Tag: Christ

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Kingdom of Heaven

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A cynic is likely to look at the release of the Director’s Cut of a movie, scoff openly and accuse the studio or the director of trying to milk a few additional coins out of the movie regardless of its overall merit. And really, I can’t blame them. I like most sane people fear the prospect of an In The Name Of The King: Uwe Boll’s Vision Extended Edition hitting Wal*Mart shelves because John Q. Buynlarge will see Jason Statham on the cover and think it’s going to be Crank with swords and dragons. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, a little thing dubbed executive meddling takes a director’s vision for a film, carves it up from a delicious roast into processed lunch meat and passes it off to the unwashed masses. That’s what happened to Kingdom of Heaven. Having seen both versions, I can understand why Ridley Scott wanted to get his cut into our hands. It completely and totally changes the movie.

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The plot is relatively unchanged. The year is 1184 and a young French man named Balian has recently lost his wife and child. A crusader appears at his smithy and claims to be Balian’s birth father, offering to take him to Jerusalem to leave his sorrow behind and find redemption for his sins. The journey is a perilous one, but Balian survives to become baron of Ibelin and a prominent member of Jerusalem’s nobility. An ill-advised war erupts between the Christians who hold the city and the Muslims under the command of Saladin, with Balian caught in the middle.

This being a Ridley Scott film, you can expect some liberties being taken with history and its figures. Some characters are composites of historical figures and some events turn out a bit differently than they actually did. However, this is definitely a different film from Gladiator in that Balian doesn’t challenge Saladin to single combat or anything like that. The events happen in the right order at the right time and are mostly unchanged despite the fictionalization. Also being a Ridley Scott film, there’s plenty of enjoyment for the eyeballs in terms of scenery, costuming and brutal swordplay. While Kingdom of Heaven follows the traditions of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down in humanizing grand events by giving us the point of view of a few key individuals, it breaks from Scott’s previous work in the message it’s delivering. And this message is etched into the bottom of the anvils dropped throughout the movie.

Courtesy Scott Free Films
“Our God can kick their god’s ass!”
“Um… they’re the same god, sir…”
“Blasphemy! Our God will prevail! GOD WILLS IT!”
*facepalm*

The protagonists who are pious have a significantly modern and humanistic stance on their faith while the bad guys mostly use religion as an excuse to wage war and earn booty. The rallying cry of “GOD WILLS IT!” is used on both sides of the conflict. Clearly, there’s a lesson on tolerance to be learned here, one that works quite well on the individual level but is harder to spread to a large group. There’s a scene towards the end where Saladin, entering a temple to pray, comes across a golden crucifix that was knocked the ground. He very carefully and respectfully picks it up and puts it back where it belongs. From what I understand, this scene was met with cheers and applause in Middle Eastern theaters. So much for all Muslims hating the West.

As much truth as there is in the actions and events we see, the movie isn’t perfect. It runs longer than Gladiator, especially in the Director’s Cut, but you might not necessarily notice… I’ll come back to that. Balian can come off at times as something of a Mary Sue, being that he’s a blacksmith and a swordsman and a seige-crafter and a man of virtue and looks like Orlando Bloom. That doesn’t make the mass knighting in Jerusalem (another real-life event) any less awesome. Speaking of which, some history buffs may not be able to accept the depiction of events, or the lack of detail given on one of the biggest battles of the Crusades. These are minor flaws, in my opinion, and they apply to both the theatrical release and the Director’s Cut of the movie.

Courtesy Scott Free Films
Admit it. You wish Liam Neeson was your dad, too.

The original release, which I saw a few years ago, felt disjointed and badly paced. While we get a great deal of detail on Balian, his father, Saladin, Guy de Lusignan and King Baldwin IV (Edward Norton behind a very stylish mask),one of the key players, Sibylla, is given very little screen time and characterization. It’s like she’s introduced, gets into Balian’s life and then is swept aside in favor of fluttering banners and the siege of Jerusalem. Her role in the events that unfold in the Holy Land is rendered nearly to non-existence. I never thought it was bad, per se, but I definitely ranked it below Gladiator.

