October 27, 2005

Merely Crappy

I don't know how I got assigned to write the reviews of crappy sort-of-based-on-reality-historical-with-swords movies, but that seems to be my assigned role here at bloodless. Alexander was awful beyond belief, and Troy was only ever so slightly better. In both cases, anyone involved with either movie should be killed for the public good.

In any event, I watched "Kingdom of Heaven". This wasn't completely worthless, merely crappy: within the normal range of crappy Hollywood movies. "Normally" crappy, perhaps. Unlike the first two historical/sword movies which were set a very long time ago, this one happened about 800 years ago. Much like those other pieces of shit, this one took an interesting historical event and distorted it beyond recognition in order to create better photo-ops for the main characters.

The story goes something like this (WARNING: SPOILERS - however, this is a shitty movie you shouldn't see, so don't worry about it): a young blacksmith (I forget his name. Baitan? Seitan? I'm just going to call him Legolas, 'cause that's all anyone remembers him as) is bereft, as his wife died five minutes before the movie started. Schindler shows up and says he's his Dad, and he's a big deal in Jerusalem, and Legolas should come. Legolas refuses. The local priest steals his wife's necklace while burying her, and tells Legolas that he should go because no one in the town wants him around anymore (he's the only blacksmith - I'm sure they can get along fine without him). Legolas sets the priest on fire and takes off. I guess they had a religious disagreement.

Schindler and his merry men aren't far off (heading back to Jerusalem and the Crusades), so Legolas joins them. They seem a very politically correct crowd, with lots of cultures represented (this theme comes back, so don't forget this). Schindler decides to teach Legolas how to fight (this seemed reasonable to me, as - historically - blacksmiths really didn't know how to fight, as they spent all their time learning to be blacksmiths).

It is at this point, a mere 15 minutes into the movie, that the cinematic highpoint is reached. From this point on, everything is sorta boring and alternatively stupid. However, you don't know this. You keep hoping that some actor or scene will rise back up to this level, though it never does.

The scene is this: one of the merry men points out that Legolas has a burn on his hand, and maybe shouldn't practice with the sword right now. I forget the exact line. It doesn't matter; completely irrelevant. Someone says to Legolas something along the lines of, "Hey, that's gonna hurt. Can you fight with that wound?" To which, Schindler replies: (again, paraphrasing the first part of this) "Sure, no problem:"

"I once fought two days with an arrow through my testicle."

That's a direct quote. You can't top that. Hell, the movie can't top that for the next two hours. I could have given up watching at that point (and should have), and been very happy.

So they practice fighting. Legolas (history flys off screaming), of course, proves to be pretty good with a sword. Another group of armed men show up and claim that Legolas killed a priest and must be properly punished. Schindler, Legolas, and the merry men (including a brawny James Hetfield look-alike) take dispute to this, and carve these folks up. War, of course, is serious business, which is why some of the merry men die in the fight (can't have the good guys win without loss; then it would be a silly action flick, and you couldn't get serious actors like Legolas and Schindler involved). However, the Hetfeild-twin died. I sorta liked him in a crazy-viking-berzerker way, so this was somewhat depressing. Schindler gets an arrow through his side, which kills him twenty minutes later.

Anyway, Legolas and the Wounded-But-Not-In-The-Testicle-So-Its-Not-Serious Schindler make their way to Messina ("Gateway to Jerusalem!"), at which point Schindler dies. (Either he read the rest of the script, or his check bounced. Or both.) However, before he expires he Knights Legolas and makes him promise to take care of everyone who needs taking care of. Legolas takes this very seriously, and takes off for Jerusalem. Oh, before he takes off he gets into a pissing match with "Guy de Something", who must be a bad guy, 'cause he's named "Guy" and talks with a french accent, and is an arrogant shit. As you can probably guess, this comes up again.

