It took three years for Danish director Lars von Trier to follow up his 1994 TV miniseries The Kingdom with a second batch of four episodes; it has taken almost as long for Koch Lorber Entertainment to follow up its 2005 DVD of Series One with The Kingdom, Series Two.
The standard log line for the show is "E.R. meets Twin Peaks." Despite the time gap in the production, Series Two picks up right after the end of Series One, with the corrupt, inept Dr. Stig Helmer (Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, absolutely unforgettable) returning from Haiti, and the grotesque newborn (Udo Kier) with an adult head continuing to grow at ridiculous speed. (There was a final, third season planned, but it was scrapped after major delays, during which several of the stars died.)
The new DVD release splits the four episodes up onto two discs. Once again, Koch Lorber’s transfer quality is vastly better than either the only previous American version (on VHS) or the overpriced Taiwanese import DVDs from several years back. The extras are pretty thin. Both discs have "selected commentaries." These accompany relatively brief chunks of the series and don’t run as part of the feature, but rather as individual items in the extras menu. The commenters are von Trier, co-writer Niels Vorsel, and editor Molly Stensgard. The total running time for these is under a half hour.
Disc Two has a trailer for the series, plus a two-minute music video for the show’s theme song, "The Shiver." It is pretty wacky, with herky-jerky dance movements reminiscent of Talking Heads’ "Once in a Lifetime." There is another two minutes of bloopers from the video shoot; von Trier himself heads the dancers, and he is the one who screws up the take.
The main goodie is a 40-minute documentary on Disc One, apparently made in 1998, right after the second series and The Idiots and before von Trier’s musical, Dancer in the Dark (2000) – called In Lars von Trier’s Kingdom. The title is misleading, since The Kingdom is barely mentioned; von Trier talks substantially more about Breaking the Waves (1996) and The Idiots.
Even though this piece might have made more sense on the DVD of either of those, it is nice to have it here. Essentially a long interview with the director, interspersed with clips from his work and some newsreel footage, it presents a curious portrait, with von Trier coming across far more amiable in person than in the archive footage, which shows him as sometimes petulant and often overly frank.
He can be a poor loser: He caused a minor scandal by being publicly pissed off when he "only" received the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes rather than the Golden Palm. (He finally got the big prize for Dogville.) He can be just as poor a winner: We see his taped acceptance speech when he won the Danish equivalent of the Oscar for Best Danish Film, and rather than give all the usual thanks, he tells viewers, he will give "forgiveness" to the people and institutions that have done him wrong. He proceeds to name the offenders and their sins. This may have been done with partly comic intent – with von Trier it is frequently hard to tell – but it sounds like it must have been pretty squirm-inducing at the time.
When the interviewer asks him if he’s happy with The Idiots, he says, "I am very happy with it … because I’m on Prozac." The interviewer – himself an idiot, incidentally – is thrown for a loop, but the Prozac might well explain why von Trier seems so much more agreeable. He goes on to talk about the great Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s influence on his work: "I plagiarized," he says bluntly, presumably referring to the strong thematic similarities between Breaking the Waves and Dreyer’s Ordet.
While international audiences are likely to know Dreyer’s name, the extent to which this doc was intended for a local audience becomes clear when they spend a good deal of time discussing Morten Korch, upon whose work von Trier produced a TV series. Apparently Korch was a vastly popular novelist in Denmark, but even Web searches turn up virtually nothing about him in English.
Starring: Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, Kirsten Rolffes, Soren Pilmark, Ghita Norby, Peter Mygind, Jens Okking, Holger Juul Hansen, Baard Owe and Udo Kier. Directed by Lars von Trier. Koch Lorber Entertainment. Two discs.