Saturday, March 26, 2011

MARCH MADNESS: Black Hawk Down (4) vs. Kingdom of Heaven (13)

ACTING: Kingdom has an all star cast headed by Orlando Bloom as Balian of Ibelin. He is adequate in his portrayal of the saintly blacksmith turned warrior. The supporting cast includes Jeremy Irons (bringing gravitas), Liam Neeson (dead too soon), and Brendan Gleeson (chewing scenery). Strangely, arguably the best member of the cast (Edward Norton) spends the whole movie in a mask as the leperous King of Jerusalem. Black Hawk has a cast that would become all-stars. You will see many actors before their careers exploded. No one dominates and all are very good. It is obvious they went through some type of movie boot camp to prepare for their roles. Stand-outs are Eric Bana (the cynical warrior), Tom Sizemore (reprising his SPR role), and Sam Sheppard (as the brow-furrowed general). Interestingly, Orlando Bloom appears in both movies. In Black Hawk, he plays the cherry Blackburn whose fall from a helicopter starts the string of bad events. It’s the best performance of his career.

Score at the end of the first period: Black Hawk – 9 Kingdom – 8

REALISM: Kingdom really struggles with plausibility. Balian is a blacksmith and yet with one lesson from his warrior father, he becomes a kick-ass swordsman. He is the only survivor of a shipwreck. He saves the life of a Muslim who turns out to be a noble who later returns the favor. When Saladin’s army arrives outside the dastardly Templar (Gleeson) castle, the King’s army arrives at the same time. Guy (the other villain) kills Saladin’s sister to ramp up his villainy. These are just a few examples of reality defying plot developments. I won’t mention that all the Muslims are good. Black Hawk is admirably realistic in its depiction of modern urban warfare. It is chaotic and hard to know what is going on even one block away. It is hard to hit a moving target in a combat situation, even the good guys miss a lot. The soldiers talk like soldiers and run the gamut of emotions common for units in combat. It also shows the modern command and control structure.

Half-time: Black Hawk – 18 Kingdom – 14

ACCURACY: Kingdom is actually based on a true story, but much of that story has been Hollywoodized. The inaccuracies are too numerous to mention. Here are some samples. Balian was not a blacksmith (he was an important noble) and did not hook up with Sibylla. Guy and Reynard were not Templars. Nothing happened to Saladin’s sister. Sybella was happily married to Guy. However, much of the seemingly bogus elements of the story were surprisingly close to the truth. The Battle of Hattin is handled well. The siege of Jerusalem, while not as short as depicted, was correct in that Balian was in command and did negotiate the surrender after threatening to destroy the city. The big complaint has been with the implication that there was peace between the Christians and Muslims that was shattered by Reynard and Guy. Black Hawk is based on the book by Mark Bowden. The book is highly acclaimed in its retelling of the Battle of Mogadishu. Bowden was hands on in the screenplay and the movie sticks to the book for the most part. It is about as accurate a portrayal of a battle as you can find. The Army was pleased with the final product. It accurately reflects the strategy and tactics of that mission. There are a few minor Hollywood revisions. For instance, Eversmann (Josh Hartnett) actually was evacuated before the night. Blackburn did not fall because the helicopter dodged an RPG.

Score after three periods: Black Hawk – 27 Kingdom – 21

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Both these films were directed by Ridley Scott who knows a little about giving audiences what they want. They differ greatly in how they attempt to entertain. Kingdom is more well-rounded in that it includes a romance, politics, villainy, and action. Black Hawk is a pure war movie. Not a single female speaks in the film. The action is exhilarating. It is suspenseful. It also has emotional moments (like the death of Smith). There is no romance (not counting bromance, of course). Since I am a guy, I would say Black Hawk is much more entertaining. I could see where a female might prefer Kingdom, even though it is not as good a movie.

Final score: Black Hawk Down – 36 Kingdom of Heaven - 28


  1. The final rating does come as a bit of a suprise but I am very biased. I didn't like Kingdom of Heaven, consider it to be bad and Black Hawk Down is my all-time favourite. My rating would have been much more apart.