His boat is shipwrecked on the way. He washes ashore in a strange place near, well, Jerusalem. The only other survivor of the wreck was a horse. Unharmed. Still in a section of the boat that's whole (the only part of the boat that is whole). Still in a stall. He and the horse wander around for a while, and come across two Arabs, one of whom challenges him to a duel over the horse, for no real apparent reason. Legolas kills him, and then lets the other one go. This turns out to be relevant, 'cause the other Arab eventually shows up as one of Saladin's chief lieutenants. Why he was wandering around near Jerusalem with a blood-thirsy Arab is beyond me, and beyond this story.

Anyway, Legolas finds Jerusalem. Someone figures out that he's Schindler's son, and they make him some important official in the Kingdom of Jerusalem (or whatever they call it; again, not important). He has dinner with a bunch of important officials in the Kingdom, including Jeremy "Irons-Man". Irons turns out to be the guy in charge of running the place, since the King is a leper, and basically doesn't do much.

Now, it turns out that the leper king is historically accurate, though completely irrelevant to this movie. The fact that the king is a leper (as opposed to being weak/sickly for any number of other mundane reasons) never really enters the movie - it never drives the plot.

Now, the main source of conflict in the movie is that there are two factions in Jerusalem: the King and "Guy de FlamingAss". The King, and now we're treading off into fairyland here, is very multicultural. Anyone of any religion can worship in Jerusalem. No religion is more priviledged than any other; laws are enforced equally for all. The movie explains this as both morally good, and necessary in order to keep the numerically superior Moslem population relatively content. The alternative position, headed by "Guy de Douchebag" and his Knights Templar, is that Christians are great and right, and shouldn't listen to any non-Christians. The fly in the ointment is Saladin (again, a real historical figure). He has an army of "200,000" hanging around in Damascus. He's under pressure from his people to retake Jerusalem. He (for reasons never really explained) is seems sort of half-hearted about this (he eventually does it, but needs to be provoked before he is willing). So, there is a weak (literally dying) king holding a moderate position (multiculturalism lets everybody get along) against a hardline Christian faction ("Guy de DumbAss") that wants to provoke a war with Saladin in order to finally figure out who owns Jerusalem.

The fact that it took me so long to explain this should be some indication of how boring and idiotic this was.

Along the way, Legolas gets his own little fiefdom. The viewer's initial glimpse of this makes it look like a hot version of hell: a few trees, lots of sand and nothing else. He promptly turns this into some form of multicultural heaven, where everybody gets along, there is lots of food, Legolas finds a water table 10 feet underground (what, nobody dug down 10 feet before?) and (quite literally) turns the place green overnight (I mean literally: the next shot after finding water was a terraced oasis with plants seen in all directions). Oh, and Legolas ends up fooling around with "Guy de EvilFrenchDude"'s wife (who is also the Leper King's sister). The romantic part of this movie was idiotic (what, Legolas is a knight, full of strong morals, but finds it OK to sleep with another knight's wife?), and I won't be talking about it again. The scenes out at "Legolas's Oasis Hideaway, Bar and Casino" were, again, completely irrelevant to the movie.

So, the Leper King dies. "Guy de Wanker", by dint of being married to the new queen, gets to be king. He immediately orders his top henchman to go and attack some Muslins, in order to give Saladin a pretense to attack Jerusalem, which would give him a pretense to attack Saladin. Small, simple, question: if "Guy de DonkeyDicks" wants to attack Saladin, why does he need this complicated plot? Just get the army, and go attack Saladin (in a military sense, going to attack the guy when he doesn't know you are coming is much better than attacking the guy when he knows you are coming. I realize military tactics have improved a lot in 800 years, but even Sun Tzu knew this 2000 years ago).

So Saladin, provoked by some senseless slaughter of random Muslims, mobilizes his "200,000" man army and marches down to Jerusalem. "Guy de Loooooooser", living up to every stereotype that Hollywood ever had about bad guys, declares that Christians don't wait, that their faith will see them succeed (even though they are heavily outnumbered), and that he will go out and kick some Saladin-Ass. It turns out that his army (minus Jeremy "I Am Iron Man" and his knights, who stay behind because, well, Jeremy thought they should, even though it was a command from their king to go and fight, but I guess Knights get to pick and choose which commands they follow) actually needed water, as well as a clue, and a leader, and they mostly die off before even reaching the battlefield. Saladin pauses to pick up prisoners, and massacre a few Christians, and heads off to Jerusalem to re-take the place.

