‘I’ ON CULTURE
Some movies should never be remade. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments is one of them, yet Ridley Scott has tried a new version, Exodus: Gods and Kings, which is not nearly as good. It is not a really bad movie. It is well-made, the special effects are reasonably good, and the acting, if not brilliant, is adequate. But as I was watching, I really missed Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. The older movie seems a bit campy and the special effects were pre-computer, yet there was a majesty about the story. In the new movie, there are far more trivialities.
Since probably everyone knows the basic story, there is no reason for a long summary. Moses grows up a prince, finds out he’s a Hebrew, leads his tribe through the tribulations of the 10 plagues and then leads them out of Egypt, parting the Red Sea as he leaves. Basically, both movies tell the same story. However, the new film focuses on how Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) loves Moses (Christian Bale), his nephew, more than he does his son and heir Ramses (Joel Edgerton). They hear a prediction that the one who saves the other will be a savior, and when Moses actually does save Ramses in battle, things get dicey.
When Ramses, now pharaoh, learns that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he exiles him. We then have a charming love story with Moses and Zipporah (Maria Valverde). “God” (Issac Andrews), who it seems to look (and often behaves) like a 10-year-old boy, demands he leave to free his people. He goes back, trains a whole group of fighters who launch a guerrilla war, until God gets ticked off by how slow things are going and sends the 10 plagues. That leads to the Exodus and, of course, the required scene of crossing the Red Sea, which is presented as being done through a tsunami. After the crossing, Moses returns to his wife and son and, well, sort of introduces them to their 400,000 new relatives.
You might note that rather a lot of the story was not actually in the Bible. And while the additions and changes make the characters somewhat more approachable, they take away from the main point of the whole story. I liked the love scenes, but was not as thrilled with the Hollywood notion of God; it seemed a real distraction.
Presenting Ramses cooing over his baby and constantly saying that his son could sleep well because he was so well-loved made me wonder whether this was a sort of Freudian interpretation of the Bible. We have the sibling rivalry, the hatred of Ramses’ mother (Sigourney Weaver) for Moses, the father who was unloved, demonstrating love for his son. Of course, we usually see Ramses as the bad guy, and it looked like Scott was trying to explain away his nastiness.
The acting was good. All of the performers are competent. Bale carried most of the film and portrayed a pretty reasonable Moses. Unfortunately, Moses is the center of the whole story. Heston, with his booming voice and admirable solidity, took over the role so completely that Bale fades in comparison. Edgerton is probably a better actor than his predecessor in the role, but Brynner had enormous charisma, seeming to enjoy being the bad guy. Edgerton seems more like a modern bureaucrat regretfully telling those he rules that unfortunately, they are not going to get what they consider fair. Turturro was a bit over the top and could have done without all the eye makeup. I liked Ben Kingsley and Aaron Paul as two of the Hebrew leaders. They handled their parts with dignity. Valverde was lovely; her scenes with Bale were charming, even though they had almost nothing else to do with the film.
It helps when the people behind a biblical film actually believe in what they are filming. Scott did what he could to minimize a lot of possible religious issues, but could not avoid the plagues, although he did have an Egyptian scientist try to find a scientific explanation, which did fall flat.
This is not a bad movie; it is just not really all that good a film. The older version now seems a bit dated, but people watch it every year because it speaks to something inside them. This film will merely make some money and then disappear.