  2. The four categories made it look closer than if I had just compared them straight up. It would have been more brutal. I almost thought of rigging it so Kingdom would win just so I could have gotten your reaction.

  3. interesting game. Same coach on both sides.
    I like both of these movies but BHD is easily the better of the two. Tighter story, more suspensful, and just better filmed overall. You have to give props to a director that can handle such widely different time periods and produce two very entertaining pictures.
    KOH is modern throwback on the old hollywood big budget historical adventure pics. Like the kind starring Charlton Heston. Khartoom maybe. Wide canvas type. I just dont find CGI is as good with that type of picture. The location filming helped alot tho. You felt like you were in the holyland. The same could be said for location in BHD. Very well filmed. Almost claustrophobic in the streets. Very realistic, intense battle scenes. The story is better realized to me simply because it depicts a much more recent event. Lots of easier research in that way.
    The biggest weakness of KOH that prevents it from being a real blockbuster is Bloom. He is good in the role, but just not BIG enuff. Scott alumni Russell Crowe is made for that role but im sure he was not available at the time. Shame there. Liam Neeson is wasted. The early "backstory" of Bloom's character is weak. The scenes in England before he leaves for the holyland just dont stack up well. I did like the growth of his character thru the picture. The whole love angle was strictly hollywood filler. But since it is meant to be an adventure picture it didnt kill it.
    I like how these two pics capture well the chaos and frequent futility/stupidity that takes place in war. I read the book of BHD years ago and Scott captured that sense right on the mark. He obviously consulted closely with the author. Not many directors bother to do that these days. In a weird way BHD reminds me of Apollo 13. Both about getting out of a self made bind in the best way you can. When you have a story based on an event that people remember and care about where someone was in harms way and salvaged it...
    I would score KOH a bit higher, but not much. Either way the director won.

  4. Good comments. I agree that Bloom was not up to the role and in fact you could argue reversing Bloom and Norton would have improved the film. Put Bloom behind a mask! Scott was wise to kill him off early in BHD, so to speak.

    If you did not know which movie came first, I think most would assume KOH was first and Scott honed his craft before making BHD. The fact that it is the opposite shows how Scott, at least when it comes to historical epics, has actually degenerated as a film maker. Proof is in his recent "Robin Hood" which is a ridiculous film and the worst of the trio. God help us on his next foray! When we look back, it will be obvious that BHD was his peak (it is better than Gladiator IMO).

    Something I find surprising is BHD did better at the box office than KOH. This is surprising because you would think KOH would appeal to a broader audience (I am talking about women here).

  5. i think the studio didnt promote KOH much when it came out. i dont recall much about it being in the theatres or commercials on tv. probably because of the "controversy" over the way muslims are depicted in the movie. that i do recall. not considered very politically correct. hell, Dont Mess with the Zohan was ten times more controversial to me. (i did watch it recently however and damn if parts of that movie arent hilarious, silly but hilarious.)
    The Bloom appeal had prob run its course by then for women. Bloom as a crusader doesnt stack up for female appeal like Bloom with elf ears or tight pirate pants.
    I didnt even bother with Scotts Robin Hood. RH is not meant to be a historical epic. It is a legend. Scott went up the wrong tree there.
    Scott and Crowe are on twin downhill trajectorys lately. Maybe if he puts Crowe in his new Alien pic...
    years ago i remember reading about schartzenager wanting to do a movie script called either Crusade or Crusader. do you think this morphed into KOH?

  6. I know Scott complained about the marketing of KOH. He wanted it to be marketed as an historical epic examining religious conflict. The studio pushed it as an action/romance. They also required substantial cuts to the length. I have not seen the original, my review is of the director's cut. The director's cut was a great improvement according to most critics. Makes me wonder how bad the original was.

    I do not believe the Muslim charcterization was negative. Literally, the only negative characters are Christians. Saladin is portrayed (accurately) as a wise and noble leader. It was actually very politically correct, perhaps too much. If anyone would be offended it would be Christians.


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