Actor Orlando Bloom, left, and director Ridley Scott confer on the set of "The Kingdom of Heaven," Scott's vision of the Crusades of the 12th century. 2005 David Appleby | Twentieth Century Fox photo.
"The Kingdom of Heaven," Ridley Scott's film about the Crusades, is getting generally positive reviews from Muslims in the United States and in Arab countries.
"It was really nice to go into a movie and feel so dignified, not feeling that you have to be ashamed or anything and feel proud of your history and your heritage," said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Council of American- Islamic Relations, after seeing the film, which opened May 7.
Laila al-Qatami of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Center in Washington also walked away happy. "[Scott] provided a fair and multifaceted portrayal of cultural and religious realities during that time," she said. "We were also quite glad that he used two Muslim actors in the movie."
In its first weekend, the movie grabbed the top domestic box office spot, earning $20 million in U.S. ticket sales, which is hardly considered a blockbuster start. In 2000, Scott's epic "Gladiator" garnered $34.8 million in its opening weekend.
The two American-Muslim organizations had expressed initial reservations about a film based on a bloody 12th-century clash of culture and religion, especially given the current political strife in the Middle East.
But Ahmed said that it was satisfying to finally see her people portrayed as something other than a one-dimensional stereotype.
Al-Qatami added that Muslim characters usually are played by American actors with dark skin, but Scott chose famed Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud to play the revered warrior Sultan Salahuddin al-Ayubi (Saladin).
Saladin, a character who is kept out of most western tales of the Crusades, was the king of Syria and Egypt who captured Jerusalem for Islam in 1187.
The film has also opened in several Arab countries, where Reuters reported that reviews have been generally positive.
"The film goes against religious fanaticism very clearly. All that goes against hatred, fanaticism and systematic opposition between those two worlds is welcome," Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, said, according to Reuters.
"The aim of the film is to heal wounds, not reopen them," Egyptian film critic Tarek al-Shenawy said.
While most Muslims seemed happy, some critics complained, even before the film's release, that it unfairly portrayed Christians.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, a Cambridge University professor and expert on the Crusades, called the film "Osama bin Laden's version of history" in an interview with Britain's Daily Telegraph.
Riley-Smith, who received a script last year, but had not seen the fi lm when he made that comment, said it falsely portrayed Muslims as sophisticated and the Christian Crusaders as barbarians.
In a news release, Ted Baehr, founder of Movieguide, a conservative Christian movie digest, said the fi lm inaccurately and unfairly blames Christian leaders for their role in the Crusades.
The Kingdom Of Heaven
Twentieth Century Fox
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: William Monahan
Starring: Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson
Running Time: 145 minutes
Rated R (strong violence and epic warfare)