Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Torturro, Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul
Every time Ridley Scott makes a movie I consider it a gift from a cinematic god, so of course I was pumped when I heard that Scott would be directing this biblical ‘Magnus opus’, it seems right up his alley for various reasons. Number one is the fact that he is a master at making the fantastic believable, no matter how complex or how out there, he can make it real. This is something a lot of directors’ continually try to attempt yet fail horribly at; just take one look at Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 B.C. (2008) and you’ll see what I mean. Secondly, Egyptian civilization, pyramids and huge columns have always formed a huge part of Ridley Scott’s film aesthetic. Actually, while watching certain scenes in Exodus, I got a few Blade Runner (1982) flashbacks. Take a look at Blade Runner again and you’ll see just how influenced by the Egyptian civilization Blade Runners art design was, you’ll see pyramids all over the place. So anyhow, with Exodus, Ridley Scott went from the futuristic pyramids seen in Blade Runner, to depicting the actual first pyramids ever made, which in a way brings Ridley Scott's cinematic career full circle.
From the pyramids in Blade Runner (1982) (above) to the pyramids in Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) (below)
Currently we’re going through a religious revival in Hollywood, I guess this is an attempt to infuse society with ‘belief’ as a way to reinforce religious ideals in society, something I’m completely against because I imagine, like John Lennon, a world without religion, where we can be the rulers of our own destiny. But alas, we live in a world where the grand majority of people are under mind control, and religion plays a huge part of that. Yet, oddly enough I find these biblical movies fascinating anyways because I seem them for what they are, stories, fantasies meant to enlighten us entertain us and maybe show us a thing or two along the way; nothing more. So, this review comes from a non believer who still finds movies like this entertaining. I mean, I loved the heck out of Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments (1956)! That film is so entertaining, so theatrical and so freaking epic! Of course, Ridley Scott had a lot on his plate, he not only had the responsibility of pleasing all those millions of Christians out there by keeping things somewhat faithful to biblical cannon, he also had to turn in an entertaining film that surpasses anything we’d seen before in terms of spectacle. Question is, did he achieve it?
A lot of things went right with this movie, for example, its scope brought to mind those old biblical movies like Ben-Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963), these are films filled with thousands of extras and incredible sets, wardrobe an art direction. I’m happy to say that that’s the kind of film you get with Exodus: Gods and Kings. You certainly won’t feel like you are being short changed with this movie, you’ll see the millions up on the screen. The detail paid to minutiae, is amazing. The carvings on the swords, the thrones, the walls, is just stunning, you’ll believe this is the Egypt of the bible, the film is very convincing in my book.
One of the things that matters the most for a film of this kind to be successful is that it has to be faithful to the bible, or else the core audience will boycott the movie. In this sense I predict that theaters will be packed with religious folks, as opposed to say a film like Noah (2014), which got everything wrong by changing the story around so much that it alienated its target audience. Religious people didn't get the Noah that they wanted, so they didn't exactly back the movie up, if anything some Christians went to see Noah simply to see how wrong Aronofsky got their beloved biblical tales. This does not happen with Exodus: Gods and Kings which sticks pretty closely to the bible. Sure Ridley Scott takes a few artistic liberties here and there, but overall the story you get is the story that’s in the bible. Moses becomes the leader of the Hebrews, becomes their savior and with gods help, he frees them from the oppressive choke of the Egyptians.
My only problem with the film is that the story is way too epic for one film. This story could have easily been divided into two or three films and it could have been told better. As it is, at times I felt like the story was going in fast forward, skipping important moments that you'd expect to see. We go through the ten plagues, suddenly boom, we’re traveling through the desert, suddenly boom, we’re at the red sea, and boom it’s Ten Commandments time. Biblical events feel rushed, and a lot of important moments where left out. For example, the moment in which Moses turns his staff into a snake, or the moment when the Israelites get tired of waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai so they build their own god and start worshiping a golden calf, then god opens the ground and swallows them up for being unfaithful to him. Why leave stuff like that out? I guess the movie would have been four hours long if they did, which is why I say this film could have easily been turned into two films. This is the reason why DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) was divided into two segments, with an interlude for you to go tinkle. In his version, DeMille didn’t cut corners, he told the full thing and took his sweet time to do it. He’s cut of the film is ten minutes short of four hours! The problem is that Scott decided to tell the tale in one film, and my opinion, the story suffered because of this. Ridley Scott either chose to tell an incomplete tale, or a lot of footage was left in the cutting room floor and we might get to see it eventually in a directors’ cut. Still, the film remains amazing, remains epic, it’s just missing certain key moments that only true Christian fanatics will notice were left out.
This film has gotten some heat because supposedly it’s emotionless, but I disagree; I actually think it had a lot of emotion. There are some truly tender moments between Moses and his wife where we see a kinder, gentler side to the great leader. I guess what people are referring to is that Ridley Scott decided to go with a more believable way of telling this story, he avoided augmenting the supernatural elements whenever he could. I mean, sure we see lots of miracles happen (the ten plagues are simply amazing) but Scott found a way to explain most of them scientifically, they aren't just magical events. Even the parting of the Red Sea seems like the tide simply goes down in intensity till the people can simply walk through, Moses doesn't use his staff like it was a magic wand on this one. I guess we could say the film isn’t overly dramatic or theatrical and whenever it can it simply avoids the supernatural. This might take some as a surprise, especially for those who are expecting a huge special effects driven film or operatic performances. Here the effects are used with subtlety, yet when they appear they are a true wonder. Performances are also toned down when compared to Charlton Heston’s old time theatrics.
I enjoyed the amazing cast here, the only downside is that we have a lot of good actors in minor roles. John Torturro plays the pharaoh which took me by surprise. Ben Kingsley plays a Hebrew elder, but again, so underused. I mean, here we got Sigourney Weaver doing next to nothing on this film, same goes for Aaron Paul, but whatever, I hear the original cut of this film was reportedly four hours long, so we might be seeing more of these actors on a directors’ cut of the film, who knows. Final words is, Ridley Scott had a huge tale to tell here and even with these compromises I've mentioned, we still got an amazing film that can be appreciated by both the Christians who want to see their fantasies brought to life on the silver screen and by those film lovers who just want to see a good film. This is without a doubt a strong film and if you ask me, one of the best of the year.