Kingdom of Heaven Pre-Review

Sometimes, being a medievalist is rough work, and today is one of those days. I’m going to go see Kingdom of Heaven, not because I want to, but because The Man will take away my medievalist license if I don’t. Since They already revoked my poetic license, I can’t afford that.

I’ve already read the reviews, and the reviews are altogether not as pretty as Orlando Bloom allegedly is. (Personally, I don’t see the appeal, but then I’m not a thirteen year old girl.*) Most of the critics’ problems with the movie fall into the ‘it’s not historically accurate enough’ category, which, as a medievalist, I’m supposed to agree with. I did start a blog to nitpick media, after all, and a movie is a medium.

Surely it’ll be wrong. Any movie based on a historical event is going to be fundamentally wrong–because history is complicated and movies are not, and movies have themes and history doesn’t. The Japanese didn’t attack Pearl Harbor in order to demonstrate man’s inhumanity to man, or that a ragtag band of misfits really can make a difference in this world, or that true love can last even in the face of a world gone mad. But you could make pretty good movies based on those themes that happen to take place in and around 1941.

I hear Ridley Scott’s theme is that religious tolerance is the solution to conflicts of religious ideals, which isn’t much of a medieval theme (the work of Dr. Maria Rosa Menocal notwithstanding), but since this movie wasn’t made for the court of a medieval monarch, it’s OK that it’s not going to be thematically medieval. But it is a pretty crap theme, medieval or not, because so often religious conflicts are on areas where there can’t be any meaningful compromise. The medieval conflict over control of Jerusalem is the perfect opportunity to explore that theme, but from what I hear Ridley Scott isn’t interested in that. I can stop saying ‘I hear’ once I see the film, in T-minus 2 hours.

I’m less interested in the authenticity question than in the plagiarism question, anyway. James Reston, Jr. is threatening prosecution, because he says the movie is basically a precis of the first 100 pages of his 2001 book Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade. I own the book but have never read it, and usually I’m skeptical about such claims. But in this case, without having read the book or seen the movie, I’m inclined to believe the guy. If he’d said the movie was a ripoff of the entire book, I wouldn’t believe him, but 100 pages I can believe. No one in Hollywood reads more than 100 pages into a book.

From the table of contents, it appears that the second chapter of his book is called “The Kingdom of Heaven,” but I hope his suit has more to it than that. And I hope Reston paid royalties to God, or at least to Matthew, for his own use of the phrase.

*As a point of grammar, I have no clue where to put the hyphen in that phrase. If I say thirteen-year old girl, am I describing someone who has been an old girl for thirteen years?

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