Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

What did I think of Ridley Scott's great crusade movie? Firstly, if I wanted to see the seige of Helm's Deep again, I'd watch The Two Towers. Secondly, watching people kill one another nonstop for an hour is simply boring. Thirdly, I think it's a great disservice to history to paint the Kingdom of Jerusalem as being a kind of medieval America, a place "at the end of the world" (not the center?) where people could rise and fall according to their talents - though there is the obvious parallel of both places being built by murdering the inhabitants and stealing their land.

America's Christian right objected to the movie because it painted Saladin as honourable and chivalrous while showing the crusaders as greedy and viciou or religious fanatics, and cast the Patriarch of Jerusalem in an exceedingly poor light. While not particularly wanting to defend the historical accuracy of the film (it invents an entirely fictional background for Balian of Ibelin in order to promote that view of the Holy land as America; it cuts out a historically inconvenient monarch, and pretty much invents the seige which makes up the bulk of the action), these are things that it got broadly right. Saladin was widely famed for his chivalry at the time; Reynald de Chatillon was not unrepresentative of first-generation crusaders (those who had been born there tended to take a rather different view); and Scott is if anything too generous to Heraclius - the real one walked out of Jerusalem at the end laden with gold, having looted every church in the city. But I guess those facts are inconvenient to those who want to push the simple message of "Christians good, Muslims bad" or who think that a series of religious massacres (where their side happened to be the one doing the massacring) is something that ought to be celebrated.


For a movie (ie a story told in less than 3 hours designed for visual impact, rather than extra footnoting) I think it was surprisingly accurate. So, the guy gets the girl in the end, and we ignore the real story of the day. More importanly, it tells a story of two sides driven by clerics loudly proclaiming 'God wills it' trying to fight a war that at least some in charge see for the misery it will be. I especially liked the cries of blasphemy as soon as someone suggested that because they had a bigger army, the arabs might win. Showing religious extremism, greed and ancient grudges as causes for needless death and misery, is not a bad message to get to the big screen. I want more people to see that most wars are ugly, pointless and promoted by lies.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/11/2005 09:59:00 AM

Actually, I think its more a case of Americans projecting their personal obsessions onto history, reading their local myth of being "the new Jerusalem" (and their nation's imagined qualities) back onto the old one...

As for the actual facts, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was undoubtadly feudal, and while there were definite opportunities for social advancement, they were pretty much limited to the nobility. Many landless younger sons and minor nobles climed higher on the crusade; a poor Baron could kill some Saracens and claim to be a prince or count (or in Guy of Lusignan's case, a king). But if you were a peasant (or a blacksmith), it was a different story...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/11/2005 01:45:00 PM

The production levels were pretty good. I could find few immediate issues with the clothing (Although some of the tunic styles were a bit short), architecture, gear, etc. Balian's sword was a somewhat less ornate and modernised version of an earlier blade reputed to belong to Charlemagne, but probably manufactured later. The story of course was mostly fabrication except for a few scenes (Raynald, a villain, was about the only character in the film who was both relatively unchanged from history and was quite beleivable and fun, apart from Saladin, who was fairly accurate but a bit cardboard; Raynald's death at Saladin's hand was about the only accurate scene in the film). I was quite unimpressed with what they did to both Sibylla of Jerusalem by turning her into a promiscuous angsty goth chick, especially since the actual Balian of Ibelin was married to Maria Comnena at the time.

I'm hoping against hope that now the movie industry has noticed the fact that you can source good gear, arms, weapons and costume stuff from the re-enactment industry, thus raising the visual accuracy of their films, that perhaps they may finally realise that its time they got their writers back on the game too. (Scanning through the credits I noticed a number of names familiar from european Crusader era reenactment mailing lists.)

Posted by Weekend_Viking : 5/11/2005 03:03:00 PM