- Kingdom Of Heaven
A 20th Century Fox release of a Scott Free production and a BK-Reino
del Cielo-KOH-Babelsberg Film co-production in association with Inside
Track 3 LLP. Produced by Ridley Scott. Executive producers, Branko Lustig,
Lisa Ellzey, Terry Needham. Co-producers, Mark Albela, Denise O'Dell,
Henning Molfenter, Thierry Potok. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay,
But Scott and screenwriter William Monahan have craftily solved most of the thorny problems by beginning their tale toward the end of the nearly century-long truce that followed the Crusaders' bloody conquest of Jerusalem in 1099; correctly pinning the lion's share of the blame for reigniting hostilities on a couple of rash Christian belligerents; making the Muslims look good in comparison by more thoroughly detailing Frankish deviltry and, perhaps most importantly, bestowing the most sympathetic characters with an anachronistic post-French Enlightenment humanistic attitude that, while not denying God, at least suggests a desire on their part to take an extended vacation from doing His fighting.
In this respect, pic may irritate traditionalist Christians more than it will Muslims, who can delight not only in the ending, but in the hugely noble, if one-dimensional, portrait of the legendary warrior Saladin, strikingly impersonated by Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud.
But once all the intricate historical needle-threading is said and done, it's the story that counts. First-time scribe Monahan has done quite an adroit job merging fact with fiction, shifting and adjusting certain elements to streamline and augment the drama but never betraying the subject matter in a way that remotely recalls the Hollywood approach epitomized by Cecil B. DeMille's laughably inauthentic 1935 epic "The Crusades."
There really was a Balian who led the doomed defense of Jerusalem in 1187, but he was not the ordinary bloke vaulted to lofty rank played here by Orlando Bloom. Brooding over his wife's suicide after the death of their son, this Balian is shaken from sullenness by the arrival in rural France of imposing knight Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), who informs the youth he's his father and beckons him eastward.
On the way, Godfrey gives Balian fighting lessons before an ambush truncates the blooming father-son bond. But in his limited appearance, Neeson excels, his voice carrying the authority of experience and the lines around his eyes suggesting that nothing in life is any longer foreign to him.
On his own, Balian makes his way to bustling Jerusalem, where he quickly assumes control of his esteemed father's estate and sizes up the fractious factions that control the world's most bitterly contested religious site.
Ruled by a wise Christian king, frail leper Baldwin IV (beautifully voiced by Edward Norton from behind a sculpted silver mask), the domain is further dominated by Baldwin's comely sister, Princess Sibylla (Eva Green); her snaky husband Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas), and the latter's warmongering cohort, Reynald of Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson).
Balian finds more natural allies in Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), a peace-minded and pragmatic military expert, and the Hospitaler (David Thewlis), a court counselor who has also seen enough fighting for one lifetime.
With all these colorful and intriguing characters circling around, the one in the center, Balian, looks bland by comparison. He seems uncomfortably like a reactor instead of an instigator, a consciously concocted Everyman designed for audience identification who has greatness thrust upon him.
Given that Balian is a cipher needing to be filled, a bigger personality than Bloom's would have helped. Upon arrival in Jerusalem, Balian heads straight for Calvary and spends the night meditating at the site of Christ's crucifixion, hoping but failing to feel God's grace. One never senses any urgency or anguish to Balian's spiritual dilemma in Bloom's performance, nor even the more easily expressed ambivalence in his relationship with the enticing Sibylla, who gives herself to him like a present, and later schemes to install him in Guy's place.
Narrative contains significant gaps, notably in the romance, Balian's adoption of his new home and especially in his rapid assimilation of military savvy. (Indeed, Scott is on record as saying his definitive cut of the film runs 220 minutes, a version he claims will be released on DVD.) Suddenly, after Reynald has outrageously provoked Saladin by attacking a Saracen caravan for no reason, it is Balian who warns in vain against Reynald and Guy's ludicrous decision to take on Saladin's army at the broiling Horns of Hattin, a miscalculation that made Jerusalem's fall inevitable.
