Thursday, March 31, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven contd...

Well here's another article that I think is quite necessary to have a look at before making any judgements about the movie and/or its content (opens in theatres May 6th)!

"Kingdom Of Heaven" What you need to know
Wednesday, March 16, 2005

How and why did Ridley Scott become involved with "Kingdom of Heaven?"

Scott wanted to make a film about medieval knights, whom he considered to be the "cowboys" of their time. He was fascinated by their pure, severe code that carried with it degrees of fairness, faith and chivalry. The screenwriter, William Monahan, suggested to Ridley a story about the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the reigns of Baldwin IV and Saladin.

What time period and location is covered in this historical epic?

The story opens during the Crusades, in the year 1186. It focuses on a brief interlude of truce between the second and third Crusades when Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted in a fragile peace. While the story begins in France, with a brief stop in Italy, it takes place almost entirely in Jerusalem.

Where was it filmed?

Production on "Kingdom of Heaven" began on January 12, 2004, near Huesca in northern Spain at the spectacular Loarre Castle, a mountaintop fortress dating back to the 11th century. Other treasures of Spain's architectural patrimony appearing in the film include Avila's inspiring cathedral, Segovia's Valsain Wood, Cordoba's Mezquita and the Casa de Pilotas, a replica of Pontius Pilate's Jerusalem home. Following six weeks of filming in Spain, the production moved onward to Ouarzazate and Essaouira, Morocco, which were used to recreate the Holy Land. Among the largest productions in Twentieth Century Fox history in terms of sheer scale, "Kingdom of Heaven" completed principal photography in June, 2004.

What exactly were the Crusades?

The Crusades (literally, "wars of the cross") spanned two centuries of medieval history, when European Christians mounted military expeditions to fulfill a solemn vow to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Is "Kingdom Of Heaven" based on actual historical events?

"Kingdom of Heaven" is historical fiction, using the actual events of this period as an epic canvas upon which to create a great human drama. But as in any film based on historical events, there are always pieces that must be left out, mostly for time and relevance to the story's themes. Monahan read the primary historical documents, but it was a difficult task since there obviously exist no witnesses today to describe what occurred during those years. The historical accuracy can best be described as sensitive conjecture. However, the script was praised for its accuracy by every scholar who was consulted, both Muslim and Christian, according to Twentieth Century Fox.

What historical accounts was this film based on? What historians were consulted?

Monahan was familiar with most of the primary historical documents. In researching the history, he chiefly used primary sources - for example, the accounts of William of Tyre (c.1130-1185), regarded by historians as among the greatest chroniclers of any age. He was a chancellor to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, as well as the personal tutor of Baldwin IV. Monahan also used the works of Lyon Eracles (an anonymous French chronicler), and many Muslim writers such as Imad al-Dine and Osama Ibn Munquidh, for incident, color, and perspective. The characters:

Actual historical figures or fictions?

Characters in historical fiction typically are a mixture of "real" personages, with details of their lives altered or embroidered and invented characters whose points of view give the reader or viewer a window into the period and its people, or fills in puzzling omissions in our historical record. Certain characters and their behavior were deliberately modified for story purposes, while remaining relatively faithful to their historical models.

During the early Crusades, Saladin or Salah al-Dine (Ghassan Massoud) was considered the greatest warrior and diplomat of the Muslims. Noted for his chivalrous behavior, he was respected by Christians and Muslims alike. Nearly all of the Near Eastern cities fell to Saladin and his army of Saracens, or Muslim warriors. While Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson) is a wholly invented character, he would be fairly typical of a younger son of a lord who went to the Holy Land to make his fortune. Many leaders of the early Crusades were French noblemen like Godfrey. Later, Crusaders came from many different countries. Renegade Crusader barons like Guy de Lusignan (Marton Csokas) and Reynald de Chatillon (Brendan Gleeson) attacked Arab caravans and were intent on driving out the Muslims, showing no interest in peaceful coexistence.

Religious military orders were instituted to man garrisons in the Holy Land and protect Christian pilgrims. One of these orders was known as the Knights Hospitaler and they wore a white cross. The Hospitaler (David Thewlis) who accompanies Godfrey and the other Crusaders, was one of these warrior monks, although he is a wholly invented character in the film created to balance the more fanatical Christians in the story. Another order, the Knights Templar, wore a red cross. The Knights Templar grew very powerful as soldiers, diplomat, and bankers. As the Crusades ended, the military orders made a last stand in the Holy Land.

