Lars von Trier's Kingdom: A Complicated History and Definitive Editions

Oh, boy. If you weren't collecting DVDs back in the early 2000s, you missed a lot of headache and over complication. Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (or Riget, originally) was and is one of the greatest, craziest television mini-series ever produced. It was released on a ton of different DVD editions in a ton of different countries, and they all had different things wrong with them, with each release fixing one or two issues, sometimes introducing another, and slowly inching our way to a respectable home edition. Forget double-dipping, we were quintuple-dipping! But we finally got there in the end.
There's really two Kingdoms, Kingdom I and Kingdom II, a trilogy that was never finished... due in large part to the passing of lead actor Ernst-Hugo Jaregard. The Kingdom was full of wild and wonderful characterizations, but Jaregard still managed to stand out as the greatest performance. But even without a perfectly satisfactory conclusion, The Kingdom is a hell of a ride. The "kingdom" of this story is a high-end Denmark hospital, which is not only haunted but staffed with such a colorful cast of characters, they manage to make the ghosts look pale by comparison. Captivating and endlessly entertaining, each Kingdom consisted of four, hour-long episodes... mostly.
Occasionally, the series was broken up into five episodes, depending on what country you ordered this from. And that's just one of the many screwy quirks that made the various DVD editions as almost as eccentric as the show itself. Unfortunately, I sold off a lot of my older copies as I upgraded them, so I can't present the ultimate library screenshot comparison. But it's really not that important, because so many of the older discs were so flawed and without lasting, redeeming qualities (meaning unique extras or something), there's really no reason to go back to them. Still, I did own them at one point, so I can briefly run down the deals for some of the important .

The first set of DVDs came from China. They were NTSC and had English subtitles, so they were the original go-to DVDs. Unfortunately, the subtitles were terrible. They had constant spelling errors, mis-translations, and would sometimes just go away, leaving entire monologues untranslated. They also cut two of Trier's closing monologues, where he would speak directly to the audience during the closing credits.

Then the PAL DVD came out from ICA Projects in the UK. That one I've actually still got, so we'll take a second look at it a little further down. But the basic story with this one is that it had better picture quality and subtitled Trier's monologues, plus it included Tranceformer, an excellent, hour-long documentary on Trier. BUT - and this is a big but - it's cut. Some sites report it as missing only a few seconds of graphic violence, but that's not true. It's missing a bunch of stuff, often completely innocuous material, which was probably just shaved for more commercial time. It's also the first release to edit the series into five episodes instead of four. And they only released The first Kingdom, so it left you hanging for Kingdom II anyway.

Seville released it next, in Canada. They still broke the show up into five episodes, but weren't missing all the footage the ICA Projects disc was. For a while, this was the best release. It had forced subtitles, no extras, and never got to Kingdom II. But at the time, you couldn't do better. Oh, and are you wondering how the show could have special monologues at the end of every episode, then be re-cut to include an extra episode and still somehow have a monologue for the end of each episode? They just repeated the closing from episode three on episode four and hoped nobody would notice it was the same thing twice. :/

Finally, in 2003, Triers' own company, Zentropa Films, did it right. And that's the edition we're going to focus on here. There have been subsequent releases: Koch in the USA and Madman in Australia, which essentially mirror the Zentropa release. And most recently, in 2011, Second Sight reissued it in the UK, with all of the features and qualities of the Zentropa disc, plus Tranceformer. Right on.
ICA Projects DVD top; Zentropa DVD bottom.
So, the first thing you might notice is that even though ICA fixed the horrendous subtitles of the old Chinese discs, Zentropa still wound up producing still alternate translations. Both discs are slightly windowboxed, non-anamorphic 1.41:1 transfers (specifically, they're non-anamorphic full-frame 3:4 with slight letterboxing to matting them further down). The Kingdom II, which is only available in the Zentropa set, is given a slightly taller 1:34.1 frame. The Kingdom was intentionally given a funky, grainy look, so it's never going to look anywhere near pristine, but improved picture of the ICA disc has been pretty well duplicated on the Zentropa disc. Image quality-wise, they're about the same, except ICA's has a lower contrast, less saturated and more washed out look.

ICA's subtitles are burnt in, but Zentropa's are optional, and they offer a plethora of language choice, including: Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Swedish and the English.
Extras-wise, the ICA disc just as the Tranceformer documentary, but it's pretty darn good, and it's not on the Zentropa disc. That's actually the reason I've held on my ICA DVDs while I sold my other old sets. The doc was also included on Criterion's DVD of Elements of Crime, however; so if you've got that there's no reason to bother with the ICA anymore. And, as I said, Second Sight included it on their 2011 release.

But Zentropa introduced a bevy of Kingdom-specific extras. First, Trier provides an audio commentary, along with co-writer Niels Vorsel and editor Molly Stensgard. They don't tackle the entire 8+ hours, but they do sections of each episode, which can be directly accessed from the Special Features menu. It's not in English, but there are English subtitles for the commentary audio. There's also a 25 minute Behind the Scenes featurette, a second 40 minute one entitled In Lars von Trier's Kingdom, a collection of "outrageous" television commercials directed by Trier and starring Jaregard, a music video for the show's main theme, bloopers from that music video, and a collection of trailers for Trier's other films.
The Kingdom is a fantastic series, and fortunately, the horrible state it was in on DVD has been corrected by Zentropa. The missing footage, broken subtitles, screwy-five episode format, etc were cleaned up in their 4-disc set, and all subsequent releases have used their improved set-up, down to the extras. So you could get the original 2003 Zentropa set from Denmark or any of the comparable ones from Koch, Madman or Second Sight, the last of which has the added bonus documentary, which is great if you don't already have it on another release. Just avoid anything from 2002 or earlier.

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