Scott strikingly shows not the massacre that was Hattin (ironically the same location where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount), but only its grisly aftermath, so as to save the big action for Saladin's siege on Jerusalem. Although much may be made of would-be contemporary parallels, the filmmakers have actually gone out of their way to avoid them. The only scene that yanks the viewer into a modern mindset is Saladin's opening salvo, in which his fireballs lofted into the night sky above the walled city eerily evoke the initial U.S. nocturnal airborne attack on Baghdad.
The sights and sounds of the battle are staggering, with the enormous Saracen force bearing down on the Christian-held enclave with the help of enormous siege towers and trebuchets (giant catapults), and the vastly outnumbered Europeans holding their own with ingenious defenses that prominently include large amounts of boiling oil.
Despite the huge scale and vivid carnage, the sequence is a bit deflated by Balian's quasi-Shakespearean speech that's meant to be inspiring, but isn't. Resolution is essentially true to history.
Among the cast, vets Neeson, Irons and Thewlis come off best, along with Massoud. Green makes for a fetching princess, although the role could have been a much more complex one, torn as she is among her sovereign brother, usurper husband and appealing new lover; as it is, Green plays up her coquettish side and is allowed to smile too much.
Scott is content with one-dimensional villains, and Gleeson and Csokas indulge him with bluster, glares and dismissive put-downs that are both delicious and far too easy.
With John Mathieson behind the camera, pic looks much like "Gladiator," bathed in blues and densified whenever possible with atmospheric particles such as snowflakes, smoke, dust and shafts of light. Arthur Max's production design outdoes his efforts on the previous film, conjuring a world, particularly the amazing confluence of influences that was Jerusalem 800 years ago, never before seen nearly so elaborately or credibly onscreen. Janty Yates' diverse costume designs also contribute importantly.
With CGI work improving all the time, the mix of live and computerized elements creates numerous extraordinary canvases of virtually seamless quality. Harry Gregson-Williams' score emphasizes the uniformly solemn tone of the proceedings while mixing in such diverse sounds as traditional and liturgical songs, Arabic and world music and, most surprisingly, bits from "The Crow," "Blade II" and a piece by Jerry Goldsmith called "Valhalla."
- Prolific producers seek pop
Shingles weigh options in wake of Rudin's departure -- By MICHAEL FLEMING
In these days of studio consolidation, it's become conventional wisdom
that producing is a dying art.
Last week, one of Hollywood's most prolific producers, Scott Rudin, announced he'll shift his shingle from Paramount to Disney.
Rudin is one of a handful of prolific producers -- a group whose ranks include Joe Roth, Brian Grazer, Jerry Bruckheimer -- who for years have remaine moored at the same studios.
Last year was a turbulent one for Rudin, bringing a series of films -- "The Stepford Wives," "I Heart Huckabees," "Team America" and "The Life Aquatic" -- that fell short of box office expectations.
But coming at a time of corporate upheaval in Hollywood -- with management shifts at Paramount, Universal, MGM and Miramax -- Rudin's defection from Paramount has fueled rumors that it could set off a a domino effect, as other top producers seek greener pastures at other studios.
Some of that speculation has centered on Imagine, despite firm avowals by Grazer and Universal that their first-look deal is as stable as ever. Imagine and Universal, together since before Imagine briefly became a public company, extended their deal through 2008 long before the expiration of an existing deal. It's one of the richest pacts in the biz.
But Grazer is a good friend of Viacom co-prexy Tom Freston; he even hosted new Paramount chief Brad Grey's coronation party at his home. He also has a strong relationship with Gail Berman, thanks to the TV series "24" and "Arrested Development."
Paramount recently plucked Imagine's "The Serpent and the Eagle," a drama that Ron Howard will direct, from Universal's turnaround pile. U recently unplugged the Imagine-produced "American Gangster." U execs can't be happy that two of Imagine's biggest films -- "The Da Vinci Code" and "Fun with Dick and Jane" -- are being made for Sony.
Nonetheless, Grazer and Howard, whose "Cinderella Man" is expected to be a hit for Universal, have more leverage than ever.
