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'Kingdom of Heaven' ­ Truth in Limbo
May 9, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

These days it seems that whenever Hollywood meets history, history gets the squeeze.

Last year "King Arthur," "Troy" and "Alexander" were put through the revisionist wringer. Today it's the factually challenged movie "Kingdom of Heaven" whose historical content appears to have been schmushed.

"Kingdom of Heaven"'s director Ridley Scott recently took a cue from Cecil B. DeMille and chose the Crusades as the subject of his latest epic. This is the same fellow who brought us "Gladiator" and "Blade Runner," which makes me wonder: How did a talented filmmaker like Scott get stuck with an incoherent script like this?

It's understandable that a film dealing with the ancient battles that took place between European Christians and followers of Islam might seek to make some modern-day comparisons. But is it really necessary to stuff the screen with the kind of pseudo-humanistic claptrap that could make a knight dump his armor on eBay?

As is typical of today's Tinseltown chronicling, fiction is fused with fact, much to the chagrin of the more informed filmgoer.

The movie takes place in 1184, sometime between the Second and Third Crusade. At the top of the film the audience is introduced to a young blacksmith named Balian (played by Orlando Bloom). Balian receives a visit from Godfrey of Ibelin (played by Liam Neeson), who claims to have fathered him and is seeking forgiveness for having done so illegitimately.

After a few conversations with Godfrey, Balian switches out of his horse-shoeing duds and opts for Crusader couture instead. In a Middle Age minute, the guy transforms himself into the most formidable knight in town. He also starts stealing a page from and some guidance counseling tips from Dr. Phil.

While on his deathbed, Godfrey knights Balian and instructs him to pursue the vision of a "kingdom of heaven," where Christians, Muslims and Jews can peacefully party together. Balian eventually finds himself as a stand-in for the king of Jerusalem and in a position to surrender the city to the Muslim army. But this doesn't happen until he's killed a creepy priest, given up on organized religion, tossed his faith out the door and joined the ranks of the "can't we all just get along" crowd.

The film has a certain cinematic allure for some. If you like lots of head-splitting, side-piercing, gut-wrenching, limb-flying battling between foes, then this flick is for you. If you like a hefty dose of accuracy with your historically based entertainment, then it's not. In part, here's why.

The film depicts Muslim leader Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem, with his forces breaking through the wall of the city during the final battle. But the actual battle was outside the city in a place known as Hattin. That's why it's called the Battle of Hattin.

On another note, in order to provoke Saladin, the knights knock off his sister. The truth is she was held up but never snuffed out.

But to me, the real problem with the movie's authenticity is the way it interjects sappy messages into the story line. Exceedingly clear is who the heroes are, and likewise who the villains are. Saladin (who, in one scene, respectfully cradles a fallen cross) is portrayed as a wise, seasoned and noble leader.

In contrast, Guy de Lusignan, crony Sir Reynald, and the Knights Templar are shown as bloodthirsty, empty-headed warmongers. And as you might have predicted, the Christian clergy are cast as cowardly hypocrites who want to kill "infidels."

Many who see the "Kingdom of Heaven" may not realize that the Crusades were actually defensive in nature. Christians didn't act until the Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Western World, and the Crusaders believed that they were restoring formerly Christian territories to their rightful status.

In the film the only Christian good guys are Balian, leper-King of Jerusalem Baldwin IV and his minister Tiberius. But unlike other Christians in the flick, these folks aren't motivated by religious faith. Instead they spout a form of modernist egalitarian drivel that sounds like it was written by Dennis Kucinich.

Balian makes a dramatic speech before the final battle where he tells the assembled throng that the Muslim army, which is about to attack and kill all of them, has just as much right to rule as its Christian counterpart does. Rather than a call to arms, Balian gives his troops a call to multiculturalism. If a real medieval commander had given such a speech, he'd have been chopped into tiny little pieces.

Which is probably what should have happened to that section of the footage, along with all the other PC portions.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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