“Kingdom of Heaven”: Choose Your Own “Adventure”

May 20th, 2005 | By | Category: Columns

There is a scene in Kingdom of Heaven that perfectly sums up the film as a whole. Young knight Balian, played with cheese-sandwich thoughtfulness by starlet Orlando Bloom, has vowed to defend the helpless. Therefore, he takes his ragtag band of a dozen glorified extras and rides headlong into approximately twenty thousand well-armed Muslims. The scene is gloriously shot, brilliantly choreographed, and so boring that the Muslim attackers must later remind a gently dusty Bloom why they were attacking in the first place.

Kingdom of Heaven is a movie that genuinely means well. Unfortunately, what this means in practice is that Orlando Bloom stares blankly into space as British character actors try to earn their keep in a Ridley Scott film.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In fact, I’m reluctent to walk you through this one. If I had to suffer, so do you! Instead, Defenestration premieres a patented approach to criticism. Welcome to Choose Your Own Adventure: The Review!

Open on Bloomian, a young smithy. He shows off the moves he learned for Pirates of the Caribbean and bangs randomly at a piece of metal that looks weirdly like a crowbar. He’s concentrating on growing a little facial hair, and when he’s interrupted by Liam Neeson, he’s understandably put out.

Sir Liam: So, nice weather. Sorry your wife died.

Bloomian: *doleful stare *

Sir Liam: Anyway, I’m your father. I diddled your mother, but it wasn’t rape, because then I’d look like the bad guy and you wouldn’t care what happens to me.

Bloomian: *Doleful Stare*

Sir Liam: I’m just giving you a heads-up, in case you want to join us. We’re off to the Crusades! You can wipe your sins away and be a better man! Except for the raping and subsequent abandonment of your son. That kinda comes back to haunt you. FYI.

Bloomian: *DOLEFUL STARE *

Sir Liam: Once I fought for two days with an arrow through my testicle. Just saying.

He and his band of wasted character actors depart, and Bloomian returns to beating up indiscriminate slabs of iron. But wait! This jerk shows up! And he’s a priest! He tells Bloomian in no uncertain terms that the world hates him, God hates him, and his wife is roasting in hell.

What do you want Bloomian to do?

If you want him to bravely kill himself and rejoin his wife in hell, proceed to Gladiator.

If you want him to tell the priest to cool his Tarsus-heels, proceed to Xena.

If you want him to say something vague about the gods and then wander away, you saw him in Troy.

If you want him to stab the priest, set his smithy on fire, and run away, you’re still here.

Apparently illiterate peasants from 12th century France had an impeccable sense of direction, since Bloomian unerringly finds the road to Messina and meets up with Liam. In short order, we’re introduced to Disposable Henchmen 1 and 2, and David Thewlis, who is awesome. There’s a very brief sword-fighting lesson that gets interrupted by the constabulary insisting upon the return of Bloomian so he can stand trial for burning down an expensive set that they’ll have to build all over again.

I smell fight scene! Oh, wait, no. I smell burgers. There is a fight scene, though, and it does a brilliant job of establishing everyone’s fighting techniques, especially Bloomian, who does very well for himself using the three moves he’s just been taught — an excellent touch in the only visceral scene in the movie. If you leave now, it’s a great movie! Leave!

What do you want to do?

If you want to leave now, you are smart.

If you do not want to leave, you are a fool.

Dammit. Fine. Stick it out. Everyone dies except David Thewlis and Sir Disposable, who will disappear without a trace in ten minutes and will therefore not be mentioned again, because if Ridley Scott can’t be bothered then neither can I. Upshot of the battle: David Thewlis kicks everyone’s ass, and Liam is totally doomed because he has an arrow through his rib. Frankly, from someone who survived an arrow through the testicle, I feel like this is a cop-out.

The survivors make it to Messina, where they run into Overblown Villain. This is good, because there’s nothing like a guy twirling his moustache to remind you that the Crusades were Bad News. OV is played by Martin Csokas, who I loved dearly as Borias in the Xena series. In future, I will talk about this and not about the total waste of his time that is his part in this movie.

Liam is dying! He tells his son to protect the innocent, be upright, brush his teeth, speak the truth, never go back to a firework once it’s been lit, obey the king, and find good lighting.

What do you want Bloomian to do?

If you want him to learn to heal the sick, saving lives and earning back the soul he lost, you are in Gladiator.

If you want him to hook up with a plucky Messinian maiden and a wacky ex-thief and fight crime, you’re in Xena.

If you want him to find good lighting, you’re in Troy.

If you want him to go to Jerusalem and kill people, you’re still here.

That does it! Bloomian will go to Jerusalem! If this is a surprise, then you have never seen a movie before.

Oops! Sir Disposable is gone and we’re in the Holy Land! That was fast. This movie’s on Troy time. Bloomian kills the crap out of a Saracen, and rather than murder the “servant,” asks only for passage to Jerusalem. We are supposed to think he is a Good Man for sparing a life. The fact that this is Common Sense doesn’t seem to be important, and since Bloomian doesn’t do one other smart thing, I’m willing to overlook this instance, as well.

