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Kingdom of Heaven’ rights its course on

Rama Gottumukkala | Thursday, April 26, 2007

“The Path to Redemption” is an apt title for the centerpiece of the four-disc director’s cut DVD of “Kingdom of Heaven.” Boasting a two-hour, 24-minute runtime, the robust documentary is a compelling and lavish look behind the scenes at one of the most intriguing Hollywood failures in recent years.

The 2005 film was supposed to be director Ridley Scott’s medieval age opus, an ode to noble knights and valiant crusades. On paper, it certainly looked the part. But somewhere along the way, the film became hopelessly lost. It was greeted by jeers from critics and apathy from the same audiences that exalted “Gladiator,” Scott’s Oscar-winning Roman epic. Budgeted at $130 million, “Heaven” was razed at the box office, ending its theatrical run with a paltry domestic gross of $47 million.

Fortunately, the story didn’t end there. In an industry where failure is rarely forgiven, the movie’s re-release as a 194-minute cut is an uncommon boon. The new additions, totaling 50 minutes, reveal a vastly different film – the version Scott always intended but never got the chance to show us.

Where the theatrical cut played like a simple-minded and bombastic rock concert, the director’s cut feels like a nuanced concerto. Aided by much stronger character development and clearer motivations, its visual majesty is now matched by a soulful message of tolerance that distances it from the vapidity of other blockbusters, a description that surely haunted Scott and his crew following the film’s theatrical ruin.

Spread over the first two discs, “Kingdom of Heaven” is granted a beautiful video transfer and a roaring soundtrack. Each pristine frame reflects cinematographer John Mathieson’s gorgeous photography, which fits a movie that is easily one of the best-looking efforts of Scott’s acclaimed career.

Once again, the special features on this DVD reaffirm Ridley Scott as one of the medium’s great enthusiasts. Like Peter Jackson, David Fincher and Robert Rodriguez, Scott is that rare filmmaker who loves to pack his DVDs with comprehensive documentaries, informative commentaries and invaluable peeks at moviemaking magic, a trend that continues here.

The copious bonus material includes cast rehearsals, storyboards, trailers, deleted scenes and three commentaries with various members of the cast and crew. The best of the trio is easily the first, featuring Scott, writer William Monahan (who won an Academy Award for “The Departed,” but was skewered for this script, his first) and star Orlando Bloom. All three are separate, but their comments are combined to form one of the most revealing and consistently entertaining tracks in recent memory.

But the crème of the crop of this release is “Path to Redemption,” a superb and insightful piece that charts the film’s progression from conception to production to release. Nearly every major member of the cast and crew takes the time to contribute reflections on the movie’s formation. There is a genuine love and affection for the project in these interviews, which adds greatly to their appeal.

There were many reasons bandied around for the theatrical demise of “Kingdom of Heaven.” Among these were nagging Fox executives who hoped to shorten the story to what they saw as a lean two-hour action-adventure romp. But in doing so they excised much of the film’s raw beauty.

Thankfully, the once-wayward “Heaven” is redeemed with this release. Using the alchemic power of the DVD medium, Scott succeeds in restoring the luster to his tarnished gem.