Legolas, our hero, decides the Knightly thing to do is to defend Jerusalem in order to help save the little people. He doesn't have many soldiers, as "Guy de MissingMyHead" took most of them off to die in the desert (NOTE: Supposedly, Legolas has Jeremy "Ironing Board" around with his knights, but I don't remember seeing him after he refuses to go with "Guy de WalkingDeadMan" out into the desert. I guess he cashed his paycheck - or saw the end of the script - and walked out at this point too.). So, he does a mass "elevating" ceremony, where he makes lots of knights out of a bunch of squires and random dudes. Having given them heart, his good old engineering degree (a pre-requisite for being a Mideval blacksmith) allows him to give them a brain by building a bunch of siege weapons to use against Saladin's army. Completing the "Wizard of Oz" troika, Legolas gives them all courage by making some messy multicultural speach about how they should all fight for freedom, equality and individual religious beliefs (this would be major, major heresy in the 13th Century, and the Catholics would have killed Legolas more quickly than anyone else if they had actually heard anyone say this). Thus endowed, Legolas' army fights Saladin to a standstill, and Saladin is forced to offer terms and lets all the non-Muslims leave Jersalem. Legolas (new wife/ex-queen in tow) goes back to the burned out hulk of a blacksmith shop, happy and content. Roll credits.

Some comments:

1. What the hell was the point of this? There wasn't enough sword stuff to rank up there with any of the action/adventure (Mummy, Scorpion King, etc.) movies; it wasn't "epic" enough to run with the Lord of the Rings; it wasn't religious enough to fall anywhere near Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Wanker"; and it wasn't trying to tell a real historical story/fable like Alexander and Troy (they sucked, but they were based on real things/books). This, on the other hand, was fictional. It had some historical characters, but they didn't act like history said they did. So, what was this about?

2. Hollywood will still pay tens of millions for actors, special effects, directors and locations, but not a dime for writers and, in this case, military historians. These people generally acted like complete morons. Schindler teaches Legolas to use a sword fighting technique where you start with the sword way above your head so you can schwing it down on your enemy (nice idea: the Japanese used it. However, their swords were these thin, light little things that were fast as skunk. Legolas and Schindler were using big 'ole European longswords. How long can you hold one of those things over your head?). When Schindler and the merry men are attacked by the people trying to arrest Legolas, they stand and fight (the people attacking are all armed with bows. Arrows always beat swords at a distance. Always). Legolas declares that the weak point of the wall surrounding Jerusalem is an old door that has been walled over (the doors are always the weak points in walled cities: they need to open and close, so they are always weaker and thinner than the walls. But walled over doors aren't any weaker than the walls because you can pile all sorts of shit behind the old door/new wall since no one needs to open it.). There are other examples. My point isn't that you need to be a military historian to see the flaws, but that most of these things are common sense. If you want to make a swords movie, just do a fantasy thing with magic, and then people like me won't expect it to make sense. If, however, you want to make a movie set in the Crusades, well, best I can tell the laws of physics still applied, even if they hadn't been discovered yet.

3. Where did a 13th Century blacksmith learn how to swing a sword (not part of blacksmith training), ride a horse, build siege engines, learn hydrology and agriculture, learn administration (Legolas ran a fiefdom, too), and military strategy and tactics. That was a hell of an education.

4. Why did the Queen (sister to the Leper King, wife to "Guy de ShitHead") never have to spend time with her husband? How was she able to spend what looked to be several months at Legolas' estate without all those noble/honorable knights getting their panties in a wad? Why did she shave off her hair at the end? What the hell was she doing in the movie?

5. Why did Ridley Scott direct this? Doesn't he have something better to do? Was he jealous of the other directors who made historial sword movies (Peterson did "Troy", and Stone did "Alexander")?

