My Horse for a Kingdom

April 21, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

The summer movie season unofficially begins during the first weekend of May. That means that 2005's first warm-weather blockbuster will be Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was due to open the same weekend, but Disney blinked and moved it up a week.) Normally, any movie by Ridley Scott is cause for optimism, but there's a pervasive cloud hanging over this one. To be fair, it's not the movie's fault. It's the victim of bad timing.

One year ago, anticipation was high for Wolfgang Petersen's Troy, a lavish spectacle that was set to get the summer off to a rousing start. It tanked, and rightfully so. From its miscast star to its lackluster excecution, this was blockbuster mediocrity. Those who, like me, had been hoping for something grand and lavish, were left to lick their wounds and hope that the next epic featuring clashes between ancient armies would offer redemption. That feature was King Arthur.

Before the movie opened, rumors circulated about how unhappy director Antoine Fuqua was about the final cut - that producer Jerry Bruckheimer had taken his blood-spattered battle scenes and sanatized them for a PG-13 audience. However, although editing was among the movie's weaknesses, it's hard to believe that a more adult version could have offered much of an improvement. King Arthur's flaws went too deep. No matter how you slice and dice it, Fuqua's venture into historical epic battles was a failure. But at least we still had Oliver Stone and Alexander.

The less said about that movie, the better. If Troy was a disappointment, this was doubly so. In short, Alexander was an overlong, self-indulgent bore that made me never want to see another man on screen doing battle with a sword. Now, only six months later, we have one of the stars of Troy about to embark upon the crusades.

With such a track record, it's only natural for audiences to approach this picture with caution. In just one year, we've had three respected directors laying three eggs. Sure, Kingdom of Heaven deserves the benefit of the doubt, but it's easy to understand why there's so little anticipation about the production. Take away Troy and Alexander, and excitement would be high.

There is reason for optimism. Scott helmed Gladiator, one of the few recent successes of this sort. (I am not counting The Lord of the Rings, because, although Peter Jackson's trilogy features some amazing battle scenes, it is firmly entrenched in the realm of fantasy.) Can he remember what made Gladiator successful and avoid the pitfalls of Petersen, Fuqua, and Stone? One can only hope...