It has been nearly four years since Islamic terrorists attacked the United States, prompting the country's Christian president to declare a "crusade" against terrorism. So, with heated rhetoric and serious casualties rising on all sides, Sir Ridley Scott could not help but know that he was taking on a huge responsibility when he forged ahead with Kingdom of Heaven, his new epic about the original Crusades and the people on both sides who fought in them.

Speaking to a roomful of mostly Christian reporters, Scott—whose films include Gladiator, Alien and Blade Runner—recalls tackling similar themes in Black Hawk Down, his film about a disastrous American military operation in Somalia. That film was originally scheduled for release in early 2002, but after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. just months before, the release date was actually moved up.

"Whilst that was happening," says Scott, "I had already talked to [Kingdom of Heaven screenwriter] Bill Monahan, whose pet subject is just this period. I think we would have made this film with or without the Gulf War and with or without 9/11, basically."

The new film, which opens this week, does not actually take place during one of the Crusades, but in the years between them, just prior to the Third Crusade. Scott says the film was deliberately set during this period so that it would end on a "here we go again" note, with King Richard the Lionheart setting out on his own military mission after the film's battles have come to an end.

"Unfortunately we don't seem to learn from history, do we?" he asks. "And you'd think we would. The very last line [in the film] says it's still going on in the Holy Land, we're still searching for settlement. It's a ...

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