KINGDOM OF HEAVEN Ultimate Edition and ALIEN 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Reviews

     November 9, 2014

kingdom-of-heaven-ultimate-edition-blu-ray-review

20th Century Fox has released two of Ridley Scott’s best films in new special editions.  Those films are Alien and Kingdom of Heaven.  One of these editions offers supplements and commentaries never before put to Blu-ray, while the other is a repackaged version of previous editions, where the only new element are some collectables.  My review of both follows after the jump. 

alien-35th-anniversary-blu-rayAlien is the one that’s basically repackaged, as it’s simply the first disc from the Alien Anthology box set, with all of the same content of previous Blu-ray releases.  The film stars Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who – along with Tom Skerrit, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton and a cat – are on a space ship and are woken up from hypersleep to explore a crashed alien ship on a nearby planet.  They investigate, only for an alien life form to attach itself to the face of one of the crew.  The beast falls off his face and the crew member eventually wakes up, but that crew member then gives birth to an alien, which grows quickly and tries to wipe out the entire crew.

After thirty-five years, Alien can safely be called a classic, and it is easy to see how all the pieces came together on this one.  Ridley Scott, studying the works of George Lucas (who made science fiction feel lived in) and Tobe Hooper (both in Hooper’s way of killing off the cast of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and how much of the violence in that film was implied rather than shown), knew exactly how to make this movie.  Scott creates a dense, brilliant environment that he shoots brilliantly, while the script by Dan O’Bannon (which was heavily rewritten by Walter Hill and David Giler) has not only the killer alien birth set piece, but invented the “truckers in space” conceit that has been oft copied since.

Alien is such a great movie that it’s hard to imagine that anyone who loves the film wouldn’t already have the Alien Anthology set, or if they really didn’t want to own the sequels, didn’t already purchase it when it was released separately a couple years back.  But this is a great film, and if you haven’t already picked it up, this anniversary set is a definite must have.

Twentieth Century Fox’s 35th Anniversary Blu-ray for Alien comes with a digital copy, a reprint of the Alien comic book, and a collection of H.R.  Giger drawings done for the film.  The disc offers no other new content, as it’s the first disc from the Alien Anthology box set.  That disc has both the original 1979 cut (which is available in both 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio and in 4.1 Dolby surround) and the 2003 “director’s cut” (in 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio) which comes with an introduction by Ridley Scott (1 min.).  The movie also comes with the 2003 commentary, which features Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O’Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, and Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and John Hurt, along with the 1999 commentary that features Scott by himself.  The film can also be viewed in Mu-th-ur mode, which offers all kinds of tidbits and behind the scenes photographs.  The film can also be watched with two isolated score tracks, one the film’s original theatrical score, the other the not totally used original score done by Jerry Goldsmith.  There’s also seven deleted scenes (7 min.), and a deleted scenes marker for those watching the 2003 cut.

kingdom-of-heaven-ultimate-edition-blu-rayThe more exciting release is Kingdom of Heaven.  The film opened the 2005 summer season, but wasn’t received all that well in the film’s truncated theatrical cut, but discovered new life when a director’s cut solved most of the film’s problems.  The film follows Balian (Orlando Bloom), a blacksmith who discovers he is the son of Godfrey, the Baron of Ibelin (Liam Neeson).  The Baron offers him a home, which Balian initially declines, but when he kills a priest, he decides to take shelter with his father.  This leads to a fight which cripples and eventually kills Godfrey.  Balian heads to Jerusalem, where King Baldwin (Edward Norton) has been able to keep the peace for the most part with Saladin (Ghassan Massoud).  But as Balian arrives, the Templars – goaded by Guy de Lusignan (Martin Csokas) and Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleesan) – are looking to fight Saladin and his army of Muslims.  Alas, Baldwin is a leper and is near death and his passing would put Guy next in line as he’s married to the king’s sister Sibylla (Eva Green).  Balian is made a knight, and looks to grow his new home and protect the people, which means he becomes the last line of defense after Guy takes over and loses the city.

In the theatrical cut, the film feels like it’s in a sprint as it has to set up so much material that it neuters what makes the film interesting.  The theatrical cut becomes about making Balian/Bloom into an action star in the film’s big end battle, which isn’t what the film is about in the director’s cut.  In the extended version of the film, the movie gets to take its time setting up all the pieces in a film that (while rooted strongly in the facts of the era) also plays as a commentary on the then current invasion of Iraq, and how the Middle East has long been a battleground between Christians and Muslims.  There are cooler heads on both sides, but occasionally the call for blood and the desire for the moneys raised by looting leads to war.

