The Kingdom of Heaven is coming …

The Kingdom of Heaven is coming … April 28, 2005

Just a few Kingdom of Heaven links I’ve picked up.

1. “SIR RIDLEY SCOTT’S new blockbuster, ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ could hardly be more topical. It shows Muslims resisting Christian invaders…”

Well, the New York Times would start last Sunday’s article like that, wouldn’t they. The situation is certainly a lot more complex than that, not only historically but in Sir Ridley’s film, too, where Salah-ad-Din is quite clearly a conqueror with a string of past successes, even if he is also a conqueror who knows how to bait the more warmongering elements within Christendom.

The article continues: “Mr. Scott and his screenwriter, William Monahan, have tried to be balanced. Muslims are portrayed as bent on coexistence until Christian extremists ruin everything. And even when the Christians are defeated, the Muslims give them safe conduct to return to Europe.”

Um, this is balanced? All the extremists are Christian and all the Muslims are nice and peaceful? I think the film, to say nothing of history, is more complicated than that, though I don’t think the New York Times is.

Co-star Eva Green, who is French, is quoted as saying: “It’s not like a stupid Hollywood movie. It’s a movie with substance. It’s very clever and brave, and I hope it will wake up people in America.” To what? “To be more tolerant, more open towards the Arab people.”

Um, well, Salah-ad-Din was a Kurd, not an Arab. It’s kind of like how the bigoted vandals in Crash call the Persian character an Arab in their graffiti. Not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims. Looks like “people in America” are not the only ones who need to learn a few things about diversity.

2. Historian James Reston Jr. is still accusing the filmmakers of plagiarism, reports the Associated Press:

Reston, son of former New York Times executive editor James “Scotty” Reston, said producer Mike Medavoy optioned the rights to his book in November 2001 and weeks later sent a letter to Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott.

The Dec. 12, 2001, letter mentions Reston’s book by name and asks Scott to consider a movie based on the characters. “Think ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘A Man For All Seasons,'” Medavoy writes in the letter, which Reston provided to the AP.

Scott declined Medavoy’s pitch, but went on to make “Kingdom of Heaven.”

Reston argues that Scott and his screenwriter scuttled their previous historical epic “and miraculously the screenwriter came up with this concept based on ‘Warriors of God’ in a two-week timeframe.”

I have never seen A Man for All Seasons — though I’ve got a library copy sitting next to my VCR as I type — but I am a huge, huge fan of Lawrence of Arabia, and as it happens, there were moments in Kingdom of Heaven that did remind me of that film.

As for the timing of Medavoy’s letter, all I think any of us can say with any prudence is, Who knows? But just in case anyone wants to compare timelines, I will note that Scott says, in the New York Times story already linked:

What really interested me was something that seems to have disappeared from our vocabulary, which is the notion of grace and chivalry. Then, after I had finished “Black Hawk Down,” I met Bill Monahan to discuss another project, and I asked him if he knew anything about knights. He said the Crusades were his pet subject.

And in the roundtable interview that I attended three weeks ago, Scott said:

Don’t forget, we’d pre-decided this before the Gulf War, right on the edge of 9/11. I had already made Black Hawk Down before 9/11, in fact 9/11 occurred when I was about to put Black Hawk out. I was prepping it to go out probably in March or April, May, because of the nature of the film it was — it’s not exactly a summer movie — and then 9/11 occurred and we thought that would be shelved forever, and instead, within 48 hours, we thought it was actually quite relevant to put it out right now, and that’s how we got it out before Christmas. Whilst that was happening, I had already talked to Bill Monahan, whose pet subject is just this period. It’s about 176 years of Muslim and the Christian — Catholic, if you like — conflict. . . . I think we would have made this film, this film would have happened, with or without the Gulf War and with or without 9/11, basically.

So, putting the two Scott quotes together, it sounds like he “finished” Black Hawk Down before September 2001 (it was actually filmed between March and July 2001, says the IMDB), with plans to release it several months later; and then he approached Monahan, still before September 2001; and then Medavoy’s letter would have arrived three months later — after Scott and Monahan had already put their wheels in motion.

For whatever that’s worth.

3. Finally, Anders makes a brilliant point about Sir Ridley’s film that now seems so obvious to me, I can’t imagine why I never came across it before: “Am I the only one that thinks it’s funny that a movie about knights is being directed by a knight?”

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