King Baldwin IV worked to keep the peace while defending his kingdom in Jerusalem during his short lifetime; he died at age 24 from leprosy. Tiberias (Jeremy Irons), whose real name was Raymond of Tripoli, was King Baldwin's adviser. Sibylla (Eva Green) was the king's sister who had a son, King Baldwin V, said to be in delicate health and who died at the age of 6 or 7. And finally, Balian of Ibelin (Orlando Bloom), on whom the plot is hinged, needed a largely fictional treatment. The real Balian was an established lord, not a French artisan. There are key places where the tracks of the real Balian and the film Balian converge, especially near the end. The real Balian was known to have organized the defense of Jerusalem and negotiated the terms of its surrender with Saladin. - R.S

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

Well most of us know about Sir Ridley Scott's new movie to come out this summer (May 6th), an epic drama, Kingdom of Heaven. It is based around the latter half of the twelfth century and specifically focuses on the year 1187 when Jerusalem, which was at that time in crusader hands, fell to the Muslim leader Saladin. The movie has yet to be released and already there is a lot of controversy surrounding it 'cuz apparently it touches a sensitive topic and raises eyebrows within both the Christian and Muslim circles. Until the movie comes out, I will be posting some of the articles written and discussions going on to see what the fuss is all about! Lets see now, there's this interesting one by the New York Times (some of you have probably read it but oh well),

And the controversy begins...
Film on Crusades Could Become Hollywood's Next Battleground
By Sharon Waxman
Published: August 12, 2004

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 11 - With bloody images of Muslims and Westerners battling in Iraq and elsewhere on the nightly news, it may seem like odd timing to unveil a big-budget Hollywood epic depicting the ferocious fight between Christians and Muslims over Jerusalem in the Crusade of the 12th century.

But 20th Century Fox is planning a release next year for "Kingdom of Heaven," a $130 million production by the Oscar-nominated director Ridley Scott, shot in Morocco with hundreds of extras, horses and elaborate costumes. The script, by William Monahan, is based on real characters of the three-century Crusades, including Balian of Ibelin, a Crusader knight who led the defense of Jerusalem in 1187, and the Muslim leader Saladin, who defeated him.

While the studio has tried to emphasize the romance and thrilling action, some religious scholars and interfaith activists who were provided a copy of the script by The New York Times questioned the wisdom of a big Hollywood movie about an ancient religious conflict when many people believe those conflicts have been reignited in a modern context.

"My real concern would be just the concept of a movie about the Crusades, and what that means in the American discourse today," said Laila al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington. She added: "I feel like there's a lot of rhetoric, a lot of words flying around, with prominent figures talking about Islam being incompatible with Christianity and American values. This kind of movie might reinforce that theme in the discourse." Not all of the people contacted by The Times were worried about the film's effect.

The Rev. George Dennis, a Jesuit priest and a history professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, who was one of five experts provided with the script for "Kingdom of Heaven," said he was impressed by its nuance and accuracy. "Historically I found it pretty accurate," he said. "I can't think of any objections from the Christian side. And I don't think Muslims should have any objections. There's nothing offensive to anyone in there, I don't think."
But Khaled Abu el-Fadl, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies Islamic law, vehemently disagreed, calling the screenplay offensive and a replay of historic Hollywood stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims.

"I believe this movie teaches people to hate Muslims," he said. "There is a stereotype of the Muslim as constantly stupid, retarded, backward, unable to think in complex forms. It's really annoying at an intellectual level, and it really misrepresents history on many levels."
Mr. Fadl argued that the movie would reinforce negative attitudes toward Muslims in America. "In this climate how are people going to react to these images of Muslims attacking churches and tearing down the cross and mocking it?" he asked.

Aside from the movie's specifics, the subject is a fraught one. Even the word "crusade" remains loaded. When President Bush initially called the war on terror a "crusade" after the 9/11 attacks, he was criticized by some for using a term that has long had anti-Muslim overtones. Meanwhile some Islamic experts who analyzed Osama bin Laden's motives after 9/11 suggested that he was trying to cast himself as a modern-day Saladin. And Saladin's name was invoked by Saddam Hussein's government to rally Muslims against the American-led invasion of Iraq.
Mr. Scott said he was not concerned about disturbing the sensitivities of any religious group. The film "sounds like a Boy Scout ethic," he said in an interview last week, adding: "It talks about using your heart and your head, being ethical. How can you argue with that? There's no stomping on the Koran, none of that."

