom of Heaven, starring Orlando Bloom. Through the sweltering heat we ranged through the tiangge stalls and various shops in preparation for the long watch. Then, as screening time approached we armed ourselves with popcorn tumblers and sodas and were off to medieval Jerusalem.

Kingdom of Heaven tells the tale of young blacksmith-turned crusader Bailen (Orlando Bloom playing yet ANOTHER blacksmith) who is eventually, through fate and machination, thrown into the role of Defender of Jerusalem from the Saracen hordes. The trailers of this movie promised massive battle scenes with literally hundreds of thousands of warriors clashing in deadly, brutal medieval combat. And it does deliver on that end- Ridley Scott certainly knows how to do these big clashes (certainly after his stuff with Gladiator). The many battle scenes, from an initial skirmish between some soldiers after Bailen and the retainers of Baron Godfrey of Ibelim (played by Liam Neeson, in yet another sword-wielding mentor role) to the final mammoth siege of Jerusalem are brought to terrifying life (and death) with powerful imagery that rivals the CG carnage from The Return of the King.

But despite having a capable cast with good showings from Jeremy Irons (as the scarred Tiberius, Marshall of Jerusalem), David Thewlis (as a wise Knight Hospitaler), Brendan Gleeson (playing the gleefully evil Templar Reynald de Chatillon), Martin Csoskas (overzealous baddie Guy de Lusignan), Edward Norton (who spends near the whole movie in a mask as the noble, leper-afflicted King Baldwin) and the lovely Eva Green(Princess Sybilla of Jerusalem), this would-be epic falters a bit. The film is leisurely, almost sluggish, in pace until near halfway the more than two-hour movie, and many people may find it a chore to watch.

But my biggest gripe would have to be with the hero Bailen himself- not necessarily Orlando Bloom, who for his credit gives his all to the role and goes through the film smoothly enough without ever picking up a bow and arrow.
No, I think it’s just how the script has this young blacksmith turning into a warrior of almost superhuman prowess after only just one swordfighting lesson (that was cut short, mind you, by an attack).
Yes, after just being taught by Liam Neeson to only use a high guard with the sword, Bailen afterwards shows great skill in geology and irrigation (turning an arid wasteland into a blooming oasis), horsemanship and tactics, siege warfare and ballistics and lovemaking as well! In just a few short weeks, he goes from being a fugitive and murderer to the savior of Jerusalem, thanks just to his brave heart, unfailing honor and purity and untiring sword arm. And he gets the girl too.

Believable? Well, perhaps along the way unseen and offscreen, Bailen mastered all these skills (in a few weeks). Or maybe he was a natural genius or prodigy. But well, maybe as the title implies, we should just give up trying to rationalize and just have faith.

In any case, the cast is good, the film gorgeous and deserving to be seen on the big, big screen, and the story working hard to convey a stalwart anti-war message of unity between all men, be they Christian or Moslem. All this in the chainmail-clad, blood encrusted guise of a medieval epic. That’s really not something you see every day. And something well worth gathering a party together and sallying forth to the theaters to.

Kingdom of Heaven is now showing in Metro Manila theaters.

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