Heroes of the Zeroes: King Arthur: Director’s Cut / Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut
Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009. Today’s entry counts as two films.
“King Arthur: Director’s Cut” / “Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut”
2004 / 2005
Once the exclusive domain of clout-carrying filmmakers, director’s cuts exploded in the Zeroes as DVDs erased the need to add another chunky VHS tape.
Unsurprisingly, the novelty became the expectation, with directors addressing what will be on the DVD before a movie even hits theaters. Even the public now knows such cuts often are more marketing ploy than artistic vision. Not even Judd Apatow’s mom needed 153 minutes of “Funny People.”
Whether by design or chance, though, they can occasionally shape middling movies into something of substance — as with 2004’s “King Arthur” and 2005’s “Kingdom of Heaven,” serious swordplay films that achieved more epic sweep on a 50-inch TV than they ever could on a 50-foot screen.
Director Antoine Fuqua disavowed the re-cut “King Arthur” as a bastard promotional product. Fuqua can poo-poo if he must, but it easily represents a film to which he can more proudly attach his name.
Theatrically, this story-before-the-story take on the Arthurian legend felt like a competent TV pilot pruned for cable, with pandering pauses for the umpteenth “Braveheart” troop-rallying speech and a hawk that’s like a Round Table mascot.
Concessions remain, and this “Arthur” still doesn’t remedy Keira Knightley’s impractical, if sexy, midriff-baring battle garb. But it does achieve gnarly chaos — pounding war drums with arrows to eyes, axes to faces and uppercuts with swords. Meanwhile, the cast, characters and discourse get more breathing room.
Akin to Michael Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Arthur” now tells a tale of nasty, brutish life that is nasty and brutish, with battlefield vendettas worth getting stoked for (between Clive Owen’s Arthur and Stellan Skarsgard’s Cerdic, resembling a sadistic Captain Caveman).
Here, Arthur gets off when his name is uttered in fearful reverence — bolstering the idea that he, too, will prove susceptible to spoils of victory.
Unfortunately, Ridley Scott’s sanctioned re-edit of “Kingdom of Heaven” can’t create such complexities for its central figure. As a French blacksmith who finds destiny, treason, despair and salvation in Jerusalem during the 12th-century Crusades, Orlando Bloom still looks like a leading man, not a man who leads.
It does, however, restore, the juicy mix of dramatic excitement and political rhetoric of “Gladiator” that Scott sought to replicate.
Despite expertly crafted warfare scenes and ethereal beauty, “Heaven’s” theatrical version flirted with tedium, unevenly careening from battle with titillating intent to pleas for recognizing its ideological futility. Scott had no problem with similar ideas in “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down,” but those weren’t made for notoriously meddling 20th Century Fox.
Balking at a 194-minute cut, Fox mandated a whittling to 145 minutes, a version Scott allegedly called an “action-movie trailer for the real film.” Scott’s cut is busier but better for it.
No longer a paint-by-numbers epic that employs stunning colors, “Heaven” now has weightier revelations, betrayals, customs, duels and machinations as well as, essentially, the harsh context that interested Scott to start with: Men of many religions have long justified acts their gods would never condone and still do so.