Jerusalem! After some stilted horse banter with the Saracen, Bloomian wanders the streets wearing a big sign that reads KICK ME AND STEAL MY JEWELED SWORD. Sadly, he’s not kicked. Instead, more Disposable Extras surround him and swear allegiance, because if anyone looks like Liam Neeson, apparently that person is Orlando Bloom. Whatever.

Hey! Speaking of Troy, the bitchy, ineffectual Menelaus has graced us again! Now he is the saucy, ineffectual, carroty redhead responsible for merciless Saracen deaths! Also, he does his Dame Edna impersonation throughout this movie for reasons known only to him. Jeremy Irons, as the magistrate, seems to lean away from Carrots as if the crazy is catching. And perhaps it was! These were the Middle Ages. Everything was contagious.

Including the Doleful Stare, it seems, as Bloomian is introduced to Jeremy, and they talk briefly about the fragile peace and the playoffs and how you know your pork chops are ready. This scene, and all subsequent scenes, are pointless, because it has already been made obvious that the Saracens are the rightful owners of Jerusalem, and the Crusaders are a bunch of melodramatic jerkwads. Awkward.

However, despite his lack of training, upbringing, conviction, or personality, Bloomian is invited into the bosom of the Templars, and taken to dinner with OV and his wife Token Woman! They bicker.

Hey, you know what was great? Remember when Borias was a warlord, but even in the midst of his ruthless slayings he knew to warn Xena away from the witch who wanted their baby? That was so cool.

Oh, right. The movie. So Bloomian meets the king, who has one of the leftover masks from Eyes Wide Shut, and is a decent guy. His sister is also decent, though she shows up at Bloomian’s house the next week (Troy time) on the road to Cana. “Cana.”

So. She’s having a sleepover on the road to “Cana.” What do you want them to do?

If you want them to meet each other on intellectual and sympathetic ground and talk about the perils of her husband OV’s rise to power, you’re in Gladiator.

If you want them to run into three of the Greek Gods on vacation in the Holy Land, you’re in Xena.

If you want them to have meaningless, emotionless sex, you’re either in Troy or still here.

So she has sex with Bloomian, despite the lack of any setup or feeling or anything. The perils of being the Token Woman.

OV and Carrots plan massacres because they are Bad Guys. Meanwhile, the noble Bloomian is beloved of all, even the Saracens, because of his amazing goodness and weird agricultural gumption and prowess in battle despite knowing only the three moves he started with. And also he’s supposed to marry the girl? I don’t know. I fell asleep.

What do you want Bloomian to do?

If you want him to accept the King’s plan to make him the next king at the expense of OV’s life, you’re in Gladiator.

If you want him to turn down the position and have Token Woman kill her husband her damn self, you’re in Xena. You go, girl.

If you’re missing all the British character actors you haven’t seen in half an hour, you’re in Troy.

If he says no because he’s trying to be “noble” and you’re stabbing yourself in the eye with popcorn kernels, you’re STILL HERE.

Say. You know what would be great? Renting Xena and Gladiator and just switching them out really fast so it’s like Borias is right there in the arena. That would be awesome.

Note: Borias really had a vague accent. It’s sort of a “make-a da pasta” thing. What country is that?

Right. So. All the British character actors are dead, which leaves Orlando Bloom to defend Jerusalem with the extras who weren’t even special enough to have died already. Thank goodness he studied at Ye Olde Weste Pointe, because he suddenly knows how to fortify a city for siege, including calibrating catapults to within ten feet of an intended distance. If there’s one thing that shoeing horses teaches you, it’s calculus.

Saladin attacks! By this point in the movie, however, you’re actively rooting for the Saracens to get their city back, and to his credit, Ridley includes a really fantastic shot of the army praying at dawn. Lovely.

But wait! After two days of siege (Troy time!), Saladin wants to discuss terms!

What do you want Bloomian to do?

If you want him to secure safe passage for the civilians of Jerusalem, you’re in Gladiator.

If you want him to figure out that Saladin is his long-lost brother, wacky television fixture Bruce Campbell, you’re in Xena.

If you want him to say something vague about the gods’ will and wander away, you’re in Troy.

If you want him to be a whiny little bitch for no reason, you’re STILL HERE.

Thankfully, Saladin wants this movie to be over as much as we do, and tells them to get out of Jerusalem. This leaves Bloomian free to go home to Token Woman, who cut her hair in an attempt to look more like It Girl Keira Knightley. Apparently it works, because Bloomian harasses her for a while and then takes her back to France, where he pauses at his wife’s grave just long enough to remind us that he has not shown one moment of grief or remorse about her death in more than two hours.

What do you want Ridley Scott to do?

If you want him to craft a delicate tale of redemption, you are a fool.

If you want him to keep drinking, you bet on the safe horse.


Genevieve is a prolific writer of speculative fiction living in New York, but you’ll never find her there because millions of people live there and Genevieve likes her privacy. Examples of her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Fantasy Magazine, Federations, and numerous other magazines and anthologies. Her first novel is forthcoming in 2011. Also? She has terrible taste in movies.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.