Rudin's Disney landing has left some to wonder about Bruckheimer, whose production banner is Hollywood's closest thing to a brandname.
Despite his hit track record, Bruckheimer has had to struggle to get the studio to green light his blockbusters. There are rumors are that several studios, Paramount and Sony among them, would love to pry Bruckheimer away from the Mouse.
There is even is speculation about C/W partners Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, who are readying "War of the Worlds" and "Mission: Impossible 3" for release over the next two years.
Said one producer: "Tom's biggest competition for roles is Brad Pitt, so how's he going to feel when Grey, who was Brad's business partner, brings Plan B to Paramount?"
The next super-producer deal to land will be Roth, who has been renegotiating a Sony deal that's expected to be slimmer than an original pact negotiated when Sony badly needed to fill the pipeline.
Sony has the upper hand in these negotiations, thanks to numerous misses by Revolution, Roth's own decision to concentrate on directing films, and previous deal terms that gave Sony limited upside in library building.
The Revolution deal, which will likely lead to a downsizing of the company and a considerably smaller output of films, has taken much longer than anticipated. The feeling is Roth could find a home at another studio if he needed to.
Some ask whether the courtship of the super-producer is worth it. Care and feeding of these prolific suppliers is draining, beyond gross participation.
Their films get maximum P&A outlays. Their deals include "put" pictures and rich overhead outlays that continue to flow even when they make films for other studios, something that happens with frightening regularity.
Another obstacle is that poached producers spend the first two years of their new deal executing pictures developed at their previous address. Rudin won't have to do that, as he is expected to exercise a "key man" contract clause that will allow him to bring dozens of development projects with him, as long as Disney will pay Paramount's investment in them.
Since studios eye super-producers as a shortcut to DVD heaven, it seems they're desired these days more than ever.
evidenced by the courtship of Rudin. Sources said he began his Disney
talks when Paramount vetoed his budget for "Lemony Snicket,"
then wound up spending much more on a version it did in partnership
with DreamWorks. Even though the Disney move was widely rumored, both
Fox and Sony still courted him.
-- Biz bigwigs bristle over demanding auds
Panel: Consumers largely in charge -- By DAVID S. COHEN
an on-demand world, consumers are in charge, and if film, television
and videogame companies don't start giving auds what they want, they
run the risk of going the way of the record companies.
AOL chairman Jonathan Miller sounded the theme for the day when he told the conference, "There's a new player on the field, and that's the consumer" exercising greater choices."People are their own programmers," he said. "They have much more choice and expect more choice. Once they have that they never go back."
The most dire notes were sounded in the panel "Intellectual Property and the Future of the Entertainment Industry," featuring News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin, Activision chairman Robert Kotick, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton, Warner Bros. chair Barry Meyer and former Recording Industry Assn. of America chair Hilary Rosen, moderated by Forbes magazine managing editor Dennis Kneale.
In keeping with the day's theme of audience empowerment, the 90-minute discussion focused far more on peer-to-peer networks and consumer downloads than on organized piracy.
With Kneale often playing devil's advocate and Rosen warning that the industry may not benefit from suing its own customers, most of the execs argued strenuously for vigorous enforcement of intellectual property and antipiracy laws against individual consumers.
'We're more flexible'
Chernin called piracy "under any scenario the biggest issue facing Hollywood" but tried to sound a hopeful note as he compared film and television to the record industry.
"Piracy tends to thrive where the product is inconvenient and the price is out of whack. We have a much more flexible business model (than the record biz)."
But Lynton warned that like the music business, the movie biz may be forced by changing technology and audience tastes to move away from a very successful business model -- separate windows for theatrical, pay TV and homevideo -- just as the music biz had to give up selling entire CDs to consumers who want only one song.
"If the consumer is able to disaggregate the windows the same way they disaggregate the tracks on a CD, that's a serious threat to the movie business," said Lynton.
Rosen warned that while the business still has the chance to act and avoid meeting the same fate as the music biz, "I don't think it's happening."
The panelists all agreed that while there's nothing that rivals the experience of seeing a movie in a theater, there may not be a way to continue protecting theatrical windows.