For a movie about holy war, "Kingdom of Heaven" has surprisingly little religious oratory, or even religious content. The only overtly religious figures are extremists: marauding Knights Templar on the Christian side and murderous Saracen knights on the Muslim side.
Balian, the hero of the film, played by the British actor Orlando Bloom, is a French blacksmith drafted reluctantly into the Crusade in the wake of his wife's suicide. Once in Jerusalem, where the world's three monotheistic religions are depicted as coexisting, he falls in love with the king's sister.

second page...

After a massacre of Muslims by the Knights Templar, Saladin, played by Ghassan Massoud, goes to war. This leader is depicted as balanced and chivalrous, at least until he orders that no quarter be given in the ransacking of Jerusalem. Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman of the Fox studio, said he did not think the film would be a source of controversy. "We're thrilled to have Ridley making this movie,'' he said. "After all, he is the master of the modern epic, and this is a story rich in scale, adventure, romance and action with a superb cast led by Orlando Bloom. From what we've seen, it will be one of the most exciting movie events of 2005."

Executives at Warner Brothers read the script and declined to share the financing of the movie with Fox, but Alan Horn, president of Warner Brothers, said the refusal had nothing to do with the topic. He said the studio had other period epics on its slate.

"I thought it was balanced, with different political views," Mr. Horn said. "It wasn't black and white, good and bad."

Nonetheless the battle scenes in the script are vast and violent. One of Hollywood's most acclaimed directors, Mr. Scott has created indelible tableaus of battle in movies like "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down."

In its many scenes of devastation, the script shows intransigence on both sides. "Will you yield the city?" the victorious Saladin asks Balian. He replies: "Before I lose it, I will burn it to the ground. Your holy places. Ours. Every last thing in Jerusalem that drives men mad." Near the end of the film the script describes the Muslim army as advancing on Jerusalem. Saladin says: "Not one alive. Not one," as the advancing soldiers cry, "Allah!"

The script reads: "As the Muslim army of thousands advances at a run, ready to kill the Christians at a single rush, Balian looks to his left in the shield wall. The Saracen knights fire a sky-blackening volley of arrows and charge, screaming 'Allah.' This is their chance; they will take Jerusalem at this rush and are not afraid of martyrdom." The Muslim army is hacked to pieces, and a crane shot reveals "Saracens tangled with Europeans inside the breech in the wall," the script says. "Hundreds of dead; thousands perhaps.''

The two university scholars who read the script did not agree on its historical accuracy. Father George said that the 12th-century Crusader state was, as shown in the film, relatively tolerant, and that Saladin did in fact order his troops to give no quarter in the fighting in Jerusalem, an order he later rescinded.

But Mr. Fadl said the Crusader state was by its nature discriminatory and oppressive of other religions. He said that the Muslim knights took the idea of granting quarter very seriously, and that the notion that Saladin would thank Balian for teaching him chivalry, as the script had it, was laughable. "Pick up any book on chivalry, it's exactly the opposite," he said. "The whole idea of knighthood and chivalry came from Muslims and was exported to Europe." He noted, as did Father George, that at the time of this Crusade, science and scholarship were far more advanced in the Islamic world than in Europe.

Of course for Hollywood, controversy isn't necessarily bad. Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" found itself at the center of a firestorm when Jewish groups, angered by his violent depiction of the Crucifixion, complained the movie was anti-Semitic. It nonetheless earned $609 million worldwide..

Various Crusade-era scripts have sparked interest on Hollywood back lots for decades, notably one that was being developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990's. Mr. Scott said he was asked to do that script and declined. "I wanted to do my own knight subject," he said, adding that he was studying the religious conflict when he and Mr. Monahan came up with the film's concept in 2002.

"I try to make movies," Mr. Scott said. "I'm not a documentarian. When you've got 300 years to choose from, this was the most interesting conflict, which was a balanced one as well."
Whether moviegoers agree remains to be seen. "I think its going to cause a firestorm of criticism and free publicity in the op-ed pages," said Christy Lohr, the coordinator of the Multifaith Ministry Education Consortium in New York, an association of 12 theological schools.

"I imagine that's part of the appeal for Hollywood," said Ms. Lohr, who read the script. "It is cynical, but I think they enjoy stirring up a hornets' nest."

I think the movie is going to be fairly balanced but there could be some discrepancies which I've tried to highlight by italicizing the paragraphs which contain the issues misrepresented. Lets hope Mr. Scott pays some attention to those concerns portrayed by Mr. Khaled Abu el-Fadl. Overall it sounds a pretty daring adventure and should be one of the best movies of 2005.