Well, after a month and three viewings, I’ve made it through Riddley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. It was a chore, a dull and lifeless, action, blockbuster take on the Exodus myth. Scott definitely had Cecile DeMille on his mind when he made this, and in terms of spectacle, lush orientalist set and costume design, and CGI miracles, Riddley Scott’s Exodus is a worthy tribute. It is unfortunately ponderous and stiff. The attempt at social commentary is uninspired, consisting of Moses having doubts about the miraculous, and his early attempt and people’s war or guerrilla war to free the Hebrews. There is a nice moment when Moses tosses his sword to the sea as a symbol of his forgoing using his own force to fight Egypt and finally trusting in God.
The controversy around the casting is definitely understandable now that we live in a day-and-age where we are all familiar with what people from Israel and Egypt look like. Sure there are a lot of swarthy extras, but nearly all the principal characters are some sort of northern European. While I understand the business side, it definitely detracts from the artistry and it’s sad to see the Exodus reduced to a 3D popcorn muncher. Really, I have had my fill of Bible movies full of Anglo-Saxons. Can we have a peak at what this world really looked like?
And speaking of historical inaccuracy, while I understand that the Exodus is a fantasy in the vein of Hercules, Rameses the Great was a pharaoh of the bronze age, yet iron abounds. Would you make Excalibur with rifles instead of lances? I would love to see the bronze age tell its own stories and be brought to life on the big screen.
Regarding the presentation of the Exodus, the movie diverges quit a bit from the source- mostly for entertainment value, and I’m fine with that. The Bile account itself consists of a couple of divergent stories, so the ancient Hebrews had no problem changing the tale to suit the audience. I have researched the historical Exodus extensively, and maybe later will go into depth on how the movie compares with the source and the history. One of the main changes from the old Cecil DeMille version is how the miraculous is treated. While before, bizarre events spring out of the air like magic, Scott takes cues from fringe literature on the Exodus (much as he does ancient aliens in Prometheus), and naturalistic explanations for the plagues. The theories used to explain the miracles are often ingenious and plausible, but not likely to have been the case. While some critics thought the naturalistic explanations demonstrated an agnosticism about God, I think it is clear that here, as well as in the pop archeology Scott follows, the coincidence of the events is a sign of divine origin. And really, if God did intervene in history, I would expect it to occur in a perfectly natural way. The Crossing of the Red Sea, linked to an asteroid impact and resulting tsunami, is visually striking and a clever interpretation.