And Chernin said, "If you force the industry to make a 'Sophie's choice' between theatrical and DVD, there's no doubt which way they'll go."
'Theatrical is value-added'
Still, Meyer pointed out, auds lined up for Warner's new Shanghai multiplex even though they could buy cheaper DVDs of the same pics on the street outside. "It may be that in certain territories, theatrical is the value-added product," he said.
When the topic turned to the upcoming Supreme Court decision in the Grokster case, Meyer called the peer-to-peer service "basically a fence, a receiver of stolen property," but Rosen warned that even if the court rules against Grokster it won't have any affect on how consumers behave.
"There are 300 million copies of file-sharing software in the marketplace," she said.
"The biggest mistake that the music industry made was thinking that technology will wait until we're ready," said Rosen, and she cautioned that the movie industry was risking the same mistake.
The discussion echoed themes of an earlier panel exploring the balance of power between content creators and distributors. DirecTV prexy Chase Carey, Sirius Satellite Radio CEO Mel Karmazin, Lions Gate chief exec Jon Feltheimer, Sony Pictures Entertainment prexy Yair Landau and AOL's Miller participated.
This group, too, said that piracy would force windows to change, probably within five years.
Landau said, "Where the movie business resembles the music business is that consumers are saying we want it right away. That's where piracy is pushing us, to shrink those windows."
Feltheimer said that Lions Gate correctly bet five years ago that new technologies would provide new ways to resell movies and TV shows that are long since paid for.
Still only 24 hours in day
But Karmazin told the group, "The thing that worries me the most is that there's still only 24 hours in a day, and there are still more opportunities for you to get content. If you're watching video-on-demand, that's going to cut into what you used to do."
None felt that television was likely to disappear. On the contrary, said Miller, research shows that TV viewing is actually boosted by broadband Internet as so many people go online and watch TV at the same time.
But Feltheimer said that download-to-own is the wave of the future.
"It's going to be the killer app in this space, once we find a way to do it that doesn't hurt our retailers. This is a technology that works, and it's just a matter of finding a way to use it."
Even radio is seeing an explosion of consumer choice thanks to satellite radio, noted Karmazin, adding that its ability to generate revenue from both subscriptions and advertising has put terrestrial radio at a tremendous disadvantage.
"Terrestrial will be a slow-growth business, if there's any growth at all, though it will still be a cash cow," he said.
Karmazin predicted that the terrestrial radio biz, like most slow-growth/high cash-flow businesses, will be subject to leveraged buyouts. "You'll see a lot of those companies being bought by private equity people."
Karmazin also briefly addressed the proposed Viacom split, taking a diplomatic stand against it. "I think whether those assets are split up or not is less important because they're great assets. If the idea is to tell Wall Street that you have these great assets, well, I think the markets are pretty smart. But I think Viacom is a winning company no matter which way it goes."
A morning panel moderated by Daily Variety publisher Charlie Koones focused on advertising and branding but echoed many of the same ideas. "Control has shifted from the programmer to the consumer," said Koones, asking, "How do brands stay relevant?"
In the wide-ranging discussion that followed, BBDO New York president John Osborn said that "network TV is still an important vehicle to reach the consumer, as is radio." But Roll Intl. co-chair Lynda Resnick observed that the advent of cable and other outlets has opened the door to smaller companies.
"In network TV, it took perhaps $300 million a year to make an impression," said Resnick.
But the proliferation of outlets also means that messages must be targeted and crafted much more carefully, said Osborn. "It's never been easier to blow $100 million and see no change in behavior," he said.
As the discussion of branding turned to product placement and other ways of engaging the entertainment industry, Arnell Group chairman Peter Arnell said that product placement is still viable "if it's organic and natural and feels like it works.
"I think authenticity is the new cool. You have to built it into your enterprise from the front end."
marketing officer Joe Redling predicted that, "in the next three
to five years, you're going to see an explosion in the way consumers
access media. Think TiVo times 1,000. On demand, all the time. It's
not going to be dictated to them on what night or at what time."