After being slammed for his "spectacularly empty" Crusades epic Kingdom Of Heaven, Ridley Scott hits back with The Director's Cut. And it's not just a patch-up job. An added 45 minutes restores the depth and background drama vital to empathising with blacksmith-turned-soldier Balian. Orlando Bloom still struggles under the weight of the role (chainmail amour notwithstanding), but even so, this revised cut deserves a place among Scott's most accomplished works.
The Path To Redemption
On the fourth disc of this bumper edition, Paradise Found hears from editor Dody Dorn on taking this film from a simple "sword 'n' sandals action adventure" to a "sophisticated historical epic". She had first dibs on the unused material and brought her ideas to Scott who talks about his original vision in a new commentary with writer William Monahan and Orlando Bloom. Dorn gets a separate track, as do the film's producer, visual effects supervisor and 1st assistant director. After a first edition with no commentaries at all, suddenly everyone is queuing to get to the mic. "Thank God for DVD!" proclaims Scott, noting moviegoers reluctance to sit for three hours in a cinema. Bloom expresses his satisfaction with a more rounded portrayal of Balian that affords "more justification for everything he does". Of course Scott also addresses the "uneasy task" of dramatising the Christian-Muslim conflict in today's volatile climate.
The Production Grid available on the original DVD release isn't utilised here, but much of that footage is spread among a series of featurettes tracking the project from development to release. The story of inception is told in Good Intentions and puts across Scott's close collaboration with Monahan. This is complemented by an early draft of the script and Scott's story notes. Faith And Courage introduces the pre-production section dealing with research into the period, storyboarding as well as separate featurettes on costumes and production design. These are fairly detailed, investigating matters from the building of Jerusalem to Bloom's medieval underwear! But the real highlight is a rare snoop into the rehearsal room. Bloom, Scott and Liam Neeson gather around a table to work through the dynamics of a scene.
Into The Light
Moving into the production stages, director of photography John Mathieson talks about shooting the Dark Ages (apparently a very "dark, dark, dark place") in the featurette The Pilgrimage Begins. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage between cast and crew interviews and then a bunch of pernickety college professors pick through the inaccuracies in The Scholars Speak. The movie circus moves from Spain to Morocco on disc four where the half-hour featurette Into The Promised Land chronicles the bulk of the shoot. Scott explains that the King of Morocco insisted on supplying him with four bodyguards in case the locals took violent exception to the subject of the film. "I don't think I really needed it," says Scott. But he could've used a little help from 'upstairs' as frequent sandstorms threatened to blow away his set and forced Bloom to comprise his heartthrob image by wearing goggles... Unholy War chronicles all the military style planning that went into staging the ambitious battle scenes.
Scott admits to getting "carried away" by sumptuous visuals in a section of 18 deleted/extended scenes. Among the casualties were a beautifully laid table for a banquet, arresting images of corpses dusted by sand and a rape scene that the director felt was "too much" in a story that was "very difficult to keep a rein on [in terms of] the atrocity and violence of the period".
The post-production menu also hears from Scott and Dorn on the art of editing and we see them at work together in the 37-minute documentary The Burning Bush. There is an equally in-depth investigation into sound design with featurettes on dialogue replacement, foley work (people walking in trays of gravel) and the final mix. Visual effects are deconstructed in four featurettes that see a man set on fire and test footage of medieval armaments, eg giant wooden catapults.
In the last section, Sins And Absolution reflects on the themes and intentions of the film before the hoopla surrounding the release. A walkthrough for journalists affords a closer look at props and costumes and there's footage from the red carpet too at premieres in London, New York and Tokyo. This DVD package covers all angles of this epic undertaking, but one burning question remains: Why did someone as powerful as Ridley Scott concede to gutting his work in the first place? Whatever the answer, at least we can say he's successfully risen this film from the grave.