6. This movie was relentlessly multicultural. From the merry men of Schindler (a nice group with ethnic origins from Norway to Nigeria) to Legolas' Casino Oasis (where everyone worked together and got along like a big happy family) to the Leper King of Jerusalem (who was trying to allow any religion to operate freely within the city) to the stirring speech by Legolas at the end where he called on all his newly minted knights to fight for the freedom to worship as they saw fit. What the hell? Historically, none of this was accurate. And "inaccurate" is being nice. By the standards of the times this was heresy. And remember, heresy was worse than actual physical sin. For regular sin, you take confession and pay some money; for heresy, they kill you quick (if they killed you slow, you might have time to spread it). Again, having an historian around the set would have helped. See, Martin Luther (you know, the guy who nailed some proclimations on a door in Germany, founded Protestantism, and directly led to centuries of warfare within the Christian religion and the deaths of millions) didn't do his schism thing until the 15th century. So this movie, set in the thirteenth century, had Catholicism as the only form of Chistianity. And that meant the Pope. And that meant absolutely no multiculturalism. None. Especially where the Crusades were concerned. These "heathens" controlled the holiest places in Christendom (at least before the Christians showed up to liberate the place); there was very little quarter given and not much love lost on either side (which is why Saladin is still remembered: he acted reasonably at times, which was out of character for military leaders in that time). Thus, the prominent role of multiculturalism in the movie is both historically wrong, and strange. Why was it necessary? If you wanted to make the Christians the "good guys", just make the Muslims the "bad guys" (looting, massacres, etc.). Or was there an underlying Hollywood political imperative to avoid making Muslims look bad (the Muslims, again contrary to historical record, generally acted "civilized" in the movie; much more so than "Guy de DickWad" - in a very real sense the fight between the "moderate" Christians - Leper King and Legolas - and Saladin was one that used the "civilized" warfare rules more akin to the twentieth century (leave the civilians out of this, treat prisoners well, etc.) than the "normal" rules of warfare for the Crusades - kill everyone in sight.). What this all means is that, compared to "Troy" and "Alexander", this movie made less sense than those. Don't get me wrong: both "Troy and "Alexander" were forms of torture banned by the Geneva Convention. However, this had mostly to do with the casting, acting and writing, not the underlying stories. In fact, what made those movies so awful was that you see the germ of a decent movie under there: the story of Troy, and the intrigues of the Greek heros and Gods is an incredible legend and story. Of course it would make a great movie. The same with Alexander the Great - he conquered pretty much the known world at an incredibly early age. It's an amazing story. The Crusades? Not so much. Europe tries to take lands not theirs, and eventually doesn't succeed. In this case, there wasn't an underlying historically accurate theme, and it was left to hack hollywood screenwriters to cobble something together. Needless to say, this worked about as well as nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. So, unlike "Troy" and "Alexander", here we have acting that doesn't want to make you drive an icepick into your eye, but a story that can't sustain the (still weak) acting. Or, very long story short, it still sucked, but not in the same way as "Troy" or "Alexander". Even shorter: Don't See It.

7. Is Hollywood making any more of these crappy things? Do I have to watch any more?

In summary: watch the first twenty or so minutes, so you can see the "testicle" line, then stop watching this steaming pile of shit. It doesn't make you pull out your hair like "Troy" or make you sterile like "Alexander", but it will bore you just about to death.

Posted by baltar at October 27, 2005 09:15 AM | TrackBack | Posted to Movies


[bows to the pithy wrath of baltar]

Posted by: binky at October 27, 2005 09:51 AM | PERMALINK

So, after sitting through the extended Lord of the Rings Trilogy the last few days (hey, it's summer, sue me), I kept thinking, "who is that guy, who is that guy?!" every time they showed Galadriel's husband. At last I squinted hard and thought about how he would look without the elf-y hair, and thought, hmmm, that looks like the guy from Aeon Flux, but there's something else, something else... it's Guy de Asshole!

And yes, I know Guy de Asshole is the one alias Baltar did not tag him with in this review.

Posted by: binky at June 13, 2007 11:29 PM | PERMALINK
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