In the Director’s Cut, Sibylla’s role is expanded and deepened, and her son, which wasn’t even mentioned in the theatrical release, also has a pretty significant part to play in the plot. Balian feels a bit more real and less of a Mary Sue, there’s some good payoff in his relationship with Guy, and everything I liked about my first viewing – the scenery, the shot composition, the brutal realistic fights and the message of tolerance in the face of a holy war – remained intact, if it wasn’t enhanced. This is no cash-grab. This is no pandering re-release. This is an entirely different movie, and it’s one of Ridley Scott’s best. Put the Director’s Cut of Kingdom of Heaven on your Netflix queue for any one of the following reasons: It’s a period drama, a tale of adventure, an interesting romance and climaxes in a battle that feels taken right out of the Pelennor Fields in Return of the King. It feels shorter than its three hour running time and it’s worth every minute.

Except for that Overture and Entr’acte bits at the beginning of each disk. I really didn’t like the idea of Saladin suddenly breaking into song.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Book Review: Lamb

The Gospels in most standard Bibles – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – talk a great deal about the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But there are about thirty years of his life missing from those narratives. A question asked by many (including myself) is: what happened during those thirty years? How did they help shape the Son of God’s ministry? Christopher Moore, an author and humorist I’d rank with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, attempts to answer that question with Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Courtesy Christopher Moore's publisher

Levi bar Adelphus, who is called Biff, is raised from the dead by the archangel Raziel to write a new Gospel. Kept under house arrest – or rather hotel arrest, as they’re staying at a Hyatt in St. Louis – until he finishes, Biff sets his mind on the task of recounting his journeys with his best friend, Yeshua bar Jehovah of Nazareth. Josh & Biff both work for Biff’s father as boys, and take turns courting the irrepressible Mary of Magdala – Maggie, for short. When an angel appears to Josh and tells him he needs to find his destiny, the two embark on a journey across the continent in search of answers.

In addition to making an attempt at shedding light on one of the most influential men in history, Lamb also takes a fascinating look at some of the other faiths and philosophies in the world, such as the teachings of Confucius, the tenants of Buddhism and some of Hinduism’s darker sides. There are a pile of references to everything from the world being round to evolution, and a great deal of it is done with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I don’t know if I’ve ever even heard of an elephant doing yoga before I read this book.

Yoga Elephant

This is a very funny book. If you’re reading it in public, especially in a library or a study hall, you are very likely to disturb others. I lost track of the number of times I burst out laughing reading it. As I said, Christopher Moore’s work is of a high caliber of satire and humor. This was my first time reading one of his books, and I know I’ll be reading more after this. I also know I’ll be reading Lamb again because, as a Christian, I’ll admit I got a great deal out of it.

I know there are people out there who consider any reference to Christ in literature outside of the Bible to be blasphemous or false or something like that. They might think that portraying Him in any way other than fearful reverence dilutes the power of His message. Christopher Moore proves thoroughly and completely that this is not the case. The notion is that a divine and omnipotent intelligence alien to our own responsible for the creation of the universe incarnated as a normal human child to experience the range and depth of the human experience without the bias of an omniscient point of view. Lamb shows the confusion, determination, delight and humanity of Joshua, treating him with respect throughout the work. His desire for understanding and compassion is balanced very well against Biff, who acts as a sarcastic and realist foil for the Messiah. It could be said that Biff shows us what it’s really like to have a “personal relationship” with Christ, in that sometimes Biff gets smacked a bit hard, and sometimes Biff yells at Josh for one reason or another. It’s a friendship, a very deep and human bond, and I think this review is going a bit more serious than I intended so here’s a picture of a bunny.

Bunny!

Apparently Josh liked bunnies. Anyway, Lamb is a great book, on many levels. It’s funny, interesting, powerful and tender. It never disrespects its source material, has a lot of good research behind it and just tries to answer a few questions that might nag anybody who looks on the life of Christ with their brain engaged. Questions like “What was Jesus like as a young man?” and “What if Jesus knew kung fu?”

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