Friday, May 06, 2005

An Epic with a good message!

One of the reasons to go to the movies and pay about 8/9 euros/dollars is to see a genre of entertainment that can only be rendered on a big screen and that would be spoiled on your TV or computer screen and Ridley Scott’s latest picture clearly delivers that promise. Kingdom of Heaven is in my opinion a good reason to believe that movie theaters will always be special places, and that Internet downloading will never be a threat for such spectacles.
Sir Ridley Scott (now himself a knight, mind you) is definitely the master of the modern epic movie. Many other directors have tried and failed (Think of "Troy" or "Alexander"). This time the story is about the Crusades - a very touchy subject in our post-9/11 world and much to my surprise it succeeds in conveying a much needed message of peace.
The story takes place during the few years of peace between the Frankish King Baldwin of Jerusalem and Saladin as the truce between the two leaders is constantly under threat by conspiracies within the kingdom, and will eventually collapse.
Surely enough, one can easily argue that it is precisely anachronical in many ways - just about everything and every character is open to historical interpretation. For instance, very little is known of the main character, Balian, but it seems fairly certain he was a lord, not a blacksmith, and the historical King Baldwin died a year before the film's story begins. I think I remember hearing the characters also speak of ‘meters’ (to be confirmed) although the metric system would not be invented for another 600 years.
One could also argue that the story conveys a very 21st century message in not-so-subtle way:
that lost faith can be regained, that nations can be joined, that leaders can set an example of respecting the God worshipped by their political opponents instead of using their own deities to justify slaughter and imperialism and that faith is different from the business of religion.
Scott stresses that he was creating a film story based on history, not a documentary. Kingdom of Heaven uses historical events as a canvas on which to paint a rich human drama.
"We've chosen a point in history in which we see a state of peace, which we don't seem to be able to attain today," he notes.
On thing that makes me relish the message is that it has upset both Christian and Muslim extremists, as the BBC pointed out: .
Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl, professor of Islamic law at the University of California, went as far as saying it was bound to provoke hate crimes.
At the other end of the spectrum, Cambridge academic Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith dubbed it "Osama Bin Laden's version of history" and said it "will fuel Islamic fundamentalists".
Those reactions are good signs that the movie offers a good challenge to religious extremism and I think that’s great, whether or not the story has any resemblance with reality. After all, who cares?!
"Religious difference, right now, is causing a great lack of understanding, so I felt it was important to show that not all Muslims are bad, and that not everyone in the West is good," Scott said.
In any case, for those who are just looking for mere entertainment, Kingdom of Heaven will give them just that - a great human drama with visual artistry, very much in the vein of Gladiator.

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