Jul 16, 2011

DVD Review: The Kingdom II [18]

This review is by Contributing editor and E-Film Blog head honcho Michael Ewins

As an example of what to expect, The Kingdom II has a scene where Udo Kier, playing a deformed baby (easily approaching 10-ft, his elongated arms and legs grotesquely juxtapose with his bulging torso) attempts to strangle his real-life previous self. I should make things clearer: this previous Kier is actually a spirit, a reincarnation of Åge Krüger (I can't say who he is, it'll spoil Series One), who later sprouts devil horns. Is he Satan? Who knows, but hopefully I've painted a picture of The Kingdom II which fairly represents how utterly off-the-boil it is. Yes, Lars von Trier's cult series has gone completely mad, and turns out to be all the better for it...

There's a markedly different tone to The Kingdom II which fans of the first series might find disappointing. Series One was a full-on ghost story, dedicated to the eerie and occult, and it took time to build up an atmosphere of dread. It was basically four hours of character development, and I actually found the experience quite depressing. But those who found the first series overly sincere and boring (which, in fairness, will be many) will find a lot to embrace in Kingdom II, which develops the subtle streak of dark humour present in Series One and brings it to the forefront; indeed, against all expectations, Series Two is hilarious.

It's hard to talk about this change in tone without ruining any of the surprises, of which there are many, so let me give you some sample dialogue: "their pubic hair was dramatic", and, "I desire to become a duck, only a duck, nothing but a duck." Yes, and those are two of the saner moments, as we also have Dr. Moesgaard (Holger Juul Hansen) joining an alternative psychotherapy group hiding in The Kingdom's basement, whose leader seems to be as mad as anyone else. Hansen is hysterical in the part, kind of like the Danish Leslie Nielsen, dryly reacting to all the silliness occurring around him, seemingly a normal man suffering a deadpan breakdown in the midst of supernatural insanity.

Ernst-Hugo Järegård also returns as Dr. Helmer, still desperately trying to recover the information of the Mona case and also dealing with Hook's (Søren Pilmark) zombification, which leads to all sorts of comic evil (this isn't a spoiler by the way, it happens very early on). His stone-faced frustration and blunt hatred is still dramatically complex and oddly funny, and certainly in this series his character is played more for laughs, put into increasingly baffling situations, and his final hours - involving a mad-dash attempt to cover his tracks once and for all - is a real treat. I can't emphasize enough how welcome the humour is here; it also helps pick up the pace, which is a good thing for this terminally protracted series.

The Kingdom II feels much more confident than its predecessor and its audacity, while sometimes infuriating, makes for compellingly strange viewing. von Trier's tongue is firmer in cheek than ever, turning up as he does for a speech at each episode's end to slyly dig at the audience's expectations - at the end of the third episode he turns up holding a liver, and I'm again allowed to question how seriously anyone is taking the events of The Kingdom Hospital, which seems to be falling (literally) into the bowels of Hell itself.

A third series of The Kingdom was planned but sadly Järegård passed away in 1998 before production could begin. von Trier subsequently pursued his film career and during that time Kirsten Rolffes (who played Mrs. Drusse) and Morten Rotne Leffers (who played the male Down's Syndrome dishwasher) have also died, making the possibility of a third series now, fourteen years on, almost certainly impossible. It's a shame too, because the series' cliffhanger is one of its funniest and most thrilling moments, and a pure example of von Trier's individual genius, bound to antagonize but never to be forgotten...

The Disc/Extras
I discussed the muddy, sepia-inflected aesthetic in my Series One review, and that's back here, so it's hard to really subjectively comment on the transfer, which perfectly translates how von Trier and co. wanted the series to look, even if it that does mean it’s quite ugly. The visuals match the tone of the series perfectly though, and I know the aesthetic won't be for everyone, but the series has been handled with care, and it looks exactly how it should.

Extras are pretty solid actually, and about as quirky as you'd expect from The Kingdom. There's selected scene commentary, which is always fun, but most impressive are the featurettes, including your basic Making Of, 'In Lars von Trier's Kingdom', but most enjoyable is a 52-minute documentary called 'Tranceformer - A Portrait Of Lars von Trier', which even has the director providing commentary on his earliest experimental films, made when he was 10-years-old. A solid package.

If you'd like to buy the complete boxset of Series 1 and 2 of The Kingdom, and help 24FPS out at the same time, please use the link below. Thanks.

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