Cinerama: Kingdom of Heaven (Part II)

Posted: September 12, 2009 in Cinerama

Kingdom of Heaven (Part II)

By Mike Derderian

It was a place of extraordinary beauty. I found myself climbing the wooden stairs of a magical cathedral that was built of a black volcanic stone. Light streamed through the cracks of the ancient wooden floor and I could see that the whole structure was floating in mid air.

The whole place oozed of piety and tranquility. An enchanting scent of something beyond my senses I strongly felt. I heard people whispering, yet I have seen none. I was looking for something that I could not understand. Why am I here? Was I dead? Well, obviously not, or you wouldn’t be reading this week’s column.

It was an ephemeral experience so what happened? Nothing, I woke up and found myself still living in an earthly kingdom. But I shall not despair for I still dream of that place where death does not exist. To me, death could be a never-ending state of mind. The pure of hearts would experience a gentle dream, where they would rejoin their loved ones, whereas, those who have hearts filled with evil would slumber in an eternal nightmare. In my dreams I’ve been to both places, however, when the man with the grim smile who holds a golden scythe arrives to my deathbed I’ll know to which place I belong.

I’ve never been to Jerusalem; but hopefully, if I’m awarded a long life on this earth, I might do so. For the time being I’ll have to traverse its soil, slopes, the holy sepulcher and the Aqsa Mosque grounds through television and imagine how it was in the times of Saladin and the crusaders as depicted in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven.

“Let him he who has no sin cast the first stone,” Jesus of Nazareth told the scribes and the Pharisees, who were eager to pelt with stones a woman, who committed the crime of adultery. Hearing his powerful words, none of them dared lift a stone against her and if that cold-hearted brother, who butchered his sister, remembered that he too had sins then the knife would have stayed in the kitchen drawer.

Critics and historians, who accuse Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven as being historically incorrect, should remember that in the end, a film is like man, it has its flaws. Anything created by man has flaws. Now, if it were a film about the Jewish holocaust no one would have dared waste ink and paper to type an article rebuking and attacking its content.

Kingdom of Heaven must have shocked everyone who believed that we Arabs are bloodthirsty fanatics. So I wander why would a renowned director as Scott create such a film. Here is wild guess: Scott was contacted and threatened by the International Islamic Front (IIF); they told him that unless he does a gazillion dollar movie about Arabs, Muslims and Saladin, plus depict the Christian crusaders as dumb, they would ban all his movies from entering Arab and Muslim countries. In two words they threatened him with financial ruin caused by the lack of distribution for his films.

Kingdom of Heaven stars Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Liam Neeson, Ghassan Massoud, David Thewlis, Alexander Siddig, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons and Edward Norton, whose character I’ll leave for you to guess.

This is how the story goes: Balian (Bloom), a blacksmith, is mourning the death of his child and wife, who committed suicide. An ignorant and greedy priest decapitates the dead body of Balian’s wife upon burial so when Balian finds out he kills the priest and he becomes a fugitive.

Earlier that day, a French nobleman Godfrey (Neeson) and his companions, who were on route to Jerusalem, paid Balian a visit. Was it fate? No, the man simply wanted to tell Balian that he was his real father and wanted him to go with him to Jerusalem and defend his future estate and its people, Ibelin.

After a very visual and strong combat scene—Ridley Scott style: Fast and gory—the film’s pace takes a slow turn. However, no sooner all characters—the good, the bad and the very enchanting and beautiful Sybella (Green)—are introduced, the film picks up in pace. Boy is it fast.

You want character development, you’ll get it; good action scenes, you’ll get it—wouldn’t say the same for the up close and personal sward fights, but then again, I don’t think that you can be picky about the person you want to have a dual with when you are surrounded by thousands of people, who are in turn trying to kill each other in a vast but crammed battleground.

The film is packed with graphic images of violence, death and decapitated heads that brilliantly transmitted the general sense a war should have. Brutal, diseased and repugnant that resulted from the atrocities probably committed by both sides.

Nevertheless, Scott’s spectacular visuals—as always—overshadowed the grim content of this film as he did in his 2000 Gladiator. Being an Arabic-speaking viewer, the funniest part in the film was in the scene when Sybella and Balian make love, for Scott choice of a go-to-sleep-medley sung in Arabic wasn’t quite in its place as was the rest of the captivating soundtrack and musical score.

Kingdom of Heaven, a non-offending film to Arabs for the first time in many years, is being attacked for depicting Muslims as pacifists. I could hear a western viewer telling the person sitting next to him in the cinema, “Arabs are wining, oh my god; aren’t they supposed to be the bad guys?”

The notion of Arabs and Muslims depicted as baddies in American films is banal and will sadly become a cliché for years to follow. It’s the latest trend; I mean Nazis, Russian communists, Vietcongs, evil generals from North Korea, no longer helm the torch of evil in films. The honor is passed on to us, and until a new contender arrives, be warned dear reader, for more Hollywood trash about Arabs will invade our screens.

Ridley Scott with this dust stirring film has certainly made an unprecedented step that will help alter the image of Arabs and we all should be proud that Arab actors like Alexander Siddig, Khaled El Nabaoui and Ghassan Massoud were part of such a noble endeavor led by a British knight.

This reminds me of a funny line from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, which is a Star Wars parody. “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb,” Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) sarcastically announces to Lone Starr (Bill Pullman). So I guess since Arabs in Scott’s film have defeated crusaders then we must be clever, but sadly evil.

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