I've got mixed feelings about Ridley Scott's Medieval epic Kingdom of Heaven. On the one hand, it's a great movie and I've probably watched it half a dozen times so far. On the other hand, it seems like just another Hollywood propaganda film loaded with the same old "progressive" drivel we've been hearing for decades now. In this case, the message is pretty simple: organized religion is bad; multiculturalism is good. Luckily, the movie's good enough to make it worth watching despite the propaganda.
Briefly, Kingdom of Heaven tells the story of Balian, a blacksmith in France who joins his crusader father in the Holy Land, seeking forgiveness for murdering a priest and redemption for his wife who committed suicide. Knighted by his dying father, Balian enters the service of Baldwin, the leper king of Jerusalem, and ends up defending the city from a siege by the Muslims under Saladin after Baldwin dies and the Templars start a war under the new king, the evil Guy of Lusignan.
The movie presents Catholics as greedy, scheming, hypocritical, cowardly and strategically inept war-mongers who justify their atrocities as the "will of God." Muslim leaders like Saladin, on the other hand, along with pure knights like Balian, are shown as noble, enlightened types struggling to sustain a multicultural "Kingdom of Heaven" in Jerusalem where everybody lives side by side in joyful harmony regardless of race, creed, religion, blah, blah, blah. As usual, the forces of enlightenment and tolerance are surrounded by the forces of darkness--the evil Templars in particular. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon get a very bad rap in this flick.
Now, I'm no fan of the Catholic Church and I don't know enough about the Crusades (yet) to say if any of this is historically accurate, but I really doubt if Twelfth Century Jerusalem was ruled by politically-correct liberals and it's hard to believe that Saladin was all that interested in living in peace and harmony with the Christian invaders. The not-so-hidden message in Kingdom of Heaven is basically just your standard "progressive liberalism" and New World Order multiculturalism dressed up in Medieval armor. In this sense, the movie seems completely ahistorical, a good example of Hollywood projecting its values onto the past.
Having said all that, however, I've got to admit that I really like this flick. Ridley Scott's a good director and there are moments in Kingdom of Heaven which achieve a real suspension of disbelief. Balian's suicidal cavalry charge in front of Raynald's castle; the coronation of Guy of Lusignan; the opening scenes in France; the funeral of King Baldwin, the leper: All of these scenes have a Medieval feel about them which makes Kingdom of Heaven one of the better historical movies I've seen. Ridley Scott (as usual) gets carried away with CGI effects--the armies are bigger, the siege machines more powerful than they could ever have been in real life--but the battle scenes are well done for the most part, very violent and grisly at times. You can preach tolerance all you like, but people come for the battles. Movie violence is the Twenty-First Century equivalent of the gladiatorial games and Kingdom of Heaven delivers lots of blood and action.
The movie didn't do as well as it should have when it first came out, mostly, I think, because people saw it as "pro-Muslim" or at least pushing a message of tolerance towards Muslims which ran counter to the official anti-Muslim propaganda pouring out of Washington and the mainstream media at the time. To make things worse, the theatrical release apparently cut a lot of material which developed the background and made the themes more clear. To be fair to Ridley Scott, the studios forced him to cut the original movie from 194 minutes down to two hours, so over an hour of footage is missing in the original release, which is the only version I've seen so far. In any case, it's worth checking out. Just be aware that many of the values expressed in Kingdom of Heaven have more to do with Twentieth Century Hollywood than Medieval Jerusalem.