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Koch Lorber presents
The Kingdom: Series One (1994)

"The good will cry and the evil will laugh. That's what they say!"
- Dishwasher (Morten Rotne Leffers)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: March 16, 2006

Stars: Ernst Hugo Järegård, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen, Søren Pilmark, Ghita Nørby, Jens Okking
Other Stars: Otto Brandenburg, Annevig Schelde Ebbe, Baard Owe, Brigitte Raaberg, Peter Mygind, Vita Jensen, Morten Rotne Leffers, Sølbjorg Højfeldt, Udo Kier
Director: Lars Von Trier, Morten Arnfred

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, sex, nudity)
Run Time: 04h:32m:00s
Release Date: November 08, 2005
UPC: 741952304494
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+B A-

DVD Review

A couple of years ago, horror maven Stephen King invited viewers to visit Kingdom Hospital, the craziest medical institution this side of Arkham Asylum. The 13-episode ABC limited series started out with big ratings, but the numbers eroded each week, as a cast of decidedly oddball doctors, nonsensical shenanigans involving mobile headless corpses and talking anteaters, and an anemic ghost story stretched to the breaking point drove away viewers.

At the time, I chalked it up to King just being King—the eccentric cast and emphasis on bodily humor seemed typical of the author's juvenile sense of humor (he does scary pretty well, but I would never describe him as a comedian). Little did I know, most of said is present in the source material that inspired it—Danish auteur Lars Von Trier's Riget, aka The Kingdom, a brief TV series which ran on television in Denmark in 1994.

The plot is sometimes very difficult to follow (a lot of similar-looking actors and a language barrier don't help matters), and having already digested the American version certainly helped, because the set-up is pretty similar. Filmed at a real medical institution, the show follows the soapy trysts and otherworldly experiences of the doctors, staff, and patients at Denmark's most technologically advanced hospital. Psychic and hypochondriac Drusse (Kirsten Rolffes) seeing the ghost of a little girl walking the halls and providing hints at the institution's dark past (like any good haunted building, the Kingdom was constructed on at the site of a long-forgotten tragedy—in this case, a fatal mishap at a cloth dyeing plant), is, if anything, the least odd thing going on. Among the staff is an egomaniacal neurosurgeon, Dr. Helmer (Ernst Hugo Järegård) who has botched a few brains due to incompetence, a preternaturally sunny chief resident obsessed with improving the hospital's image with a PR campaign who forces his staff to sing motivational songs during daily meetings, a young doc infatuated with an older woman who believes the best way to make an impression is to steal the head of a cadaver, and two dishwashers with Downs syndrome and, possibly, the knowledge of future events.

Von Trier's take is obviously less dependent on flash and special effects than King's, but in this case, it's all the more effective for it. The look screams low budget but is hardly lacking in style; the odd color palette and ultra-grainy photography lend an otherworldliness that only enhances the off-kilter atmosphere of the Kingdom and the eccentricities of its large band of often misguided caregivers. The spooks and scares work a lot better, too—there was nothing creepy about tormented spirit Mary in King's version, but here, her forlorn stares and sudden appearances are decidedly unsettling. Though the work is highly stylized, seeds of the director's Dogma manifesto as visible even here.

This two-disc set includes the first four-episode series of The Kingdom; four more episode reportedly wrap up the story, though I get the idea that this Danish Twin Peaks might leave more than a few threads dangling. Still, even if part two never sees the light of day, this is worth watching. Take note—no less than Time magazine recently voted it one of the top 100 foreign films ever made. How often does that happen to a TV show?

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: In terms of what most people will look for in a video transfer, this image doesn't look very good. It's really grainy and colors appear very washed out. However, that's the way it was filmed—it was shot on a very low budget, after all. In terms of the DVD, there don't seem to be any overt mastering errors, and I noted no edge enhancement or anything, so I'm happy.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Danish Stereono

Audio Transfer Review: This is the type of program that might benefit from a surround mix, but the stereo track included is the original, and it works well enough. Dialogue sounds clear (hard to tell, though, since it is Danish), and has a natural "recorded live" quality that dovetails nicely with the rough-edged visuals. Spooky sound effects are presented with decent stereo separation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Lars Von Trier, writer Niels Vorsel, editor Molly Stensgard
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Lars Von Trier commercials
Extras Review: We probably have Stephen King to thank for The Kingdom being released in America, but Koch Lorber deserves credit for putting out a very nice DVD. The menus are atmospheric and appropriate, the episodes are nicely chaptered, and the collection of bonus material is of very high quality. Let's hope Series Two follows in as fine a fashion.

Disc 1 includes In Lars Von Trier's Kingdom (24m:10s), an odd look at the production, featuring lots of interviews with the cast and the director. It has the same sort of irreverent tone as the series, and while Von Trier explains some of the reasoning behind it, he doesn't give too much away, either. He does explain that all the (non-supernatural) happenings at the hospital are based on true stories, and there were even some he left out because he found them too unbelievable (tour the morgue for $1, anyone?). The cast interviews are funny too—one member of the cast notes she always considered Von Trier to be "very rude" to actors. Also, there was an occult expert on set to make sure all the ghost channeling and pendulum swinging was performed correctly, and she advised the lead actress to take care when pretending to conjure spirits because real ones might show up. Produced for Danish television and presented here with English subtitles, it's an interesting, curious, and much-appreciated extra feature.

Von Trier, writer Niels Vorsel, and editor Molly Stensgard provide commentary for a handful of scenes—two from The Unheavenly Host, one from Thy Kingdom Come, one from A Foreign Body and two from The Living Dead—for a total running time of about half an hour.

Disc 2 includes a trailer for the series and a collection of very weird ads Von Trier directed for a Danish newspaper. Most feature various pompous types calling the paper a piece of junk for printing filth (...ok), while one, set in a health spa and containing both male and femal frontal nudity, points out that a newspaper is a helpful thing to have lying around if you want to cover up an erection. And the man, er, covering up is clearly doing just that, for real. I assume this one didn't air during the Danish equivalent of Full House.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Much creepier and (I didn't think it was possible) even weirder than Stephen King's Americanization Kingdom Hospital, Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom is a very effective piece of genre television, presented in fine form on DVD by Koch Lorber.


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