Dir: Ridley Scott. US.2005. 143mins.

After indulging in whatmust have almost seemed like guerilla film-making with 2003's character drama MatchstickMen, director Ridley Scott wades back into the epic breach with KingdomOf Heaven, a massive-scale historical drama sporting a reported $110mbudget. Though damaged irreparably by a sluggish first hour-plus, it remains alavish production whose scope recommends it for widescreen adventure fans even,if the pull of its dramatic orbit is overall slight.

US commercial prospects arelikely to be fair, given how it has been marketed as "from the director of Gladiator",although star Orlando Bloom is an unproven commodity as a leading man and thestory itself holds little native interest.

Rather, it is likely to faremuch better internationally, where its languid pacing and wan, almostimpressionistic arc of personal spiritual salvation will meet with moreforgiving audiences. It should see returns worldwide along the lines of lastyear's $400m-plus Troy, which grossed more than 70 per cent of its yieldoverseas. The film opens day-and-date in most territories on May 6.

Set in the late 12thcentury, between the second and third of what would be eight Holy Crusades, KingdomOf Heaven centres on Balian (Bloom), a simple French blacksmith who's lostboth his pregnant wife and (thus) his faith. Destiny and chance bring to hisstoop Godfrey of Ibelin (Liam Neeson), a travelling knight who claims to be hislong-lost biological father.

Balian accompanies Godfreyto the Holy Land and Jerusalem and eventually assumes his father's mantel.There, an uneasy peace exists between the dignified Muslim leader Saladin (avery good Ghassan Massoud) and the enlightened Christian king, Baldwin IV (anuncredited Edward Norton), who suffers from leprosy and sports a silver mask. Peaceis thanks in no small part to the measured counsel of Tiberius (Jeremy Irons),adviser to the latter.

At odds with Baldwin is Guyde Lusignan (Marton Csokas), a prince of Jerusalem itching for military engagementwith the "infidels," and his conniving co-conspirator, Reynald de Chatillon(Brendan Gleeson). More complications ensue when Balian falls for Guy's wifeSibylla (Eva Green), also Baldwin's sister.

With Baldwin's passing,fanaticism, greed, ambition and jealousy sweep up all the players. When Guyorders an unprovoked attack on a group of Muslim settlers, it brings the twogroups to the edge of war. Against this backdrop Balian decides to make hisstand for the ideal of peace, defending Jerusalem against near impossible odds.

Scott's technicalproficiency can't advance much further. Minus a few misguided slow-motionbattle sequence flourishes, he marshals an impressive army of film artisans incrafting a stunningly detailed world of yesteryear. Like Scott's previous epicsBlade Runner, Legend, 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, Gladiatorand Black Hawk Down, Kingdom Of Heaven is a film whose expansiveexecution virtually insists on widescreen viewing; cinematographer JohnMathieson's work is especially of note.

Violent throughout, thefilm's greatest success lies in its spectacular third act staging of the siegeof Jerusalem and it is here that the movie finally comes alive.

That said, for far too muchof its running time Kingdom Of Heaven never coalesces into anything moreresonant than a gorgeously re-enacted travelogue, a pop-up history book whosevery history lesson is of dubious merit.

William Monahan's screenplaynever convincingly sells Balian's spiritual turmoil, and the machinations andmotivations of supporting characters are only manifest much after the fact.

Scott's archetypal hero is agifted but essentially ordinary man or woman caught up in great events - acharacter who is forged through the fire of hardship or tragedy to take adifficult or unpopular stand and not be moved off of it. Think of Ripley in Alien,coarsened through trial, or Maximus in Gladiator, a mighty generalremade into a fighter whose rebelliousness says, "Finally, enough." In KingdomOf Heaven, while that character exists, the man is really but a boy.

Massoud, Neeson and DavidThewlis - as a character known as Hospitaler, a sort of knight-confessor - makesignificant impressions in their small work, but Green's Sibylla becomes abafflingly irreconcilable character, given ridiculously short shift.

The film, then, restssquarely on the shoulders of Bloom, and while he possesses a certain chameleoniccharm, has carries no Byronic gravitas. Kingdom Of Heaven needs a regalpresence, but its throne is empty.

Prod cos: 20th Century Fox, Inside Track 3 LLP
Worldwide dist:
20th Century Fox
Exec prods:
Branko Lustig, LisaEllzey, Terry Needham
Ridley Scott
Mark Albela, DeniseO'Dell, Henning Molfenter, Thierry Potok
William Monahan
John Mathieson
Prod des:
Arthur Max
Dody Dorn
Harry Gregson-Williams
Main cast:
Orlando Bloom, EvaGreen, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Irons, Marton Csokas, GhassanMassoud, David Thewlis, Edward Norton