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History`s bunk!

by hardyshrub 

Posted: 18 May 2005
Word Count: 518
Summary: A brief review of the main cinematic contenders in the recent revival of the genre of Historical Epic and how they compare.


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Historyís Bunk

It has been five years since Ridley Scottís Oscar-winning Gladiator redefined the Historical Epic, reviving memories of the classic Spartacus and rekindling cinematic interest in the genre. Last year saw the arrival of the much-anticipated Troy and this year Ridley Scott once again dabbles with history in Kingdom of Heaven.

With an A-list cast including Brad Pitt, Peter OíToole, Brian Cox and Orlando Bloom, Troy sets out to re-tell the legendary story of the Trojan War as documented by Homerís Iliad. Whilst there is no doubting the epic scale of the film, Troy however, lacks the cinematic artistry that is so convincing in both Gladiator and now kingdom of Heaven. Eric Bana as Hector certainly stays true to Homerís sympathies as the reluctant hero trapped by the spiralling course of events, but overall the characters are difficult to engage with, being burdened with a typically over-explanatory Hollywood script and a distinct lack of pace in places. The Iliad brims with a passion that Troy fails to impart, leaving its epic aspirations unrealised.

Kingdom of Heaven sees Ridley Scott return to epic mode as he transports us back to the time of the Crusaders and their attempts to wrestle control of the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslims and each other. Just as Gladiator was set over the spectacular backdrop of ancient Rome, Kingdom of Heaven is played out across the stunning landscapes of the Holy Land of the twelfth century between the Second and Third Crusades.
The central character of Balian, played by Orlando Bloom, is transformed from humble blacksmith to noble knight when his father Baron Godfrey (Liam Neeson) persuades him to help safeguard the uneasy peace between the factions in the Holy Land. As in Gladiator, it is the untimely death of balianís wife and child that sets him on his journey of self-discovery but ultimately it is the overbearing legacy of religion that shapes his destiny.
Once again Scottís vision of the epic landscape of history holds him in good stead and the climactic siege of Jerusalem bears all the hallmarks of his considerable cinematographic prowess. Despite this, Kingdom of Heaven struggles to deliver on all counts. As both a story and a visual showpiece the film would seem to have the epic ingredients but the underlying humanist message is delivered rather heavy-handedly, leaving the dialogue in places to seem contrived. Almost as a reference to the present day Middle East, Scott leaves us in no doubt as to where the responsibility lies for the ensuing conflict.
In the central role of Balian, Orlando Bloom delivers a competent performance but lacks the compelling on-screen presence that Russell Crowe brought to the part of the tortured Maximus in Gladiator.

Both Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven chart the journey of a central character forced by violent circumstance into a quest for justice but it is the gladiatorís undulating tale of a man wronged by his peers and his personal struggle for revenge encompassing politics, social hierarchy and bloody conflict, that rings true against Kingdom of Heavenís sweeping, singular message of tolerance over religious dogma.






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