In that director’s cut (which plays better in the Roadshow version, which couches the film in the same language as such sweeping epics as Ben-Hur and Laurence of Arabia), the politics come forward, the film becomes more of a chess match, and that’s what the film was intended to be in the first place.  The opening sequence showcases that Balian is a pawn in a game where he’s harassed by his brother (Michael Sheen) for not leaving because the brother wants his land, just as the attempt to arrest Balian is partly because the local leaders would rather that the Baron of Ibelin have no heirs.  Also added to the longer cut is Sibylla’s son, who also turns out to be a leper, and his brief reign as King.  It’s a gigantic subplot that gives Green’s character her motivation, and also enhances the film’s epic sweep.  By turning Kingdom into a summer movie a la Gladiator, it was one of the worst/most disappointing films of 2005.  Whereas the director’s cut is one of the best films of its decade.

kingdom-of-heaven-orlando-bloomWhen the film was released initially on DVD, it got a second disc of supplements, and that release was followed a year later with a four disc director’s cut.  When the film was first released on Blu-ray, only the director’s cut was included and the disc offered no supplements.  Now, finally, all the previous supplements have been put on this two disc Blu-ray release.  And there’s a lot of them.

All three cuts of the film are on the first disc, the theatrical (145 min.), the director’s cut (189 min.), and the Roadshow version (194 min.), which comes with an introduction by Ridley Scott (1 min.).  The roadshow version offers three commentaries, the first with Ridley Scott, writer William Monahan and Orlando Bloom, the second with executive producer Lisa Ellzey, visual effects Supervisor Wesley Sewell and first assistant director Adam Somner, and a third with editor Dody Dorn.  This cut also comes with a trivia track called “The Engineer’s Guide” While the theatrical cut offers the trivia track called “The Pilgrim’s Guide.” The former track is longer and offers much of the same trivia as the latter though has more details about the film, while the Pilgrim’s Guide is more historically based.

Disc two offers the motherlode of supplements, and the only complaint about it is that all of this material is in Standard definition.  That says more about when it was made than is an actual fault.  The big piece is “The Path to Redemption” (142 min.), an exhaustive and fascinating look at the making of the movie.  This is one of the best documentaries done by DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika, and he talks to everyone involved and shows many interesting details about the making of the movie.  Highly recommended.  It is given its own section on the menu page, but the disc offers viewing options, which offers a play all mode for the documentaries, featurettes and galleries.

Then most everything else is in the “Production Sequence” section.  In “Development” there are still galleries for “Tripoli Overview” (a look at the film Scott almost made with Monahan), “Early Draft Screenplay by William Monahan,” “Story Notes” and “Location Scout Gallery.” “Pre-Production” offers “Cast Rehearsals” (13 min.), “Ridleygrams” (Scott’s personal storyboards), “Colors of the Crusade (32 min.) – which looks at the costume and production design – and a costume design still gallery.  It’s followed by “Production Design Primer” (7 min.), which talks to the production designer and set decorator, then there’s a production design still gallery.

Kingdome-of-Heaven-orlando-bloomThe “Production” section offers “Creative Accuracy: The Scholars Speak” (27 min.), which examines the film’s factual accuracy, while “Unholy War: Mounting the Seige” (17 min.)  takes a look at the film’s biggest set piece.  It’s followed by a storyboard and unit photography galleries.  Then there’s “Post-Production,” which offers fifteen deleted and extended scenes (30 min.) with optional commentary by Ridley Scott and Dody Dorn.  It’s followed a “Sound Design Suite” where you can mix the film to your liking/see how the sound mix was made.  There’s a “Visual Effects Breakdown” (22 min.), which shows how the effects shots were built, then there’s a section for “Release and Director’s Cut” which offers a “Press Junket Walkthrough” (6 min,) a look at the London, New York and Tokyo World Premieres (4 min.) a “Special Shoot” and “Poster Explorations” still galleries, four trailers, 50 TV spots and “Paradise Found: Creating the Director’s Cut” (8 min.).

Finally in the “Archive” section there’s the “Interactive Production Grid” (84 min.) which gives additional snippets on the film’s making, the two TV specials “A&E Movie Real” (44 min.) and “History vs.  Hollywood” (43 min.), and the promotional featurettes “Ridley Scott – Creating Worlds” (3 min.) “Production” (2 min.) “Wardrobe” (2 min.) and “Orlando Bloom – The Adventure of a Lifetime” (2 min.).  There are enough supplements here to make for a dedicated weekend.

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