Skip to main content
The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!

Taking it on faith

'Kingdom of Heaven' puts the Crusades in the multiplex

By Todd Leopold

Orlando Bloom in "Kingdom of Heaven."
Watch "Showbiz Tonight" on CNN Headline News, weekdays at 7 p.m. ET.
Eye on Entertainment
Orlando Bloom

(CNN) -- It's funny how the word "crusade" has gotten watered down over time.

Nowadays it's thrown around like a baseball in a friendly game of catch: You've got your Breast Cancer Crusade, your World Literacy Crusade, your Crusade for Children. (And yes, the Campus Crusade for Christ.) All based on the second definition in Webster's New World College Dictionary, a "vigorous, concerted action for some cause or idea."

But the real Crusades, the religious, military expeditions that ran from 1095 to the late 13th century, weren't exactly a jolly ride through Europe and the Middle East, full of success, chivalry and holy times in the name of Christianity.

Many of them were wracked with infighting, disagreements on strategy and military failure. Even participants who have since been hailed as heroes, such as Richard I of England -- Richard the Lionheart -- met with disaster; Richard, for example, was shipwrecked on the way home from the Holy Land, captured by a rival and held for ransom.

In fact, the Crusades usually fit the template of bloody, ugly and pointless.

Crusaders massacred Jews and Orthodox Christians, not to mention the Muslims who held the cities of the Middle East, and helped make an uneasy relationship between the faiths all the rockier. (Despite the Crusades' holy roots in the papacy -- the first was announced by Pope Urban II -- killing was allowed, given interpretations of various religious and theological documents.)

The Crusaders did have some of the success they hoped for, notably taking Jerusalem a couple times (though the second was more due to diplomacy than military might). And Crusaders, exposed to Islamic culture -- which included some of most notable advances of the time -- brought new thinking in art, mathematics and science back to the West, helping lead to the Renaissance.

But, in general, it was a messy and violent couple of centuries.

Ridley Scott's new movie, "Kingdom of Heaven," focuses on the late 12th-century period when Crusaders were on their way to challenge Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim leader who ranks as one of the great military leaders in history.

Eye on Entertainment charges into the fray.


"Kingdom of Heaven" is set in a period when relative peace reigned in the Middle East. The Crusaders had captured Jerusalem in 1099 and set up their own states in the area.

Then Saladin -- whose Western name is a contraction of "Salah al-Din," or "the righteousness of the faith" -- retook Jerusalem in 1187. Pope Gregory VIII, inflamed, announced another Crusade, and Richard I of England, Philip II of France and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I took leading roles.

In "Kingdom of Heaven," Orlando Bloom plays Balian of Ibelin, a humble blacksmith drawn into the Crusade by a knight who turns out to be his father, played by Liam Neeson. Upon reaching the City of David, he gets involved with a local princess (Eva Green) and ends up leading the Christians in the battle against Saladin.

If history is any guide, he doesn't have much luck.

Director Scott is acutely aware of parallels between his movie and current events. (Indeed, the word "crusade" has come up more than once since September 11, much to the chagrin of the Islamic world.)

"We keep replaying history," he told Entertainment Weekly. "We don't seem to learn s***, do we?"

But if early reviews are to be believed, Scott -- who was nominated for an Oscar for his handling of 2000's "Gladiator" -- hasn't progressed much since that critical and box-office hit. Most critics say the director has created a splendid-looking film but one that sacrifices historical depth at the expense of pretty pictures.

"Kingdom of Heaven" also stars Jeremy Irons, David Thewlis and Ghassan Massoud. The film opens Friday.

On screen

  • "Crash," which stars Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Brendan Fraser and Thandie Newton, is the first film directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis, who penned the script for "Million Dollar Baby" (and wrote this one as well). The film concerns several people who are linked by a car accident in Los Angeles, kind of like "Grand Canyon" meets "Magnolia" -- though that shorthand doesn't do justice to Haggis' shrewdly drawn characters. Opens Friday.
  • If you want to watch Paris Hilton die -- and the filmmakers are actually using that as an angle -- you'll want to see "House of Wax," an update on the early '50s 3-D classic. Not that any of the cast -- which also includes Elisha Cuthbert and Chad Michael Murray -- have ever heard of Vincent Price. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • It's Elvis! Well, it's "Elvis," played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who's supported by Randy Quaid (Col. Tom Parker), Camryn Manheim (Gladys Presley), Robert Patrick (Vernon Presley) and Rose McGowan (Ann-Margaret). Meyers has big shoes to fill -- not just Presley's, but Kurt Russell's, who gave the definitive Elvis performance in a 1979 TV movie of the same name. The miniseries airs at 9 p.m. ET Sunday and Wednesday on CBS.
  • "The Amazing Race" hits the finish line at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on CBS.
  • Sound waves

  • Weezer's new album, "Make Believe" (Geffen), comes out Tuesday.
  • "Stand Up" (RCA), the new album by the Dave Matthews Band, arrives Tuesday.
  • If you're still disappointed by Constantine Maroulis being booted off "American Idol," don't worry -- an album by his group, Pray for the Soul of Betty (which now features Maroulis' name and picture on the cover) hits stores Tuesday. The eponymous album, on Koch Records, features the soon-to-be classics "SomeOfMy******UpWorld" and "Truck Stop Sally."
  • Paging readers

  • "Everything Bad Is Good for You" (Riverhead), by Steven Johnson, already has attracted attention for an article in The New York Times Magazine in which the author noted that today's dense communications -- including more complicated TV shows -- require more versatile brainpower to keep straight. As if "Mr. Ed" were so much hooey. The book comes out Thursday.
  • Philip Caputo, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his classic Vietnam War novel "A Rumor of War," has a new book out Tuesday: "Acts of Faith" (Knopf).
  • The new Elmore Leonard novel, "The Hot Kid" (William Morrow), comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "Joan of Arcadia" may not be renewed for a third season, but you can at least catch up with the first on DVD. It comes out Tuesday.
  • Wes Anderson is getting the Criterion Collection treatment for his latest movie, "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." The DVD arrives Tuesday.

  • Story Tools
    Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
    Top Stories
    Review: 'Perfect Man' fatally flawed
    Top Stories
    CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
    Search JobsMORE OPTIONS


    International Edition
    CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
       The Web     
    Powered by
    © 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
    A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
    external link
    All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
     Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
    Add RSS headlines.