Over the recent holidays I watched the movie “Kingdom of Heaven,” an epic film from 2005 by Director Ridley Scott. This evening we watched the bonus features in DVD 2 of the film. With a cast including Liam Neeson, Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, and Orlando Bloom, the film could hardly fail to be memorable and even remarkable.

I found the story itself of the hero, Balian (played by Orlando Bloom,) to be less compelling than other epics on a similar scale like Gladiator, Troy, or Lord of the Rings. Some of the scenes, particularly of Balian rousing and challenging the civilians remaining in Jerusalem to rise up in defense, did seem a bit cheesy at times. Yet, the character Balian is based on was a REAL person, and the defense he helped mount (and perhaps even more remarkably, the eventual negotiated surrender of the populous of Jerusalem) REALLY happened. Knowing that after watching the extended features makes a big difference for my perceptions about the actual film. The canvas of history from which this film is told and created, however, is incredibly compelling and an important era of history to understand with greater depth.

I have enjoyed viewing the extended DVD features about the history of the crusades and the making of the film even more than the film itself. After watching them, I would like to see the movie again– similar to the reaction I had several weeks ago after watching Ararat and its portrayal of the 1915 genocide of Armenians by the Turks. In the case of both films (which I would highly commend,) viewers will gain a tremendously enhanced capacity to understand and appreciate not only the film but the actual history which is portrayed by watching the extended features.

I am very glad Ridley Scott and the script writer stuck fairly well to actual historical events and people from history. As Scott says, he is a filmmaker, not a documentarian. Still, this film has great value not only from an entertainment standpoint, but also its value to help a generation envision and understand with greater depth (perhaps not achievable without a film like this) an epoch of history almost unbelievable in its brutality, zealotry, and brazen courage in the face of staggering challenges.

I remember studying the Crusades in world history classes in high school and college, but I did not remember (or ever learn) that the victorious European challengers killed every soul in Jerusalem in 1099 when the city was finally taken by force in the first crusade. The parallels to ongoing conflict in the Holy Land are compelling, and important for all of us to both consider and study with greater depth.

The “Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade” by James Jr Reston is evidently an excellent historical portrayal of some of the events dramatized in this film. Reston claimed that the storyline for this film was actually stolen from his book. This may be a film worth owning and watching multiple times– certainly I would rate it better than Troy, and I own it– so we’ll have to see if there is an opportunity to buy it for a reasonable price sometime in the future. I may (at some point, but not soon) pick up Reston’s book as well as other Crusade time-period works like Thomas Asbridge’s “The First Crusade: A New History– The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam.”

I love watching movies like this which inspire me to read and learn more, whether those are works of fiction like Lord of the Rings or actual events, like the Crusades in this case.

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