Although Ridley Scott is considered by many critics, film academics, and filmmakers to be one of the greatest directors of all time, like with the last couple of films, he disappoints again with the Biblical film adaptation that is probably the most difficult to ruin. Exodus: Gods and Kings needed to be another Gladiator but instead it is more like Prometheus. The story of Moses and the enslaved children of Israel is an epic story that needs very little to be successfully translated to the screen because of the prolific amount of material that makes up a story that is engrained in the conscious of many. It’s been nearly 70 years since the Cecil B. DeMille’s cinematic masterpiece The 10 Commandments and nearly 20 years since Prince of Egypt and both of those films tell a much more compelling story than this tragic retelling of the oh so familiar tale. With a travesty of a screenplay coupled with painfully terrible acting and missing the mark on so many crucial elements to the story, this film is not destined for any Oscar list, but could make the Raspberries.
Exodus: Gods and Kings is the most recent film adaptation of the Biblical (and Torah) story of Moses, Pharaoh, and the children of Israel. It chronicles the prince of Egypt from his high rank as a general in Pharaoh’s army, into exile, to raising a family, from an encounter with a representation of God to demanding Pharaoh to free the enslaved Hebrews. It ends with the crossing of the Red Sea and quickly introducing the 10 Commandments.
You have to work pretty hard to ruin the story of Moses…but that is exactly what Scott did with his most recent film dedicated to his late brother Tony. This Biblical epic has everything a film needs: the parting of the Red Sea, plagues, death, violence, and a dysfunctional family. It’s all there!! How could Scott have missed it? The movie starts out well enough because it adds some family backstory that is not included in the Biblical text, which does greatly help to understand the relationship between Pharaoh, Ramses, and Moses. However, this was better accomplished in DreamWorks’ Prince of Egypt. But, conspicuously missing from the beginning of the movie is baby Moses in the basket being picked up by Pharaoh’s sister Bythia. Instead, we get some very rushed exposition from Nun (Joshua’s father) in a bizarre encounter between Moses and the Hebrew elders. Fortunately, the infamous plagues were showcased pretty well, but they too were rushed and all divine epic-ness was nearly sucked out of them; and Moses just stood by virtually clueless as to what was going on. For someone that was supposed to be the earthly mouth of God, Moses was often internally confused and insecure with his confrontations between him and Ramses.
And talk about that burning bush experience. I am not sure if Scott failed to read the passage, watch C.B.’s masterpiece or the DreamWorks film, but he completely botched the catalyst for Moses’ return to Egypt. There was nothing special about it, and it came off as a delusional dream. Actually, there is no reference to the burning bush at all in the burning bush scene. Probably the most contentious point for Jews, Christians, and Catholics is the fact that God is represented by a little British boy who does not address Moses with any authority and instead talks to him as Moses’ conscious embodied. We at least get the “I Am.” The boy who represents the voice of God never even refers to the children of Israel as his people–always Moses’ people. The scene leading up to the burning bush included a torrential rainstorm. How epic would it have been to have seen the burning bush ablaze amidst a storm!?! But, instead it’s treated as a cliche and boring dream sequence.
The character dynamics and acting were as awful as the script itself. Coming across as a History Channel original movie more than a work of cinema, this film’s actors suffered from lack of direction and inspiration. There is not one performance that stands out–not one. Each and every performance is equally lackluster and one dimensional. Even the massive battle scenes lacked shock and awe. If only Scott’s writing team spent as much time in detailing and crafting the script as his graphics, prop, and camera teams did in recreating the ancient empire with great detail. The balance that must be struck between narrative and spectacle, in a story such as this one, was very much off balance. Probably the most disappointing part of the movie is the parting of the Red Sea. This should be the most climactic part of the movie that impresses both the audience and the characters on the screen. Sadly, it does neither. We barely see the sea part for the Hebrews. Apparently, it happened very slowly while they were all sleeping??? Very little comment is made beyond something to the effect of “oh look, we can cross.” With today’s modern computer assisted and generated visual effect technologies, this should have been treated much better and used as the piece de resistance. Instead we get a very anticlimactic drying up of the Red Sea. Scott tried to make up for it after the Hebrews cross by having tsunami sized waves rush Ramses’ army and crash onto the ground to close the sea back up. Where was this spectacle when it parted? And again, Moses is clueless as to what God is doing and acts utterly surprised.
When Scott needed to provide movie-going audiences and the arts community with another Blade Runner, Alien, or Gladiator, he produces cinematic schlock with terrible performances from notable actors, underused performances from others, and a tragically misguided and depressing script. And, the well-executed technical achievements do very little in helping to overshadow the empty and awful screenplay. With 2.5 hours of run time, you’d think the movie would have turned out so much better. All it does is leave the audience with feelings of disappointment and a lukewarm “meh.” Looks like C.B. still wins the best retelling of this classic tale of Biblical and historic proportions.